Annual 'Day of Dreams' is magical for all involved
The OLu Day of Dreams has become one of the most important events on campus each year, and is only gaining steam.
Karen van Matre struggled to find the words to explain her feelings.
But once she did, she delivered them clear and direct.
“I could not have done this at any school other than Orange Lutheran. Nobody at OLu, in 11 years, has ever not supported this.”
The “this” that van Matre refers to is Orange Lutheran’s Day of Dreams, the school’s annual service day event, in which OLu students and faculty welcome students with special needs from three different schools: Hope School in Buena Park, Speech and Language Development Center, also in Buena Park, and California School for the Deaf in Riverside.
Van Matre is the creator and coordinator of Day of Dreams, which began in 2006. She is the mother to three Orange Lutheran alumni. Her eldest, Jeff, graduated in 2008, followed by Kevin in 2010 and Tyler in 2013.
Van Matre’s experience with students with special needs is close to home, considering Kevin was born with down syndrome. However, it wasn’t her middle child that led her to initiate Day of Dreams.
“My sons were always exposed to the world of the disabled and my brain started ticking,” van Matre said.
After Jeff’s first service day at OLu, in which students participated in a beach clean up, van Matre had an idea to affect the lives of students, having witnessed how Kevin affected his brothers on a daily basis.
“In my mind, at least for Jeff, I thought the service day could be more,” van Matre said. “And with this campus and this staff, I knew that everything was so over the top amazing, so I started thinking about this idea.
“If I could get students with disabilities, the same age, onto the campus, it would be an amazing day for them because their campus is nothing like this. And I wanted to pair them up with Lutheran students to show them around.”
Van Matre brought her vision to then OLu Executive Director Greg Pinnick and then-Chief Advancement Officer Betsy Kunau, both of whom lauded the idea.
Van Matre kicked things into action. She found the schools that were interested in participating and got all lunch items donated for the special event.
Fast forward to today, and over 300 students visit OLu each year on Day of Dreams, thousands in the past decade.
“To me, I’m just spreading awareness,” van Matre said. “Obviously, in our family, we use lots of faith and prayer, and that’s helped pave the path for Kevin. I know that these kids with special needs are touching lives and making differences in the lives of those who might never have awareness. We all are more alike than different. God made us all and gave us all strengths and weaknesses.”
On Day of Dreams, students from the three participating schools travel on school buses to Orange Lutheran, where they are greeted by OLu students and faculty, as well as balloons and decorations. From that point forward, the activities commence, including dancing, playing basketball, painting, lunch, and most importantly, just hanging out.
During his time at Orange Lutheran, Kevin participated in several Day of Dreams events, and today, he continues to visit the school on the special day.
“Kevin was fortunate to come to Lutheran high with his disability,” van Matre said of her middle child. “Now, he comes back and he just spends time visiting with everyone. He just looks at it as a great day at Lutheran High. He loves Orange Lutheran.”
Van Matre said that the enthusiasm from the participating schools only grows each year, as evidenced by this note from Hope School visual and performing arts teacher Julia Hahn, after this year’s Day of Dreams.
“Thank you so much for such a wonderful day. Your organization and appropriateness of activities, as always, was exceptional. We are particularly blessed by the wonderful gift of friendship your students gave us. What you have put in place at Orange Lutheran will be instrumental in changing the way people treat people. I know the tolerance and acceptance we were shown there will grow into making the world a better place.”
And in the end, the day means as much to OLu students as it does the visiting students.
“It’s just a fun day,” said OLu junior Austin Liles. “You kind of feel this pressure to be like a good host and show the students everything and make sure they have a good time. But really, it’s just like hanging out with your friend all day. Everyone is just enjoying the day together, OLu students and all the visitors. It’s awesome.”
Senior Kennedy Smith-Kutyla said that participating in Day of Dreams helped increase her love for OLu.
“It is so unique to our school and it makes me proud to say that I go to a high school that values human connection with all types of people,” she said. “We get the chance to learn about ourselves and others, while also learning to serve like Christ.
“We head into Day of Dreams wondering how we are going to change the students that we come in contact with, but we soon realize that they change our lives more than we ever expected.”
Those friendships developed on Day of Dreams are what inspire van Matre to often stand back and reflect.
“Every year, I get the same emotions walking around and observing the transformations that are made in Lutheran students,” van Matre said. “I hope it will help them after they leave OLu.
“Many lives - those of the Lutheran students and those of the students with special needs - have been changed on Day of Dreams.”
2222 N. Santiago Blvd. Orange, CA 92867 (714) 998-5151
Who We Are
Founded in 1973, Orange Lutheran High School is a comprehensive private Christian co-educational college preparatory high school, grades 9-12, that exists to help students internalize the gospel message of salvation in Christ Jesus. The culture and climate of Orange Lutheran are based on caring relationships that strengthen our community as a Lancer Family. High standards of excellence coupled with a warm, energetic atmosphere create a safe, nurturing environment where students can thrive, as they discover and develop their unique gifts, talents, and passions.