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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Three ODU Staffers Named 2016 Dream Fund Recipients

By Sara E. Hunter

Old Dominion's 2016 Staff Dream Fund was awarded recently to three University employees who will soon be able to fulfill their long-held wishes to visit family in China, vacation with family in the Outer Banks and drive cross-country to tour national parks.

The proposals of the longtime ODU staffers, Yong Chen, an instructional technology specialist for the Gornto Center for Learning and Teaching; Brendan O'Hallarn, a public relations specialist with the Office of Strategic Communications and Marketing; and Sommer Alexander, a student services specialist in the Registrar's Office, were recently selected by the Staff Dream Fund screening and fund selection committees as winners of this year's awards.

Chen will visit his father in China for his 70th birthday.

"It's my turn to hold a party for him, in return for the many times that he held one for me. I want to hug my father and tell him how much I love him and how grateful I am for what he has done for me," Chen said.

Chen only has the opportunity to visit his parents once every three years due to traveling difficulties and conflicting time schedules. With the Dream Fund, he will now be able to return home and thank his parents for all of their love and support.

When asked why this dream is important to him, Chen said: "My parents gave birth to me, loved me and sent me to college. Now I work at ODU and I have my own family. Without my parents' support, I would not have what I have right now," he said. "I want to say 'thank you' to them. I now know, from the parent perspective, the joy of giving a birthday party for someone I love. But for 22 years, I have not had a chance to hold a birthday party for my parents."

O'Hallarn will use the paid week off plus $500 awarded by the Dream Fund to help pay for two nights at the National Park lodge at the Grand Canyon. The trip with his family will include stops in Sequoia, Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks.

"I am so incredibly thankful to the University and the Dream Fund committee for selecting me as a 2016 winner," O'Hallarn said. "Getting an opportunity to climb into the van and drive Griswold-style across the country to see national parks truly is a dream come true."

O'Hallarn, a Canadian who is applying for U.S. citizenship, said he hopes to embrace American culture while spending time with his family.

"I have never seen great American sights such as the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park and Mount Rushmore," O'Hallarn wrote in his proposal. "Our children will be 11 and almost 9 next summer. We feel it is the perfect time to make memories for all of us that will last a lifetime."

Alexander will realize her dream of visiting the Outer Banks with extended family. She will use the $2,000 awarded by the Dream Fund to rent a beach house in the Outer Banks.

"I didn't expect to receive this amazing gift - I'm still in shock - but I'm so thankful," Alexander said. "Without the Dream Fund, I'm not sure if we would have been able to do anything like this. Money is tight and vacations are a luxury, but the Dream Fund is going to make a family trip financially possible.

"I'm looking forward to spending a block of time with everyone away from the day-to-day worries of normal life and just allowing everyone to take a bit of a breather," she continued. "I think a trip like this will help everyone relax."

The ODU Staff Dream Fund was established through a partnership with the Education Foundation to help deserving employees realize long-held dreams such as pursuing studies in an area unrelated to work, traveling or visiting family. The endowed fund provides monetary awards and up to five days of paid time off. It is not intended to address personal hardship situations, emergencies or job-related professional development.

Since 2008, the Staff Dream Fund has made 17 awards to ODU employees, impacting their lives in rewarding and, sometimes, life-changing ways.

For more information, visit the Staff Dream Fund website.

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