Redbridge woman’s 18 years granting wishes of terminally ill children
Thank-you cards and photos of fundraising events with various famous faces and happy children is what Ruth Salahi is excited to show me as I am welcomed into her Redbridge home.
Ruth has spent 18 years granting wishes to terminally and critically ill children and her determination has meant that hundreds of youngsters have had their dreams come true.
Due to the work of the 61-year-old and her team of volunteers at the charity Hopes and Dreams, trips and once-in-a-lifetime experiences are organised throughout the year.
The Stratford-born charity worker was 10 years old when she first moved to Redbridge where she has lived ever since and where her work has been concentrated.
The charity is based at Ruth’s home in Somersby Gardens, to keep costs to a minimum.
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She said: “I decided to base my office at my home so that the charity didn’t have any significant outgoings. Basically if the phone rings, I answer it.”
Ruth was asked to be chairman of Hopes and Dreams two years after starting work there, when the charity had not been up and running for long.
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She said: “I made it clear from the start that I hated paperwork. We make sure 100 per cent of the money we make goes on providing dreams.”
When Ruth first joined there were no committee members, now there is a committee of 18 – 16 women and two men.
“It was really hard to organise events and dreams when no one had heard of us,” she said.
“But I never felt like giving up. Over time people have seen the work that we do and want to help.
“Many of the parents whose children have been granted a dream join because they want to give something back.”
The charity never turns a child away and as soon as a letter or email arrives from a parent of a sick child, the committee is on the case planning the details.
Ruth – who had never thought about working for a charity when she was younger – aims to grant roughly 25 dreams a year.
“We are so sad if no dream requests have arrived, but we never know how many we will receive.
“As long as they haven’t been granted a dream before then we try our best to do it and they get a choice of three.
“Disneyland seems to be the most popular request, and one of our members is a travel agent so she organises those for us.
“But when children ask to meet a celebrity, that tends to be the most difficult.”
Ruth added: “You have to get involved in work like this, and if you didn’t have an emotional connection it wouldn’t work.
“The charity is a great part of my life and I get up on a morning and think about what I can do next.”
Ruth was unable to hide her emotions – which are the driving force behind her work – when she spoke about one dream that was granted to a young boy who wanted to meet the footballer, Paul Gascoigne.
“We managed to pull it off when, luckily, the Lazio team, who he was playing for at the time, were in England to train.
“Unfortunately two months later the boy died and when I phoned his mum, she said they had the most wonderful memories of that day and that pictures from it were all around the house.
“I start crying if I think about the small percentage of children who die, especially the ones that you think are on the mend.”
The charity is a family affair as Ruth’s son, Anthony, 35, helps out whenever he can and he designed the website while her three grandchildren have recently taken part in a fundraising fashion show.
Hopes and Dreams will celebrate its 20th anniversary in October, and to mark the occasion a fashion show is being organised.
It is likely to be attended by some of their famous patrons as well as the cast of ITV2’s The Only Way is Essex.
“I start losing sleep when the event gets closer. Without the help we receive from the Menzies Prince Regent Hotel [in Manor Road, Woodford Bridge] we would struggle to make money and we are very grateful for the help they’ve given us.”
A dress worn by singer Amy Winehouse just seven months before her death was recently donated to Hopes and Dreams by Amy’s father, Mitch, who is one of the patrons.
The charity has experienced many ups and downs during its 19 years, but when Gary Ferris, 38, held 15 bogus race nights it left the charity upset and appalled.
Instead of donating the money to Hopes and Dreams the fraudster ploughed the cash into his online gambling addiction.
The charity raised the alarm when venues started writing to them in February 2008 asking for certificates for the money donated.
Ruth said: “He knew we were on to him; I should’ve been a policeman. This situation went on for months and I was speaking to pub owners who had helped raise money and they were so angry.
“When he was given a two-year suspended sentence, he said he would pay the money back – we are still waiting.
“I take everything to heart and want to help as many children as possible.”
n For more information on the charity visit www.hopesdreams.org.