Personal Journey: Prize money helping Centerville youngster’s ‘dreams come true’

Student’s vision board includes going to King’s Island and feeding a giraffe.

Vision boards are popular among adults and kids alike. Most experts agree that goals are about 50% more likely to be accomplished when written down. And vision boards are a vehicle for putting dreams on paper.

Veronica Dehner of Centerville is only 8 years old and has had the majority of her early elementary school career disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Encouraged by her parents and her instructors at the Centerville Goldfish Swim School, Veronica wrote her own goals on paper as part of a national campaign.

“At the beginning of this year, we noticed posters up at the swim school,” Veronica’s mom, Vanessa said. “They asked the kids to make vision boards.”

The local Goldfish Swim School is part of a national franchise, headquartered in Troy, Michigan. The Centerville location is owned by Amy Strozier.

“The contest was called ‘Dreams Come True in 2022,’” said Strozier. “We have 126 locations nationwide that participated, and we gave out about 500 blank vision boards to our students.”

Launched by the company on National Vision Board Day (Jan. 8) and running through National Dream Day (March 11), the national event was all about vision boards and “making BIG waves this year.”

“By celebrating big dreams through vision boards, we hope to build confidence, encourage and motivate little fish, Goldfish team members and our communities to feel inspired,” said Chris McCuiston, CEO and co-founder of Goldfish Swim School.

Two students and two staff members were chosen at random by the national headquarters to win $2,022 each to help them make their dreams come true. And Veronica was one lucky winner.

“We explained to her about goals,” Vanessa said. “And we helped her with ideas, but she had so many of her own already!”

Veronica’s final vision board included doing a double back handspring in cheerleading; trying out for and making a year-round cheerleading team; making a derby car with her dad, Bryan, in Girl Scouts; feeding a giraffe (her favorite animal); and going to King’s Island amusement park in Mason for the very first time. Many of these are already in progress or completed.

“I was surprised with the derby car, the giraffe and King’s Island,” Vanessa said.

Veronica’s vision board is all about the things she loves best. Giraffes, it turns out, are her favorite animal and Veronica already knows they have calm personalities and has read books about them and their diet.

“I want to feed one and I know they like to eat seeds, grass and leaves,” she said.

Now that Veronica can add $2,022 to her bank account, the family can look forward to watching her feed that giraffe at a future zoo trip and spending a day at King’s Island so she can ride the roller coasters, though she isn’t sure yet if she will go on the biggest ones.

“She’s really artistic and creative,” said Bryan, who is working on the Girl Scout derby car with his daughter. “Her favorite subject is art, but she is also very athletic.”

Swimming is also a passion for Veronica and her younger brother, Luke, 6. They started learning to swim when they were infants. And when the family moved to Centerville from Chicago in 2019, both parents agreed it was important to continue their exposure to the water.

“We just wanted to make sure they were comfortable in the water,” said Vanessa. “We know people personally who have had children drown in their own pools.”

“Swimming is another life skill,” said Bryan.

The Dehner children started attending classes at Goldfish one day a week and are now both competing on the school’s swim team. Vanessa said they appreciate that the school is open year-round so her kids can keep up their skills.

Though the swim school was shuttered for several months during 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Strozier said they quickly implemented health and safety protocols and reopened with limited hours as soon as they were able. Two days after the school closed, Strozier was awarded a grant from USA Swimming Foundation that could be used to help her reopen the school and give scholarships to local kids.

“We gave out 30 swim scholarships and are now open five days per week,” said Strozier. “Since then, we have hit an all-time high in memberships!”

Strozier was notified that one of her students was chosen when she was in San Diego, California, accepting an award given by the International Franchise Association who named her the 2021 Franchisee of the Year. And on the day of swim school’s sixth birthday, Veronica was presented with a ceremonial giant check for $2,022 to be used to help make her dreams come true.

“I think we are all trying to dream big for the future,” Strozier said. “It’s exciting to be getting back to normal again!”

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