The fulfillment of a little girl’s dream and the culmination of a promise made by one local dad to his daughter 13 years ago came together Aug. 26 on a single, wondrous occasion.
Dreams Come True, a nonprofit organization dedicated to granting the dreams of children with life-threatening illnesses, unveiled its latest project: the transformation of a family playroom into a life-sized version of a dollhouse cherished by the girl, whose name is Anna.
Anna is a patient in Community Hospice & Palliative Care’s Community PedsCare program. Through PedsCare, she received a bright blue dollhouse made for her three years ago by someone she’d never met, Nocatee resident Brendan Hoffman.
The dollhouse has since held a special place in Anna’s heart, and when Dreams Come True asked what her dream was, she said she would like her bedroom transformed into that same dollhouse.
The work took months, and Anna’s family had to find ways to keep it a surprise. But it all proved worthwhile on the day she was invited to walk into her completed dream room. Meeting her there for the first time was Hoffman, a man who has dedicated the past 10 years to making dollhouses for children in the program.
“I was actually speechless and overwhelmed and my heart was full,” said Community PedsCare Director Patrice Austin, “because what I realized was two beautiful things had happened. The young lady had a dream come true, and secondly, Mr. Hoffman had an opportunity to really see the fruition of his efforts on behalf of his daughter’s memory.”
Hoffman’s own daughter Dawn contracted melanoma and passed away in 2009 at the age of 28. He was at her side for the six weeks she was at Community Hospice & Palliative Care, and one day she made a special request.
“There was this old dollhouse at Hospice that was sitting up on a shelf, just a little thing,” Hoffman recalled. “Nobody played with it because it was way up on the top. Nobody could reach it. But she said, ‘You need to make one for the kids to play with.’”
Hoffman, who had no background in model-making or woodwork, protested that he couldn’t make a dollhouse.
Her response: “You can and you will.”
Hoffman waited a year after his daughter passed away before attempting to make his first dollhouse. The initial three or four did not turn out well, and he threw them away. But through trial and error, he began to produce small dollhouses to give to the Community PedsCare staff for the children.
Soon, he was becoming quite adept at it.
“As the years went, they got bigger and bigger and bigger,” he said. In fact, Austin said some were so large that, to deliver them, they had to take doorframes off the families’ homes to get the dollhouses though the door.
Hoffman made eight dollhouses a year, and each time he added new details. There would be furniture, carpeting, decorations and wallpaper. He began putting electricity in the houses, and then holiday lights, Christmas trees and wreaths.
“These are not tiny, little houses that come from a store,” Austin said. “They’re giant, beautiful homes that [the children] really transform into their own play world.”
The house Hoffman made for Anna was finished the final year that he was able to carry out this work. Because everything shut down during the pandemic, he couldn’t get the necessary materials. Then, he began to experience trouble with his eyes and hands.
Despite the long hours and great care Hoffman put into his extraordinary gifts, he was never actually on hand when they were given to the children. So, the presentation on Aug. 26 allowed him to see the impact of his work for the first time.
“The other day, seeing Anna, that right there was so worth doing these houses,” he said. “To see the smile on her face and how much joy she gets out of it. That’s what my daughter was trying to tell me when she wanted me to do it. It does bring a lot of happiness to my heart.”
He said he hopes that his daughter knows that he carried out her wishes.
“I know that she’s satisfied with what I was doing,” he said.