Kathy Chism was living in Miami when Hurricane Andrew stormed through south Florida in 1992.
One of the country's most devastating hurricanes, the storm and the mutual aid it inspired made a deep impression on Chism.
Without power at her home for weeks, she stayed in an apartment in Palm Beach and daily loaded her car with water, food and ice to hand out in neighborhoods back in Miami. It was sometimes dangerous, yet she felt at peace.
A decade later, she rallied her friends to send relief money to the Bahamas following two hurricanes there in 2004.
"I decided to send out letters just to friends and family and because they knew me and knew I had contacts in the Bahamas, where I had lived," she recalled. "I raised $10,000 very quickly. I was amazed."
Chism, now a certified massage therapist in Santa Rosa who possesses loads of energy and a wide circle of like-minded friends, decided the time was right to launch a different kind of nonprofit group.
She founded Dream One World Inc. with the premise that simple projects could be accomplished quickly with a "pay it forward" ethos. Those helped would then help others via the Dream One World network.
"How do we give peace to others? By treating our fellow man and animals with love and respect. That means responding. That means helping," she said.
Projects have ranged from buying $6 blankets to keep children in Peru warm in the winter to arranging for a former heroin addict to have extensive dental work.
"I want to be a catalyst to help the whole world understand that we are all one. We say, 'Dream One World and change it, one, by one, by one . . . ,' " Chism said.
She traces her social activism to lessons learned from her parents, and believes it took the hurricanes to finally focus her attention away from making a living to living for others.
With Dream One World, Chism says, the universe delivers.
To prove it, she tells the story of her mailman, Bob Thompson of Rohnert Park.
Thompson's own efforts include beautifying the city and helping disabled folks get the equipment they need, such as vans with wheelchair lifts.
"Kathy kept saying, 'You need to be with us, with Dream One World.' And I'd say, that's nice, but I'm too busy to do one more thing," Thompson said.
It's funny for Chism to recall that when she was manager of the Hot Tub Store in Rohnert Park, the mail carrier was bubbling over with ideas for civic improvements. Today he's still the mailman, but his personal business card pegs him as a Volunteer Dreamworker with Dream One World.
Indeed, Thompson is a civic do-gooder busy beautifying streets, demanding that ugly, rusting trash bins be replaced with newer versions. Ditto old postal boxes. If it looks ratty, if it bugs him, if graffiti is involved, Bob Thompson is on it.
"But here's the thing. Before, I'd just say thanks to the people who helped. Now through Dream One World, which is a nonprofit, I can give them a statement and they can include it with their taxes for a charitable deduction. That's better for everyone," he said.
At a recent gathering of about 75 Dream One World supporters held among the redwoods at Armstrong Woods, people exchanged ideas, listened to speakers and shared a meal.
For Chism, who for the past four years worked two or three jobs to support her nonprofit and squeezed in a bit of online time in the wee hours of the morning, the gathering felt like a graduation.
"I feel like I've been on a journey, like four years of college and now I'm ready, truly ready to change the world," she said.
To learn more about Dream One World, visit www.dreamoneworld.org.
You can reach Staff Writer Rayne Wolfe at 521-5240 or firstname.lastname@example.org.