Julia Sotirianakos – CEO, Reach For A Dream
Hope in Every Dream: Julia Sotirianakos and Reach For A Dream's Uplifting Mission
South Africa is victorious as the Springboks make history. Having won the Rugby World Cup four times, a renewed sense of hope and resilience can be felt throughout the nation.
Yet, for over 35 years, the Reach For A Dream Foundation has been instilling this sense of hope in the hearts of children battling life-threatening illnesses through the magic of dreams.
Reach For A Dream has transformed an impressive 24,500 dreams into reality since its inception in 1988. These dreams—ranging from meeting personal heroes to experiencing new things for the first time—provide the children with a temporary escape from their illness and a much-needed distraction from often painful medical treatments. Most importantly, fulfilled dreams inspire hope, giving these children a reason to believe that tomorrow is worth fighting for.
As adults, at times the power of a dream is forgotten but to a child, a dream can be the difference between pushing through or giving up. Siya Kolisi has shown over 60 million South Africans and the world that he never gave up on his dream even in the face of mountainous challenges throughout his childhood. He found the resilience and hope to rise above his circumstances and manifest his dream, which turned out to be the dream of millions of others.
A commendable example of an admirable South African making a difference is the CEO of Reach For A Dream, Julia Sotirianakos. Her 16-year career at the Foundation has been a continuous display of tenacity, faith and character. These are three key facets of exceptional leadership and under her stewardship, Reach For A Dream was awarded the CSI Legacy award for Best NGO in South Africa in 2022.
Sotirianakos’ journey seems fated toward caring for others. From a young age, she found herself taking care of the vulnerable people in her life such as her grandfather and close friend. She experienced how her sincere presence made her loved ones feel seen and comforted in their hardest times. She saw the power of hope.
“Hope, like dreams, is resilient, and when we share it, we multiply its power,” Sotirianakos often shares. It is this unwavering belief in the power of dreams that has made Reach For A Dream a source of inspiration for many, nurturing hope in the hearts of children and families facing the darkest of challenges.
The Foundation was a perfect fit for her right from the start. A fundamental belief of the foundation and Sotirianakos is that dreams can transform lives. “We’re empowering our children to believe that if that dream can come true, then a whole series of things could come true,” she asserts. “You could fight your illness – that power is hope, strength, and courage. And if that happens, you can get through school and you can become a doctor and do what you want to do.”
This ‘never say never’ attitude permeates the entire organisation. When a child shares a seemingly impossible dream, Sotirianakos and her team view it as an exciting challenge. Over the past 35 years, there hasn’t been a single dream that they haven’t fulfilled. Their roster of fulfilled dreams includes introducing children to international celebrities like Lewis Hamilton, Celine Dion, Ed Sheeran, Mo Salah, Cristiano Ronaldo, and various South African presidents.
One heartwarming story that highlights the life-altering impact of Reach For A Dream is that of young Tazkia Moosa. Battling Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma, her fight mirrored the resilience, determination, and teamwork displayed by the Springboks. When Reach For A Dream arranged a meeting between Tazkia and her beloved Springbok team during her remission, it was a moment that encapsulated the essence of the organisation’s mission. “Watching Tazkia burst onto the field, hand-in-hand with Siya Kolisi, was a testament to the magic of fulfilling dreams,” Sotirianakos warmly recalls.
She joined the Foundation as a Fundraising Manager, and her rapid rise to the position of CEO speaks volumes of her commitment to the cause all while navigating the ‘juggling act’ of managing multiple roles as a wife and mother of two boys. Sotirianakos navigates her life with grace and passion and to her, Reach For A Dream is not just her workplace; it’s a place of growth and understanding of the importance of family and children.
Under Sotirianakos’s leadership, Reach For A Dream has launched several groundbreaking projects including Laughter Heroes, Dream Rooms, and the Dream Club. Laughter Heroes brings joy and laughter to children in hospitals through therapeutic entertainment. Dream Rooms transform sterile hospital rooms into vibrant and comforting spaces, while the Dream Club is an initiative that provides a platform for dreamers to connect, share their experiences, and support each other.
In reflecting on the impact of Reach For A Dream, Sotirianakos states, “Every fulfilled dream sends ripples of hope across the nation. It reaffirms the belief in the power of dreams and the resilience of the human spirit. Just as the Springboks have shown us, with hope, strength, and courage, anything is possible.”