TAFT -- At the age of 84, Arthur "Mick" Barnes doesn't have wild desires for the end of his life.
Barnes said what he would really like is a new pair of lungs. The retired oil worker, who loves to write poems, is in the end stages of chronic pulmonary disease and isn't sure how much time he has left.
But on Saturday, members of Liberty High School DreamCatchers Club and other volunteers descended on Barnes' hometown of Taft with a film crew in tow to host a gathering to brighten Barnes' life and bring his family together.
On Saturday night, Barnes walked into a room decorated with red, white and blue to the applause of a party of about 30 family members and friends. The Navy veteran stood before a color guard and received a flag, then charmed his audience with a reading of his poetry.
The fragile man's voice was strong as he shared tales of times gone by, beloved kin and growing up in Taft.
"It was great. I was flabbergasted to even be here," Barnes said. "I was so surprised that all this came about."
The reading was filmed to be broadcast during a University of Notre Dame football game next month for a segment that highlights the achievements of the school's faculty and students.
Caitlin Crommett, a 19-year-old sophomore at Notre Dame, started DreamCatchers when she was a young teen living in Orange County with the goal of fulfilling dreams for people at the end of their lives. Today she is working to expand the program.
When Crommett was approached to feature DreamCatchers in Notre Dame's "What Would You Fight For?" series, she invited Liberty's club to fulfill a hospice patient's dream in front of the cameras.
"It's definitely amazing to see (the Liberty club) grow, they've definitely been one of our most active ones," she said. "I think it's one of the most amazing (dreams) that we've ever gotten the chance to do."
Sixteen-year-old triplets Isabella, Sophia and Anthony Busacca started Liberty's DreamCatchers Club last year with a knowledge of death, a topic that not every teenager is ready to face. Isabella, the club's president, said they remembered taking one last trip to the beach with their aunt before she died of cancer but she and her siblings knew that many people nearing death don't have the ability to do one last nice thing with their families.
Tasked with making a dream come true on a tight timeline, the teens and their mother, Molly Busacca, reached out to Optimal Hospice Care, which connected them with Barnes. In a matter of a week and a half, the club pulled together a party for Barnes, turned 25 of his poems into a book and bought plane tickets for six of his family members to join the celebration. Molly said the gathering was bigger than most of the projects they plan to do.
The event cost about $3,000 to $4,000, which was paid for by pooling the resources of Crommett's club and the Liberty chapter, and donations of cash and airline miles, she said.
"This is a big deal and (the club members have) had to scramble really fast and hard to make it happen," she said.
Their efforts were much appreciated. Barnes' grandson, Shane Owens, began to tear up as he described his gratitude. Owens lives in Houston and got the call offering him a plane ticket to the gathering on Monday morning. He hadn't seen his grandfather in nearly 20 years.
"This has really been a godsend being able to come (have) everybody together again. This has just really been a fantastic deal," he said, his voice breaking.
"We never thought this would happen again," Michelle Owens, another grandchild, interjected.
Aside from revelling in their time together, family members were also thrilled that Barnes's poems might reach a larger audience.
"He deserves some recognition and he finally got it," said Alice Barnes, his wife of nearly 50 years.
The segment featuring Barnes' party will air Nov. 17 on NBC during the halftime of Notre Dame's game against Wake Forest.