Local company invests in its employees’ personal dreams ahead of its own

photo by: Contributed photo

Stacey Wycoff is embraced by Pennington & Company CEO Patrick Alderdice at the company's recent holiday party. She received a dream grant to buy a new camera.

When Stacey Wycoff was first asked to dream big, she wasn’t sure how.

At the time, she was a new employee at Pennington & Company, 501 Gateway Drive, which does fundraising and alumni relations for sororities and fraternities around the U.S. She quickly learned the Dream Big program was just as much a priority as filling out health insurance papers.

Implemented in 2011, the program is loosely based on the book “The Dream Manager,” by Matthew Kelly, which explores the idea that companies can achieve remarkable results by helping their employees fulfill their personal dreams.

“You can’t ask your employees to invest in the company’s dreams if they can’t invest in their own,” said Wycoff, who began at the company as an administrative assistant. “So they need to engage in their own life first before you can get them to engage at work.”

A co-worker brought the idea to the attention of the company’s CEO, Patrick Alderdice, and he loved the concept, Wycoff said.

During her first week of work as a new employee, she was assigned Kelly’s book to read and told to write down 100 dreams. Then Pennington’s dream coach met with her to go over the list.

Wycoff described that first list of dreams as a “pathetic to-do list.”

“I came to Pennington at such a rough time in my life,” Wycoff said. Newly divorced, her focus was on her family.

“I never thought about myself; I was thinking about my two small children and making ends meet,” she said. Her dreams involved getting her kids into sports programs.

Wycoff met regularly with the company’s dream manager at the time, Marybeth Mermis, who told her to dig deeper.

“She asked what things I wanted to accomplish,” Wycoff said.

She said Mermis helped her to see what she needed to do to achieve the dream and nudged her along the way.

On a regular basis, Mermis helped her identify her dreams and put together a game plan to begin achieving them.

“I went from making sure I enrolled my son in soccer to paddleboarding in Cabo and building our dream home and expanding a business I love,” Wycoff said.

Dreams big and small

Although the program is not mandatory, some of the company’s 72 employees have achieved and celebrated more than 800 dreams since 2011.

One employee played guitar with the English rockstar John Waite; others have gone zip lining through the mountains of Colorado, and some have eliminated debt. Some have lost weight following their dreams; others have run for city council.

Six years ago, Mermis decided to follow her own dream to open a branch of her daughter’s Kansas City business, t.Loft, at 4801 Bauer Farm Drive. Because their family suffers from celiac disease, the cafe focuses on fresh and gluten-free foods.

“I was telling others to follow their dreams and what was in their hearts, and I thought I should follow mine,” Mermis said. “It was a dream to help others who have celiac disease.”

When Wycoff learned that Mermis was leaving, she realized her dream was to have that position.

“I wanted to help people because it helped me so much,” Wycoff said. “It was such an unorthodox way of doing business, to talk about people’s dreams on company time. And then we had designated time to focus on our dream. It was a crazy way of investing in people, and I believed in it so much.”

Nudging dreams into reality

Since then, the company has established a Dream Grant for which employees can apply to help them achieve their dreams.

“Two things that stop people from dreaming is fear and money,” Wycoff said. People don’t like getting out of their comfort zones; plus, it’s expensive to dream. Each year, $2,500 is given in grants to help employees get over that last nudge toward achieving their goals.

“We only have one shot at life. This is it. So let’s live the width, as well as the length of our lives,” Wycoff said.

photo by: Contributed photo

Kellen Whaley, a participant in Pennington & Company’s “Dream Big,” program did so well he ended up on the Food Network Christmas Cookie Challenge and won in 2018.

One co-worker’s dream was to have a side baking business. He asked for $300 for baking supplies. Kellen Whaley did so well he ended up on the Food Network Christmas Cookie Challenge in 2018 and he won. He was just invited back to do another cookie challenge that is airing on the network.

Another employee, Bobby Grangier, asked for a grant for several sessions with a personal trainer. He then completed the Norseman Xtreme Triathlon in Norway. The distances are equivalent to those of an Ironman race with the swim starting from the loading bay of a car ferry in the middle of the fjord and then a bike and run up a mountain.

photo by: Contributed photo

Bobby Grangier, a consultant at Pennington & Company, received a grant to pay for a personal trainer as he prepared to compete in his dream – the Norseman Xtreme Triathlon. In this photo, he is seen finishing the race in Norway in August 2019.

The employees are so engaged in the program that they have developed “dream trip consultants” who donate their flight points for those who have a dream trip.

“It’s co-workers helping other co-workers to achieve their dream,” Wycoff said. “You just can’t get a closer bond. No work project would get you that much closer.”

Another dream of Wycoff’s has been to expand the program. This year, she will be helping employees at Lawrence-based Kindred CPA with their Dreams Program.

Kindred became an independent firm from Mize Houser & Company P.A. in October, said Ken Hite, managing director. This freed them up and offered them the flexibility to implement the program.

photo by: Contributed photo

Ken Hite, managing director of Kindred CPA, of Lawrence, said they have developed a Dream Program, similar to Pennington & Company’s Dream Big, which will be managed by Stacey Wycoff.

“We have had a close affiliation with Pennington and read ‘The Dream Manager’ book and were intrigued by it,” Hite said. “We liked the concept of encouraging people to have personal dreams. Too often, they go home and life intrudes and they don’t think about their personal dreams anymore. This is an opportunity to be intentional, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it takes us.”

His personal dream is to bike across Great Britain in the next couple of years.

“When you introduce this program, people are dubious and not sure how all of this might affect them and they might be skeptical personally, but Stacey told us that our inner 5-year-old is inside us celebrating, doing a little dance,” he said.


Welcome to the new LJWorld.com. Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.