BY: Sam Mihelich, Program Empowerment Director
BY: Jay MacFadge, Program Director
Javier Zurita, Development Assistant
To mark the celebration of Women’s History Month, we are reminded of the courageous women who lead our community efforts. But it is also a poignant time to consider the heroines to-be DREAM fosters through our work in Philadelphia. Nowhere is this more remarkable than in the relationship between Amanda and Faiza. They have been with us since DREAM launched in Philadelphia. Outside weekly enrichment activities Faiza, Amanda, and her mentor, Owasra hang out on weekends, watch movies together, while she has proven to be a reliable member in the fundraising activities organized by Temple students. Like all mentors in the program, Amanda–who is also the co-chair for the Cecil B. Moore site–cares deeply about our kids, but her background in secondary education lends new meaning to the Village Mentoring model.
“I enjoy DREAM because you can do more than you can with education. In the education field, it’s really important to create a wall between you and the students,” Amanda told us recently at our offices in Cecil B. Moore apartments. She added, “I can take the kids wherever I need to. I can take them somewhere I know they’ll have a good time, and not worry about being outside the boundaries of what I can do with the kids.”
According to Child Trends, a youth-focused think tank, mentoring organizations devoted to tackling different root causes of poverty performed best when tracking life changes. Under this view, they are also the most “economically efficient because, all else equal, a single program would produce multiple positive outcomes.” More succinctly, Phillip Levine, a professor of economics at Wellesley College, has argued in favor of community-based mentoring and found that “providing life guidance may be more important than providing academic guidance.”
But the most important source of empowerment comes from the mentees’ voices. While our Village Mentoring model encourages mentors to create local, regional, and high-end adventures for the kids, their true value is only reflected when it’s paired with the attention of affectionate adults. “I appreciate how [Amanda] cares and acts. For Owa, the same thing,” shared Faiza with us. She added sheepishly, “They say it. They show it.” There’s no further proof than that, according to Faiza.
With many changes approaching in Faiza’s future, there’s one thing she’s certain of. “I hope DREAM is still a program, because I’m going to come back and give back,” she said. And if you’re wondering in what capacity, then it will be to serve as a voice of justice. “I want to be a lawyer, and then a judge.”
BY: Jennifer Horan, Regional Director
Every March the DREAM development team enters a season we lovingly refer to as, “Grantpocalypse,” a 1-2 month period in late spring when our calendars are filled with multiple grant application due dates. During this time, my over-caffeinated brain is humming with qualitative data, program outcomes and various other evaluative measurements demonstrating the impact of our mission to prospective funders. What these statistics don’t measure, though, are those random and beautiful “mission moments” that help validate why we do what we do.
Recently, on a blustery February Friday, our Program Director, Jay MacFadgen, walked up the block to Beckett Gardens Apartments to visit the mentors and kids during programming. Inside he found Temple mentor, Zena and her mentee, Nolen. The two were face to face, engrossed in conversation and sucking on lollipops. Jay took his phone out to take a picture, but decided to record a video instead. His question for Nolen was simple…”tell me why you like DREAM.” This was his response…
Nolen wasn’t prompted, and we weren’t fishing for a sound bite. He spoke with the unrestrained honesty of a child when asked how he really felt about DREAM, about the mentors, about his Zena. In the end, this is what we call a mission moment. It’s a simple yet poignant reminder that our work isn’t validated by statistics or grant awards, but by an 8-year old boy whose day is better because we’re in it.
BY: SAM MIHELICH – Program Empowerment Director
Our Cecil B Moore site took upon themselves a challenge at the beginning of the year. They decided that they wanted to get off-site at least once each month. They’ve been on the college campus, to the zoo, and more, always having new experiences to look forward to and chances to learn. This last Friday we went ice skating, and we saw how mentoring and learning work in tandem!
The confidence of a kid learning a new skill is incredible. One of the boys started off shaky, hugging the rink’s wall for the first 15 minutes. By the time we were done, he was skating in circles. I went to tell Sean how proud I was of his improvement, to which he responded with, “Yeah. I know.” and then continued to talk about how excited he was about sliding around on the ice. To Sean, this wasn’t a question. He knew that he could improve and he gave it his all, confident in himself and the mentors to help him learn.
When a young person has support to try new experiences, they flourish. Our mentors and kids have grown through these monthly trips, and it’s been so cool to hear them talk about the relationships they’ve built while learning new things!
BY: Jennifer Horan – Regional Director
After three years of getting to know Shakoya, one of DREAM’s very first teen Mentors-in-Training (MiTs), we’ve picked up on a lot of her interests, which include reading, fashion, taste testing her sister Kyah’s culinary creations, scary movies, animals…and puns. Koya never met a pun she didn’t like. I’m not kitten you.
When I heard about Philly’s very first Cat Cafe opening up in Fairmount I knew this would be a purrfect place for Koya to do some volunteer work. A major component to our MiT curriculum is to teach our teens to become active citizens by engaging in community service. The DREAM staff have tried to pair up volunteer opportunities to match the interests of each teen. Our goal is to instill a sense of civic responsibility in each MiT so that they will continue to serve their communities.
Le Cat Cafe (www.lecatcafe.org) is a new adoption platform for Green Street Rescue, a Philadelphia based non-profit which rescues stray and homeless cats. Cat Cafe’s are popular in Japan and have recently begun cropping up in major cities across the US. These cafes are unique because they allow potential adopters to interact with the cats prior to making a decision to adopt and also helps once feral cats socialize with people. Lucky for us, they also love volunteers!
Koya, her sister’s Kyah and Ahkirah and myself filled out a volunteer application and found ourselves walking into the parisian-styled cafe. We were greeted by the Volunteer Coordinator and about 12 free range kitties curiously eyeing us up. The warm-up period was fairly brief once the kitties were purr-sueded to emerge with catnip and cat toys. Koya’s love of cats made her an easy target for some of the more playful and affectionate kitties and soon she was surrounded by several furry admirers.
The Cat Cafe also has a large collection of cat books which Koya took an interest to. Koya has expressed an interest in veterinology as a possible career choice. While she purr-used through the books I took on the role of purrista, getting drinks from their cafe selections which included, catpuccinos, hot chocat, meowcha lattes, and catspressos.
While all of us really enjoyed our volunteer experience at Le Cat Cafe, it was obvious that the biggest fan of the cafe was Koya. All kitten aside, we hope to return so that she can keep learning about animal care as she continues to explore this as a potential career interest. We had such a paw-some time at Le Cat Cafe and can’t wait to volunteer again!
For the record… – pun count: 11
Mentors-in-Training interns get paired with DREAM staff members:
On Friday, January 13th, DREAM had its much anticipated “Mentor Reveal Day.” The program team and staff prepared a day of fun for the Mentor-in-Training interns, taking them to the Rolling Thunder Skating Center, before revealing staff mentor matches for our teens.
Created in the midst of our launch in Philadelphia, this innovative program devotes substantial resources to young students in their teenage years, cementing their college and career goals. The teenage years can be a troubling age for all, as issues are compounded by exposure to damaging forces, which causes these teens to disengage from school. This supportive group to which our teens apply are accepted after an interview and years of demonstrated commitment to DREAM; their role is to embrace new responsibilities in supporting our mentees and the organization, whereas our DREAM staff does our part to provide them with professional skills and the guidance to achieve success in life, with topics including healthy lifestyles, civic engagement, and most importantly, college education preparation. In the meantime, the interns sign a contract pledging to lead and facilitate activities for the younger cohort of mentees, planning the curriculum for our weekly enrichment programming, organizing community service events, and receiving professional academic tutoring.
Below is an interview DREAM conducted with Naijada (Nai Nai), one of our Mentor-in-Training interns. Do not be deceived by short responses, however; for Nai Nai is a young lady imbued with an entrepreneurial spirit. After DREAM, she envisions herself attending university to major in economics.
Javier: How did you hear about DREAM?
Nai Nai: I heard about DREAM from a friend. My friend worked at DREAM, she told me about it, and so I was interested, and I started DREAM
Javier: What does DREAM mean in your life?
Nai Nai: DREAM kicked me out of a lot of trouble, because without DREAM, I’d probably be out in the streets doing things I shouldn’t be doing.
Javier: What’s the biggest change in your life that DREAM helped you with?
Nai Nai: DREAM made me want to be a better person. It made me tell myself, ‘I can do better.’
Javier: What is the most important aspect about mentorship?
Nai Nai: The most important thing about mentoring is communication. If you can communicate with your mentor, it gives the mentee something to trust, to talk to them about things. That way, you know there will always be someone to help you and talk to you!
Javier: What do you like about local adventure trips?
Nai Nai: They create an opportunity for me to communicate with my mentor. And also, just sharing the experience with everybody. Because every time we go somewhere, to everyone it is new, so sharing that experience with everybody is fun.
Javier: What are your plans after DREAM?
Nai Nai: I’m finishing school
When we asked Koya to reflect on her experience with us, she simply said, “DREAM made me, me.” From our perspective—the staff and mentors—this opens with meaning the importance of being the organization “Directing through Recreation, Education, Adventure, and Mentoring.” In Philadelphia, this approach takes on added importance, for the city has made recent budget cuts, “eliminating art, music, and athletic programs.” Tragically, this limits the opportunities for their education, failing to expose them to the joy of learning while playing, or finding pride in their communities through sports. At DREAM, we present an alternative to kids based on our Village-Mentoring model, knitting together universities and communities to create one family.
As part of our Mentors-in-Training internship, Koya, and her sister, Kyah, also benefit tremendously from the other components of DREAM. Through the years, they have grown to be committed and reliable partners for our youth, being an irreplaceable presence in our weekly programming activities—partnering with kids as trusted mentors and serving as leaders in our local and regional trips. “We help them build on their everyday lives. We help them talk about their stress. It gets them off the streets from being bad,” Kyah remarked about the importance of DREAM in children’s lives.
Two years ago, Koya and Kyah embarked upon our first college road-trip. Until that moment, they were both intimidated by the prospects—and indeed, the possibility—of receiving a post-secondary education. “Before our college road trip, we would just hang out, throw a ball around. When I went to those colleges, I said: I need to get this (high-school) diploma to get this. Hold up! Now I know what I need” Koya said. She hopes to be a professional veterinarian one day, and we’ve continued to support her by organizing civic service activities at animal shelters.
We’ve also been the organization that has strengthened the sisterly bond between Koya and Kyah. “I think that it’s great to have a sister in DREAM. I get to work with her inside and out of DREAM. We bump heads, but then I see her in DREAM and I got to put my argument to the side,” they sheepishly admitted. In the process, however, they’ve gained other sisters too, like “Aloni and Jas and Maya and Flannery.”
Like all dreams, ours was organic. Envisioned in the imagination of student volunteers from Dartmouth College, and realized in the nearby Templeton Court Apartments, DREAM was founded in January of 1999. In November of 2001 it became an independent non-profit organization. However, we were never afraid of dreaming too big. On the contrary, DREAM kept getting bigger and bigger–first in Vermont, and soon thereafter, nationally!
Today, DREAM supports over 350 mentoring pairs spread out over 18 local programs throughout Vermont, Greater Boston area, and Philadelphia.
DREAM IS BORN
The program traces its origins to 1998 when Kathryn Ross, an AmeriCorps member, was charged with the duty of providing after-school programming for the close to 100 children living at the Templeton Court Apartments, a Section 8 housing development. Kathryn connected with students attending Dartmouth, who quickly organized themselves into a weekly mentoring program that became known as DREAM (Directing through Recreation, Education, Adventure, and Mentoring).
By May of 1999, the program consisted of more than 30 mentoring pairs who undertook bold adventures together. Over the next two years, they planned and raised money to travel to Boston, Colorado, Montreal, and Washington DC. These trips laid the foundation for DREAM’s High Adventure program. We promise our teens that they will never walk alone in life. For the trips, we designed our now famous bright yellow and blue t-shirts, so every one of us could be spotted any time. And our teens can be sure that this piece of clothe lasts far more than any single trip. Instead, it wears on you forever, because you can be sure that you can count on the support of our alumni network, including hundreds of former mentors and mentees.
TAKING ROOT IN VERMONT
Many of the original mentors graduated in 2001, and two of the graduates decided to found a non-profit organization with a vision to have loving adults be meaningfully involved in children’s lives. They wanted to provide experiences that would allow DREAM’s youth to be well positioned to achieve their dreams. That and have fun.
New programs were started with the University of Vermont, Champlain College, St. Michaels College, and nearby communities. To address the need for summer and winter programming while mentors were on break, DREAM hired interns to provide summer programs in the communities, and purchased land in Fletcher, Vermont, which became Camp DREAM. Camp offered summer and winter adventure experiences. By 2006, year-round programming provided a constant mentoring presence in the lives of DREAM youth.
GROWTH BEYOND VERMONT