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.”