What Makes a DREAM?

BY: Sam Mihelich, Program Empowerment Director

Over my next few blog posts, I want to highlight how DREAM’s Core Values are incorporated into our site’s programming! Today, I’m taking a look at two in conjunction: “Contagious Energy” and “Supportive Community”. If you’d like to see the official writeup of DREAM’s Core Values, you can find that here: http://www.dreamprogram.org/about/core-values.
CONTAGIOUS ENERGY
Our program creates a fun and attractive environment where diverse interests are encouraged and new ideas are supported. Those outside the program will sense this energy and will be drawn to DREAM.  Contagious energy perpetuates the feeling that anything is possible with a can-do attitude.
SUPPORTIVE COMMUNITY
The children, parents, mentors, staff, alumni, and other supporters of DREAM are part of a single community that rallies behind individuals to help them face challenges, overcome differences, and succeed.
‘THE RIVER IS AWESOME’
When I mention what I do at work, I get one of two responses. One, “Wow, that sounds like so much fun!” The other, “That’s so important. I remember how much that kind of support helped me when I was a kid.” These two responses seem opposed, but really, they encapsulate two different DREAM core values. Contagious Energy is all about the atmosphere and mood. Supportive Community is providing space and agency to have new experiences and to try new things.
Last weekend, Cecil B Moore went on a camping trip. The mentees were so excited to get out of the city, but they were also anxious about sleeping outdoors and eating over a campfire. DREAM’s high adventure trip is the perfect place to foster contagious energy and a supportive community!

If you’ve ever driven a car full of kids somewhere, you’ve felt contagious energy. We had DREAMer Mark yelling that he’s “so excited to leave Philadelphia!” and reassuring one of the younger mentees, Zaria, about being away from home. She was nervous at first, but she knew she would have fun because everyone else was keeping the mood light. I overheard Sean and Tymir talking while swapping spots in a kayak. Sean was getting out, and Tymir was about to take to the water. “How was it? Was it fun?” Tymir asked. “Yeah! It was so cool! The river is awesome!” Sean answered with gusto. The energy each child brought with them bounced off everyone else, and it allowed for new experiences and enthusiasm in learning new skills.
That enthusiasm was only possible because of the supportive community in place. It encourages the idea that anything is possible, and provides space to face challenges head on. One of the mentees was incredibly nervous about getting on the river while kayaking, and tensed up about a boat-length’s distance into the river. Each kayak was a mentor-mentee pairing, which allowed for support and encouragement through every paddle. The other kayak also came alongside them as reassuring agents, while providing time to calm down and explore this new environment. Within five minutes, they were off, with laughter permeating the air. I’m incredibly proud of our mentors and mentees for organizing this trip. At one point, Mark remarked, “I’m glad we’re by the fire. It draws you into conversation and we can listen to everyone.” His remark about camping punctuates and draws out what was already there and growing… a supportive community.

Mission Moment: How Does DREAM Help You?

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.

Ice Skating and the Art of Learning

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!

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Aboard the Broad Street Line, Sean (left) whispers to the ear of Will (right), a Temple University mentor serving our DREAM site at Cecil B. Moore

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!