Local organization helps at-risk children aim for the stars
Growing up as one of three daughters in a single-parent home wasn’t the easiest beginning for one of Houston’s first “Dreamers,” Debora. After her father passed away, Debora’s mother was left with the difficult task of raising her children alone in one of Houston’s inner-city neighborhoods. Being matched with a Dream Partner mentor served as a turning point in Debora’s life and gave her the tools she needed to finish high school, prepare for college and follow her dreams. After graduating from Baylor University with assistance from “I Have a Dream” – Houston’s scholarship funds, she began her career as a laboratory technician at St. Luke’s Hospital and continues to live and work in Houston today.
“I Have a Dream” – Houston (IHAD) has been helping individuals like Debora since 1987, when a group of caring Houstonians collaborated to create an organization that would provide long-term mentoring and dropout-prevention programs that promote higher education for low-income, inner-city children. Since then, IHAD has helped more than 700 students in the Houston area graduate from high school and pursue college, vocational school, a military program or a career plan.
How it happens
After selecting a school in need, IHAD teams up with teachers and administration members and adopts a group of up to 50 at-risk third graders, called “Dreamers,” to participate in the IHAD program. Schools are selected by the demographics of their student population, and all Dreamers are identified as susceptible to dropping out of school, qualify for free/reduced lunch and are indicative of the low-income family status. Each Dreamer is matched with one adult volunteer mentor, or “Dream Partner,” and the pair meets for at least one hour a week for one-on-one mentoring. Volunteer mentors for IHAD work with student Dreamers from their third grade year through their senior year in high school — and beyond.
Dream Partners provide individual support, academic assistance and social guidance for these at-risk students throughout many of the most influential years of their lives. In addition, IHAD facilitates programs and activities that focus on the five key areas of academics, career exploration, college planning, leadership and personal development, and social responsibility. Upon entry into the program, student Dreamers give their pledge to finish high school, and IHAD works to make this happen by providing tutoring, educational enrichment trips and community service projects. Student Dreamers that do fulfill their pledge of graduating from high school are eligible for scholarship funding of up to $4,000 each to pursue their education or career plans.
Joining the team
Dream Partners are continually needed to mentor student Dreamers. Every volunteer is expected to commit one hour of their time per week to mentor their Dreamer, as well as pledge to participate for at least one year. Mentors must be at least 21 years old and must attend a mandatory one-hour Show &Tell event, in addition to a four-hour orientation and training session. Dream Partners are also interviewed one-on-one by an IHAD staff member before beginning their experience as a student mentor.
A multitude of other volunteer opportunities with IHAD are available for interested individuals. While IHAD tutors provide individual and group academic assistance to students involved in the IHAD program, interpreters are needed to translate English to Spanish for phone calls and visits with many of the Dreamers’ parents. Others enjoy participating as activities volunteers by helping plan and chaperone field trips and program activities organized for the Dreamers. In addition, TreeKids volunteers help Dreamers beautify the city by planting trees at many parks and schools. Every volunteer with IHAD plays an integral role in shaping each student’s life and further assists in helping Dreamers move toward the ultimate goal of graduating from high school and pursuing a promising path in life.
Backing the cause
IHAD is a private, non-profit, 501(c) (3) tax-exempt, independent organization that receives no funding from the national “I Have a Dream” organization. All financial support is provided by individuals, foundations, corporations, churches and civic groups that help make the IHAD program possible. For $2,000 a year, a student Dreamer is provided with mentoring, tutoring and academic support to reach his educational goals. Funds donated to IHAD also help sponsor a scholarship program set up for student Dreamers who complete high school.
Supporting IHAD may be as easy as a swipe of a card for those who shop at Randalls in the Houston area. By linking your Randalls Remarkable card to IHAD, you can automatically donate a portion of your purchase to the organization at no extra cost to you. IHAD also gladly accepts school supplies from donors to supplement its many educational programs and activities.
“I Have a Dream” – Houston
3000 Richmond Ave., Ste. 360