The Stuff of DREAMs
By Jake Bayer, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, January 25, 2013
Directing through recreation, education, adventure and mentoring might not be the first thing that comes to mind when we hear the word “dream.” But for some Dartmouth students and youth in the Upper Valley, this program, more commonly known by the acronym DREAM, this is the most important iteration of dreaming in Hanover.
DREAM brings kids between the ages of five and 18 from three different local housing communities to campus every Friday afternoon for regular, structured activities with a group of Dartmouth mentors.
“We are one of the only constants in their life,” Katie Gibson ’15 said.
Rather than focusing on a specific aspect of the kids’ lives like academics or athletics, DREAM prioritizes creating a level of comfort between mentees and mentors. In addition to weekly activities on campus, students travel to the communities with their mentees to create more opportunities to bond and to help the kids open up.
“I think it is a partnership between the College, the community and the housing neighborhood; but it is also a relationship between the kids, the parents and the siblings,” program empowerment director Kate Piniewski said.
Once a term, DREAM mentors cook dinner for the children in their assigned neighborhoods to foster community.
The mentors are tasked with counseling children who are often from a different background than the average Dartmouth student.
“It isn’t always cute kids running around laughing,” director Somi Kim ’13 said.
Coming from underprivileged communities make some of the situations the mentees face at home difficult for a college student to handle. The DREAM program prepares participants to handle these situations and react appropriately in difficult settings, according to Hannah Coleman ’15.
“You are coming into a world of problems, but we have some solutions for those,” Piniewski said.
Dartmouth students are drawn to participate the program partly due to its public visibility, but the intensity of the issues that the mentors deal with and the time commitment required means that those who stick with the organization form a dedicated mentor group. Before acceptance into the program or any direct interaction with the kids, interested students take part in a rigorous application process that includes written answers and interviews. Once accepted, they must visit each community and then apply to be a mentor at the one they feel is the best fit. New mentors spend most of their first term shadowing an older, more experienced member of the program.
“We try to make it clear to applicants what we mean to kids and how important it is to stay in it,” Gibson said.
DREAM’s focus on personal relationships and consistent attendance at weekly meetings means DREAM places dedication to the program near the top of its requirements.
“It is a huge time commitment for the mentors,” Kim said. “They commit every Friday afternoon.”
To ensure continuity between changing mentors and Upper Valley participants, DREAM teams up newer mentors with older ones to make sure that connections are not lost as a result of the D-Plan or graduation, according to Gibson.
“I think the mentees love their mentors,” Kim said. “Sometimes the mentors don’t realize how much they mean to the mentees.”
Kim recounted a story in which one of the DREAM participants decided to divide a box of 20-piece Chicken McNuggets evenly between himself and his mentor as an example of the close bonds the participants form.
And it doesn’t just go one way: the close relationship between the mentees and the mentors has an effect on both parties. The program exposes Dartmouth students to the world outside of Hanover, breaking the infamous “Dartmouth Bubble.”
“[Mentors] get to experience communities in the Upper Valley that are sort of cut off from the larger population,” Piniewski said.
Although DREAM mentors’ first priority is to interact with and guide their kids, their experiences in another setting also help them gain a new perspective on their situation.
“The more you know about the community, the more you get out of [DREAM],” Kim said. “Right outside of Hanover, 10 minutes away, there is a community where [families] can’t pay for housing.”
The benefits of the program on both sides of DREAM makes it a meaningful experience for both participants and volunteers.
Piniewski emphasized the increased likelihood that DREAM mentees will graduate from high school and go on to college, sometimes becoming DREAM mentors themselves, she said.
My fantasy of seeing DREAM mentors and mentees pull off the dance number to Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams Come True” from “500 Days of Summer” may never come to fruition, but the success of the program outside of choreography seems to match up with the words the acronym stands for. Community support is what DREAMs are made of.