At the beginning of each week, a group of nine Champlain College students gathers in a classroom to turn kids’ dreams into reality. This group consists of mentors for the DREAM Program, a non-profit youth mentoring organization that pairs college students with children between the ages of 5-18 living in low-income communities. Their goal is to encourage these children to make positive decisions later in life.
The Champlain mentors are paired with young people living in Birchwood Manor in Milton, and they try to get the kids out of the house as often as possible. This gives the mentees a chance to experience new opportunities they would otherwise not receive on their own. Past activities include apple picking, ice skating, and trips to an indoor trampoline park.
Substantial planning goes on behind the scenes at these meetings. Each week the mentors plan Friday’s activity, review how the previous Friday went, and give shout-outs to the kids. Next, they contact the parents and relay the itinerary for Friday’s trip. Finally, on Friday afternoons, the mentors drive to Milton to get the kids and bring them to the activity site.
“DREAM Fridays are fun for everyone and they are always the highlight of my week. I love seeing how excited the kids get when we go to pick them up,” said senior Ashley Devereaux.
DREAM is always eager to receive new mentors. Once per semester, the program holds an open DREAM day for people to see what it is like. “It seems like a really big commitment and it is, but it’s 100% worth it. If you are hesitant about mentoring someone, you should just take that chance because it impacts you in a huge way,” said Devereaux. After seeing a post about DREAM on Facebook three years ago, she became interested in the program. “I went to open DREAM and was immediately jumped on by one of the kids. It was a very overwhelming, but positive experience,” she said.
Despite mainly running the activities, the mentors are not alone. They are advised by a Program Empowerment Director (PED) who acts as a liaison between them and the DREAM office. Austin Pine serves as the PED for Champlain and supports the group, as well as helps boost the numbers of mentors and mentees in the program. Austin formerly worked for Burlington Parks and Recreation and saw DREAM mentors in a community working with kids. He appreciated the work the mentors did and wanted to get involved.
“Even if you are in a bad mood, you come here and start having a good time and having fun. It gets you out of your own head,” he said. Austin is also responsible for communicating with parents and ensuring they feel comfortable having their children be a part of the program. “From what I have seen, they are really open to having their kids involved with it and really happy to have us there,” he said.
The need for mentors is growing as drug use and suicide rates among young people increase all over the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 4,600 youth between the ages of 10 and 24 take their lives each year.
“In all honesty, I would have been doing drugs at this point of my life if I had not joined DREAM,” said 16-year-old Kloe Adams. Adams has been around the program since she was a little girl because her older brother was in it. “The DREAM community has helped me through a lot of stuff even when I did not know if I could trust anybody. They made me a better person,” she said.
During the summer, DREAM puts on a college road trip for high schoolers to explore their options. It makes the idea of going to school a possibility for the mentees and encourages them to achieve their goals.
“It helped me think about what I want to do and what colleges might offer,” said Adams. Upon graduating high school, she hopes to study Psychology at Champlain and plans to become a mentor herself.
“They made me want to continue to try and become a mentor myself one day.”
If you’re interested in becoming a mentor with DREAM, you can go to their weekly Wednesday meetings from 4:00-5:00pm in Joyce 103, or you can email Austin Pine ([email protected]) for more information.