The "I have a Dream"® organization offers a chance for educational and personal growth By Tom and Kathy Kelly
We believe that anyone in our great country who's blessed with health and some wealth has a responsibility and opportunity to help those less fortunate. We also believe that one great way to give back and truly change lives is through education — and the younger the children are when you start, the better.
After researching various education-based programs, we chose to affiliate with the "I Have a Dream"® (IHAD)organization. whick Eugene Lang created to help some economically disadvantaged kids in New York City in 1981. Lang's well structured concepts, motivations, and commitments have proven to be very successful: 70% of his original Dreamers went to college. Today, IHAD programs operate in 76 schools or housing projects across the country and have extended post high school tuition assistance promises to 13,500 youngsters.
When we decided to sponsor 54 first graders through our own IHAD program in Greensboro, Georgia in the fall of 2000, we knew we were committing to an active and rewarding retirement and we have not been disappointed. We've formed productive partnerships with the school (especially Principal Joan Antone), the community and, most importantly, with the 54 children and their parents. The program itself has evolved as we constantly attempt to address academics but also confidence, character, life skills, and an ability to dream about and then pursue a wide variety of careers and interests.
We are particularly blessed to have an incredible young lady and mother, Beth Thomas, as our full time Program Director. Beth is the heart, soul, and brains of our program and is the driving force who makes it all happen with our 6 part time teachers and an astounding average of 30 volunteers per week. As IHAD's first rural program, our location adds to the challenge of raising $250,000 annually in operating and tuition accrual. Through perseverance, though, we've found many willing donors.
We are extremely proud of the children and the results they have achieved. Significant quantifiable improvements in national test scores and the increased number of kids on the honor roll are irrefutable. Dramatic improvements in behavior and, more importantly, self-confidence also are very evident. Best of all, these young Dreamers believe they can be anything they want to be.
A special aspect of our IHAD chapter is the many field trips our kids have taken. We contend that it is easier to dream if you have had a large variety of hands-on experiences so we spend lots of our out of school time going to different places beyond rural Greensboro, Georgia: To date we have taken all of the kids on 42 field trips, including many museums, the live theatre in Atlanta, and Space Camp in Alabama. Smaller groups, as rewards for very good grades, behavior and effort, have been to New York City, Philadelphia, and Florida. One of our dreams is for the kids to appear on Oprah Winfrey's television show, because she's such a compelling role model.
Wherever we go, these trips are motivational and educational and with each event we ask the children to consider jobs and careers that they 've encountered -- astronaut, actor, curator, restaurateur, etc. -- and the skills and hard work required to make it happen. Even now, and though for many it will undoubtedly change, each Dreamer could tell you what he or she wants to become.
In the next few years we'll try to make those dreams even more likely. Once our kids reach middle school and high school, we want them to join sports teams, the band, the school paper, wherever their interests lead them. So we must let the program change and grow as they do.
If the IHAD Greensboro Dreamers can become productive citizens with a broad range of experiences, our work will benefit not only them, but also their families, acquaintances and the communities they choose-including our own Greene County. So it's truly geometric when you help one child. And while our goal aims to provide tuition assistance to each child seeking a degree, we're really embarking on a 16-year mission lasting from first grade through four years of post-high school education.
We want these kids to work hard and be comfortable moving into different worlds. But we're already celebrating successes. Nothing beats having an excited youngster run up and say, "I just made A honor roll." We're getting back so much more than we give.
Tom Kelly is a former health-care executive, and Kathy Kelly is the former mayor of Clearwater, Fl.