I learned a great deal about building and managing programs while at Wellspring, and I wanted to put that knowledge to use in the DREAM Program.
Mike and his twin brother Jesse grew up in the windy city of Chicago, and like many twins, they are the best of friends who have explored the world together since infancy. After high school, they attended Dartmouth together where Mike earned his degree in biology with a focus on ecology. After graduation he worked for AmeriCorps as an anti-poverty fellow, and then in 2001 he co-founded The DREAM Program to address issues of poverty head-on. He built it up to a sustainable level by 2004, at which point he hired new management and set off for South America where he did volunteer work and learned some Spanish. When he came back, Mike attended graduate school at the University of Washington receiving his masters in Public Administration. He then ran a couple of political campaigns in Vermont. Mike returned to DREAM about a year ago. His colleague, Brian Fuller, is working to establish a foothold for the program in Philadelphia, and he will join Mike on the cruise.
DREAM is ambitious in it goals, but it does its work with one at-risk child at a time. They partner with parents, local housing authorities, and companies like Cabot Creamery, and they show the kids that there's more to life than what they often see in their neighborhoods. Each at-risk child is partnered with a college student, and that student brings the child to college with him or her once a week, every week. The kids learn what college is like. They sit in classes with the college student; they eat in the cafeteria; they go to the library; and they attend sporting events, concerts, and other college-oriented activities. Says Mike: "The goal is to expose the kids to a broad range of experiences they would not otherwise get. We help them build confidence, develop life skills, form personal attachments, and be prepared to succeed after high school. The program has a remarkable impact on our kids, and many have now come back to serve as mentors themselves while they're attending college."
Mike has big plans for the program and wants to establish a dozen offices in the northeast. They currently mentor about 400 children in Vermont and Boston, and that will only grow as Philadelphia moves forward. Since the program involves the parents, who meet regularly with the college mentors, and other community partners, it has staying power. Says Mike: "We're not going anywhere. We keep our promise to the kids and their families. And once we earn the confidence and get buy-in from the parents, we invariably see great personal development and the potential for a bright future for the DREAM kids."