The Mentoring Payback

I Have A Dream Foundation of Boulder County (courtesy image)

“I Have A Dream” Foundation of Boulder County

The sheer effectiveness of one local nonprofit makes its story extraordinary.

For 25 years running, “I Have A Dream” Foundation of Boulder County has bolstered students from low-income homes. Today, 90% of those “Dreamers” graduate from high school, a greater rate than their disadvantaged peers.  Even more impressive: at least 85% of those graduates will go on to pursue higher education.

The foundation has served 780 Dreamers in the Boulder and St. Vrain Valley school districts since 1990, making it one of the biggest and most successful “I Have A Dream” chapters in the country. The economic and social impacts of its students’ graduations and post-graduate pursuits are far beyond any calculable number.

With this kind of success, the gratification for everyone involved is off the charts. Consider the organization’s volunteers, especially its mentors. “I Have A Dream” enables these volunteers to make an enormous and sustained difference in the lives of students who really need the help.

A mentor provides one Dreamer with a long-term, reliable, and supportive relationship, serving as a positive role model and offering one-on-one guidance. Mentors meet with their Dreamer twice every month – doing the kinds of everyday activities that may seem unremarkable, but actually go a long way toward showing Dreamers the doors that education can open.

If you’re seeking a truly meaningful give-back opportunity that is time-manageable, you’ve found it.  Meet three mentors here, explore the foundation’s website, and engage in any way you can.

Angela and Priscilla

Angela and Priscilla

Angela Maly moved to Colorado after receiving a degree in physics from Georgetown University. At CU Boulder, she earned a master’s degree in religious studies.  Angela is a 10-year veteran of Vail Resorts, where she is currently the Epic Pass Sales Manager, canvassing the state. Angela is also a dedicated world traveler (check out her travel blog).

Angela is a mentor to 10-year-old Priscilla. Priscilla lives with her mother during the week and her father on weekends. She often serves as her father’s translator. Priscilla adores her little brother, who has special needs, and helps her mother to care for him.

“Priscilla is amazing! She is great with her little brother and with any and all children,” Angela says. “She is the kindest third grader you will ever meet. Her family is incredibly caring and kind as well.”

Angela applied with I Have A Dream to be a mentor last January. She went through the vetting process and orientation, and was paired with Priscilla in May.

“We’ve been having fun together ever since,” Angela says. “Priscilla is always up for any activity and she inspires me to think about others before I think about myself.”

Angela says that the language barrier between herself and Priscilla’s parents is the most challenging aspect.  But that difficulty is far outweighed by the upside mentoring offers.

“Being part of a child’s life for the long term and having them grow and develop into strong, smart young people is the most rewarding part,” Angela says. “Knowing that I play even the smallest role in who she becomes makes all the effort worthwhile.”

Robert and Alex

Robert and Alex

Robert Wellington is a case manager for children with developmental disabilities in Jefferson County. He also works at a day program for adults with developmental disabilities, and provides 1:1 community outings with a teenager who has autism.

While attending graduate school for teaching, Robert realized he didn’t care for classroom management but did like working with and supporting youth. He took an AmeriCorps position with I Have A Dream, and eventually began mentoring his Dreamer, Alex.

Alex is a junior at Boulder High School. He is the third of four children, and two of his siblings are also Dreamers. Alex is passionate about Japanese culture, video games, and superheroes. This year he launched and is now president of a new Boulder High club called 1Up. He’s had summer internships with CU and Intrado the past two summers. Alex wants to go to college to study computers.

Despite living far apart (Robert in Denver and Alex in North Boulder) and working three jobs, Robert has found time to organize many fun and impactful outings.

“We’ve gone to a lot of movie premieres – both anime movies that were in Japanese with subtitles, and American superhero movies.” Robert says. “We went to Colorado’s largest Japanese cultural convention Nan Desu Kan and are going to Comic Con. We try to go to at least one Rockies game each summer.”

For Robert, seeing Alex become more comfortable with who he is, and being able to support the pursuit of his passions are the most rewarding aspects of mentoring.

“Attending Nan Desu Kan inspired Alex to launch his video game club 1Up – something he would never have done when I first met him,” Robert says.

Caitlin and Alexandra

Caitlin and Alexandra

Caitlin Palar is a native Iowan who has been living in the Boulder area for two years. She began volunteering with “I Have A Dream” in 2014 as a program intern. She became a mentor in early 2015, working with 10-year-old Alexandra.

“Alexandra is sometimes a little shy but she’s not afraid to challenge herself with new opportunities,” Caitlin says. This year Caitlin took Alexandra on her first-ever hike up Rabbit Mountain in Longmont.

“It is sometimes challenging to come up with new, unique activities to do with Alexandra twice a month, but I try to channel my inner 10-year-old and remember things I enjoyed doing when I was that age,” Caitlin says. “The most rewarding aspect so far has been teaching her how to roller skate and ice skate.”

Through activities like these, Caitlin has helped Alexandra tap into the power of self-challenge.

“I challenge her not to hold onto the wall, and coach her on good form to keep from falling. Alexandra challenges herself to go all the way around another time without falling,” Caitlin explains.

Caitlin likes how supportive I Have A Dream is in keeping mentors informed about local events and hosting activities as well, citing a recent gathering at Barnes and Noble Bookstore in Boulder.

“I loved seeing how excited Alexandra was to be around all those books,” she says.

BoulderSource is pleased to make the “I Have a Dream” Foundation our Featured Friend for November. Since 1990, the award-winning “I Have a Dream” Foundation of Boulder County has helped hundreds of low-income children graduate high school and achieve their education and career goals by providing long-term personal and academic support, tutoring, mentoring, and $10,000 in scholarships to each graduating student. The program follows the national model established in New York in 1981 by founder Eugene Lang. The organization opens learning centers in low-income housing sites or schools, and works with multiple classes of 50 to 80 elementary school students and their families “to and through” high school graduation and college. “I Have a Dream” Boulder County has served 780 children, with services reaching their families to impact more than 3,000 individuals, doubling expected graduation rates for those in its program, and awarding more than $2 million in scholarships to date. Currently there are seven active “I Have a Dream” classes in Boulder County: specifically in Boulder, Lafayette, and Longmont.