Welcome to the first of many stories in our new ‘Why I DREAM’ series! This series is dedicated to featuring the insights and perspectives of former staff, mentors, and mentees on their personal experience with DREAM.
Our first story comes from Kaitlyn, a former mentor. Speaking on her DREAM experience, Kaitlyn writes:
I started DREAM at about 9 or 10 years old shortly after moving into the Elm Street housing development in Winooski. Moving to the developments was a very difficult transition for me and was a real turning point in my understanding of my family’s financial situation. I became involved in every aspect of DREAM I could get my hands on, and it was such an important part of my life. Knowing that I had fun, unique experiences to look forward to every week with college kids made me feel special and gave me a sense of belonging in a time that felt confusing and overwhelming for me. I had special connections with both my personal mentors and the other mentors in the program. My parents were very loving and involved in my life, but they both worked long hours to make ends meet and having everyone at DREAM, from the mentors to the office staff, so involved in my life made a huge difference. It felt special and cool to hang out with college kids on a college campus outside of my housing community
My mentors gave me the confidence to apply to competitive programs, try out for school plays, try new foods and activities, and apply for college. Through DREAM, I got to have summer camp experiences and go on trips. I had a huge community of people in my life who I knew I could trust and who I knew had my best interests at heart. DREAM was so special to me that I ended up going to the University of Vermont, the college my mentors had gone to, and was involved in another DREAM chapter for the 4.5 years I was a student there. The families I had the privilege of getting to spend time with are some of the most important people in my life. Being a mentor was just as impactful for me as being a mentee – it made me the person I am today, and I can’t imagine who I would be if I had chosen to not continue the program after graduating high school.
I was really hit with the gravity of DREAMs impact on me about a year ago. I live in Oregon now, and the last mentor I had in DREAM lives in Northern California. My mentor was heavily involved in DREAM when I was her mentee, as was her husband. We decided to rent a cabin in the mountains and enjoy a long winter weekend with each other and our families. One afternoon in the cabin I was watching her two little children playing with my baby on the carpet and I was so overcome with how insane this whole situation was – if I had never moved into the developments and joined such a unique program like DREAM, I never would have met Jenna. I never would have met any of the mentors and staff who supported and loved me so fiercely for years. I probably wouldn’t have gone to college, and therefore would have never gotten to know the children and families I got to mentor in turn.
(Pictured: Jenna’s daughter and Kaitlyn’s son)