In 1981, New York businessman Eugene Lang returned to the East Harlem elementary school he had attended more than 50 years earlier to deliver a graduation speech. After his arrival, he learned some dismal statistics—that 75 percent of the school's children would never graduate from high school, and those who did graduate would probably lack the skills to complete college. Concerned by this news, Lang promised the 61 graduating children partial scholarships if they completed high school.
Thus was born the I Have a Dream (IHAD) program. Less than two decades later, IHAD has evolved into a long-term educational support program for children from low-income communities in 57 cities across the country, including Vancouver, WA. IHAD projects adopt entire grade levels from elementary schools or entire age groups from public housing developments and, using social workers and community support, provide these children (Dreamers) with tutoring, mentoring, academic enrichment, cultural and recreational activities, and individual attention for 12 to 15 years. IHAD's goal is to see that all Dreamers graduate from high school functionally literate and prepared either for fulfilling employment or for further education. Once Dreamers graduate from high school, IHAD provides partial financial assistance to help them pay for college, university, or accredited vocational schools.
Does it work? Let's return to Mr. Lang's original Dreamers. Of the 54 who remained in contact with the project, more than 90 percent earned their high school diploma or GED certificate—and 60 percent went on to higher education, mostly at public four-year or community colleges. A program that has established relationships with Americorps and academic institutions across America to produce countless graduates has obviously made some progress.
How can you get involved? Sign up as a sponsor, and you'll build personal relationships with Dreamers, tap into community resources, and secure project funding. Sponsors also hire a Project Coordinator who works with the Dreamers on a daily basis. If you're more of a behind-the-scenes kind of benefactor, perhaps you might want to get your business involved by providing funding, volunteer tutors and mentors, role models, career guidance, internships, office support services, and employment. Even more ways of getting involved, either with a group or individually, include providing meeting space, tours, "career days," summer internships, and tickets to cultural and sporting events. For more information, call Paul Schroeder at 360-696-7101 or call IHAD's national office at 212-293-5480.