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The Dartmouth
April 21, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

It Takes a Village

DREAM program offers mentorship to at-risk kids in the area while also helping college students grow themselves.

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Last fall, a few days before Halloween, I stumbled upon an unusual scene unfolding on Webster Avenue, better known as “Frat Row.” All of the Greek houses had sprinkled their front lawns with candy and games as a trick-or-treating activity for local children. I was told that this was an event for DREAM (Directing through Recreation, Education, Adventure and Mentoring), a nonprofit mentorship program for local low-income kids. As I stood next to my friends on the Chi Gam lawn, I watched two kids dressed as a Roman emperor and a shark, respectively, run up to grab handfuls of candy. They then started dueling with their fake swords. 

DREAM has quite the presence on Dartmouth’s campus. Initially founded in 1998 to provide after-school programming for kids living in a public housing development near Dartmouth, DREAM soon established a program at almost every major college in Vermont. By 2015, they had opened successful programs in Boston and expanded outside of New England with programs in Pennsylvania. Today, it still operates on a village mentoring system in which college students serve as mentors to nearby communities of low-income kids aged K-12. At Dartmouth, students specifically serve kids from the Windsor Village & Union Square, Hollow Drive and Northwoods housing communities in the Upper Valley. 

Ella Briman ’25 joined DREAM her freshman winter. Having participated in DREAM for over a year, she now serves as a co-chair for the Hollow Drive community. 

Briman noted that DREAM’s work allows for students to engage outside of the “Dartmouth bubble,” which refers to the College’s isolation from the rest of the Upper Valley.

“I really was interested in the program itself and thought it was a really admirable initiative,” she said. “As amazing as it is to go to school in Hanover, I think it’s so important that we don’t get caught up in this tiny little bubble.” 

Through volunteering with DREAM, Dartmouth students spend their Friday afternoons with the kids doing a handful of activities. According to Briman, last Friday, they went to a local park to enjoy the afternoon sunshine. Providing the kids with a range of activities, from drawing with chalk to beading to playing on the playground, the mentors aimed to give the kids “the freedom … to do whatever they want to do.”

Briman also emphasized the inherent privilege in being at Dartmouth. 

“I think that we have a duty as Dartmouth students to help those communities,” Briman said. “Obviously we are very fortunate to live in a town that is very privileged, but that is not the case for a lot of the areas right outside of Dartmouth. There are huge discrepancies on what is available to Dartmouth students versus students growing up in say, Lyme.” 

Charlotte Paul ’23, a DREAM recruitment chair, shared similar opinions, stating that, “[DREAM] builds a lot of awareness. You end up being in a bubble here at Dartmouth, and it is hard to even conceptualize how much is going on even 10 minutes outside of here. It helps give Dartmouth students a greater sense of understanding of the community and a better sense of empathy.”

Paul highlighted how she felt that mentoring can have a “huge impact” on these kids, giving them time to be kids while also helping them develop some “soft skills.” She also stressed the importance of matching the personalities of the mentors to the mentees. 

“My mentee is really, really shy so it took a while — about a year — for us to get to a point where we could actually have a conversation and build a connection.” 

Landon Armstrong ’23 has spent the past three years volunteering with DREAM and described how mentoring offers the chance to fill a role that other people have played in his own life.

“I grew up having older kids in my community serving as mentors, so it kind of feels full circle,” Armstrong shared.

According to various DREAM members, the kids really grow to love and appreciate the time that they spend with their mentees. According to Paul, they often get excited when they get to celebrate special occasions, like birthdays, with their mentors and miss them when Dartmouth is on break. It is always inevitable, however, that students will have to part ways with their mentors come graduation. 

“It is tough, definitely, because with the nature of a mentor/mentee relationship the fact of leaving is always hard,” Armstrong said. “You want it to be a seamless transition for the kids themselves.”

Armstrong has been with his 11-year old mentee since junior year, when Armstrong started working with his mentee. He said upon his graduation, he wants to make his mentee’s transition to another mentor as easy as possible.

“I’ve been looking for other students in DREAM who can take my place as his mentor — kind of like passing the torch, so that my mentee always has someone to look up to and throw a ball around with,” he said.

However, the connections students have made through DREAM are unlikely to fade, since DREAM boasts a considerable alumni presence. 

“We fundraise a lot and alumni of DREAM are a lot of [the] people who end up giving money to us,” Paul explained. 

Alumni of DREAM will often come back to see the kids or ask the current mentors about their past mentees, continuing to be interested and involved in their lives even after leaving Hanover.

“People have a really strong connection with [DREAM] and want to give back to the program,” Paul said. “Whenever I run into someone who did DREAM, like a senior when I was a freshman, they will always ask me how everyone is doing.”

While the experiences provided through DREAM positively impact the lives of these kids in many ways, Dartmouth student mentors also emphasize the impact their mentees have had on them. Especially for seniors so close to graduation, the mentors reflect that they, too, have changed as a result of their relationship with their mentees. 

“It has been really cool to see all of the different life phases [the kids] have been through. I’ve grown up with them in a sense,” Paul said.

Armstrong agreed, saying, “You get to see the world through their eyes. Especially with a lot of [the kids] in subsidized housing communities, some of the kids have a very positive mindset. They’re having a good time trying to find the next game to play,” Armstrong said. “Just being present with them has been a big lesson.”