Community, Features

Students mentor children from affordable housing communities through DREAM Program

Children play outside as part of Boston University’s DREAM Program. The BU DREAM chapter mentors children living in affordable housing communities by providing Saturday programs and mentorship pairs. COURTESY OF REBECCA YU

To most, a dream just means something that happens when sleeping, but for the members of Boston University’s DREAM Program it means “Directing through Recreation, Education, Adventure, and Mentoring.”

The non-profit mentorship program pairs college students with children living in affordable housing communities and hosts programs every Saturday for the mentorship pairs. The chapter is entirely student run, with help from the larger, multi-collegiate DREAM organization which provides training and resources.

Jada Peart, mentor and former co-chair of DREAM and a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences, joined DREAM as a freshman and said she is glad she “stuck around.”

“It’s been really great, seeing them grow up,” Peart said. “I’m just excited … to be a part of their life and hopefully be a positive influence in that time.”

Aylin Eksioglu, program coordinator for DREAM and a senior in CAS, said DREAM’s weekly Saturday programming is “fun but also sometimes educational.” The events include visiting BU’s campus, traveling around Boston and playing games and sports.

“You get to go to different places and you get to see kids having fun,” Eksioglu said. “The favorite part would just be to see them have fun and to know that … I helped program this activity that they really wanted.”

Peart said her favorite DREAM programming was when the chapter collaborated with the chemistry fraternity so some of the kids could do science experiments, like extracting DNA from strawberries.

“It was just a really good time, seeing the kids excited about science,” Peart said. “They really wanted to do everything. They didn’t want us to participate at all, the kids, because they wanted to be a part of it.”

For DREAM, which focuses on in-person experiences, the pandemic was difficult, Srushti Dhoke, co-chair and senior in CAS, said. All programming became virtual via Zoom for almost two years, which she said was “not fun at all.”

“Kids don’t like sitting in front of a screen for an hour,” Dhoke said. “We did our best to make it as educational and fun as possible, but it was still hard.”

Juliana Walrod, a mentor in BU’s DREAM chapter, gives Ayan Khalifa, 7, a piggyback ride as the group picks the kids in the program up from their homes in the community. COURTESY OF JUE HAN

Also due to the pandemic, Dhoke said DREAM was unable to recruit new mentors for almost two years. At one point, membership was so low that there was a possibility that DREAM would be unable to continue at BU, which she described as a “super scary time.”

“It was such a core part of my college experience,” Dhoke said. “We’ve been able to bounce back from that.”

Even though activities are in person, the pandemic still poses difficulties, she said. For example, after years of decreased social activity and staying inside, the kids are extra energetic.

“They just have a lot of energy and they’re very excited to see each other and do things and so that’s good, but also leads to safety and discipline issues,” Dhoke said. “They feel like running across the street and things like that.”

The pandemic has “changed the tone of the club” for the mentors, she said.

“All of us went through something super scary, super real,” Dhoke said. “Things are more open, more energetic, more friendly. It feels like the mentors are really friends and not just getting together once a week to do this thing that we care about.”

Along with pandemic changes, The Black Lives Matter movement led the club to be more “social justice oriented,” with programming that is supportive, Dhoke said. She said almost all of the children in the low income housing communities that DREAM partners with are people of color.

“We want to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to give them enriching opportunities and experiences and open some doors for them,” Dhoke said. “Hopefully help them realize what they’re interested in and the paths that they could take when they grow up.”

Peart said she has high hopes for the future of the organization.

“I like the direction we’re going,” Peart said. “I think it’s only up from here.”


One Comment

  1. Doing anything for kids is always a great job !
    I am personally very happy about DREAM 2022 as my daughter, Srushti, co-chair of DREAM program , is doing something for the community .