Students mentor children from affordable housing communities through DREAM program – The Daily Free Press

Children play outdoors as part of Boston University’s DREAM program. The BU DREAM Chapter mentors children living in affordable housing communities by offering Saturday programs and mentoring pairs. COURTESY OF REBECCA YU

For most, a dream simply means something that happens during sleep, but for members of Boston University’s DREAM program, it means “Leading through recreation, education, adventure, and mentorship.” .

The non-profit mentoring program pairs university students with children living in affordable housing communities and runs programs every Saturday for the mentoring pairs. The chapter is run entirely by students, with the help of the largest multi-college organization DREAM 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 was glad she “stayed on”.

“It was really great to watch them grow up,” Peart said. “I’m just excited…to be a part of their lives and hope to be a positive influence in this time.”

Aylin Eksioglu, program coordinator for DREAM and senior CAS, said DREAM’s weekly Saturday lineup is “fun but also educational at times”. Events include visiting the BU campus, trips around Boston, and playing games and sports.

“You can go to different places and you can see kids having fun,” Eksioglu said. “The favorite part would be just seeing them having fun and knowing that…I helped schedule that activity that they really wanted.”

Peart said his 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 it all. They didn’t want us children to participate at all, because they wanted to be part of it.

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

“Kids don’t like to sit 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 difficult.”

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

Also due to the pandemic, Dhoke said DREAM has been unable to recruit new mentors for nearly two years. At one point, membership was so low that DREAM might not be able to continue BU, which she described as a “super scary time.”

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

Even though the activities are in person, the pandemic still poses challenges, she said. For example, after years of reduced social activity and staying indoors, children are very energetic.

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

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

“We’ve all been through something super scary, super real,” Dhoke said. “Things are more open, more energetic, more friendly. I feel like mentors are really friends and don’t just get together once a week to do what we care about.

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

“We want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to provide them with meaningful opportunities and experiences and open doors for them,” Dhoke said. “I hope to help them realize what interests them and the paths they might take as they grow up.”

Peart said she has high hopes for the organization’s future.

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

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