It’s already August! Time really flies by when you have a lot to do! Everyone is getting ready to head back to school, ending their jobs, taking vacations, and attending their last days at their internship. So is the case for me. I feel like it was just yesterday that I walked into the office. I feel that I have grown so much. Definitely a summer well spent. What have you done this summer? Definitely a summer well spent.
I’ve always considered myself a compassionate person. I reveled in my ability to empathize and to see past differences and treat every person the same. I often judged others for a lack of tolerance. My dreams were big; I had no doubt that I would change the world someday. I envisioned myself leading Chicago to house its homeless and feed its hungry. After coming to Dreams for Kids, I realized that changing that world isn’t one huge gesture, but rather a daily commitment to helping others. Sometimes, it just takes one small action to change another’s life.
I was lucky enough to get in touch with one of the most selfless people I have ever met through Dreams for Kids, Cortez. As a child in poverty he was once in need of the help that Dreams for Kids can provide. He could have become jaded after his terrible experiences at a young age, but rather he turned around to help others following the same path he had walked. I was once told a story of his unending generosity. Walking down the street, he encountered a man down on his luck. The man called out for help, and Cortez, rather than averting his eyes and quickening his step, stopped to talk to the man. You could say that he would be generous to throw down some change, as so few people do even that. But Cortez took it a step further. He took the man to lunch. Not having enough money for two meals, he bought the man a lunch and sat with him as he ate. Most people walking down the street ignored this man, but Cortez saw him as an equal, a worthy lunch companion. Cortez’s act of a generosity was enough to return some dignity to a man that most people pretended did not even exist.
Cortez’s story reminded me that while my plans for changing social programs and liberating the helpless are admirable, it is what we do in our everyday lives that shape who we are. A small gesture can change the world for someone. One word can alter the course of another’s life. If everyone were to live their lives like Cortez, what would our world be like?
A couple of weeks ago, when I started my internship here at Dreams For Kids, we had our first meeting to introduce all of the new interns and review what each person would be working on. It was a great opportunity for each member of the Dreams For Kids team to meet each other and understand what their responsibilities would be. After the introductions, we began the discussion about our organization and what we strive to accomplish. The main topic was defining what the phrase “at-risk” truly means. When referring to an “at-risk” youth, most people initially associate the term with children who are living in poverty. But, as discussed at the meeting, the term has a much larger meaning and can be used to define many young kids in the world today. One specific group of kids that we discussed was young students in affluent areas who are under an immense amount of pressure to thrive in school, be successful, and live their lives a specific way. Stress accompanied with the pressure combine to prompt the decision of these kids to take their own lives because they feel that they cannot live up to these high expectations. Kids could be defined as “at-risk” for various reasons, although they are not specifically defined by the community or area that they live in. A recent article from www.Chicagoist.com shared the findings from a Youth Risk Behavior report conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The statistics stated that one in every six Chicago high school students have attempted suicide within the last twelve months. The increasing flood of emotions and amount of pressure that young students suffer from ultimately causes a trap; they see no other way to fix their problems than to escape them through physical harm. This is an alarming statistic and a serious issue that must be controlled and prevented. I believe that the most effective way to do this and to help guide these young students is to implement accommodating programs through schools for students, parents, teachers, and school staff to discuss these problems at-hand. It is crucial to take the first step of recognizing and admitting that there is a problem and discussing ways to fix it, otherwise changes will not be made and the haunting issue will continue to exist. Schools in affluent areas should implement these programs for students dealing with such intense emotions so that they feel comfortable enough to discuss their feelings and how they are dealing with the pressures of being a teenager. These programs could be used not only to reduce the number of student deaths each year, but also prevent other students from feeling this way and giving them an alternative path. This could be a major step towards permanently ending this epidemic of young teens ending their lives due to distorted insecurities and feelings that they are not “good enough,” and ultimately providing them with the hope that they need. At Dreams For Kids, we strive to make everyone feel that they are important, and with a program like this, that message will be greatly emphasized.
I met Generosity on a street in Burlington, Vermont.
Generosity is poor. Generosity is rich. Generosity is black. Generosity is white. Generosity is not racist, ageist, sexist, classist, or elitist. Generosity welcomes any kind soul into its realm and returns to it a gracious thank you in the unified harmony of the world’s community.
On a literal level, the tolerance that Generosity demonstrates is unequivocal. A dollar donated to provide a month of clean water for a child in Africa is just as uniquely appreciated if it comes from a minimum-wage day-laborer, as it is if it comes from Bono. In few other fields is such unambiguous tolerance found. Even our deluded visions of generosity can skew our perceptions of its tolerance. Our ideas, well intentioned as they are, such as “I am a generous one because I can help” and “They need help”, give way to the idea that those who we believe to be in need of help cannot, or will not be generous. I am fortunate enough to be from a family that has provided me with everything that I could need, from a good education to good food to good opportunities to participate in community service. Seeing others in need, I was excited to help try to bring them some of the same joy in life that I had in mine. I gave my time, resources, and summers to help children, but I hadn’t met Generosity yet.
I met Generosity on a street in Burlington, Vermont.
The moments are hard to come by where you learn so much in a minute or two that you walk away a different person than you were less than a hundred seconds ago. Meeting Generosity was one of those moments.
I was sitting on an outdoor patio enjoying a delicious Italian dinner with my girlfriend. As I looked just beyond the fence enclosing the patio, I saw a man setting up with his guitar and laying his case on the ground, inviting anyone who enjoyed his music to pay a token of their appreciation. With street performers, I tend to try to stick by a personal rule where if I hear the music and enjoy it, I owe it to them to drop a dollar or two in the performer’s case, it just seems fair, like a business; they provide a service, I compensate them for it. So as I ate and talked to my girlfriend, I listened to the vibrant melodies rising from the street. The musician was no Clapton, but sang with a deceptively crisp voice that you would hardly expect to come from a disheveled 60 year old missing a few front teeth and a sporting the fisherman’s cap that my grandpa wore as a kid. The guitar followed as his voice led and rang through the street, bringing an ambiance to the city atmosphere that was a surprising treat. The thought occurred to me that as everyone on that street operated in their own individual worlds, on their dates or at their business dinners, the musician’s art operated in everyone’s world. Each individual experience on that street shared a single unifying element; this element rose above all differences as everyone heard the same music.
My girlfriend saw my hand slide to my back left pocket fishing for my wallet, and handed me another dollar; he was after all playing his rocky rendition of Stand By Me, her favorite song. I walked over with a phaux-confidence and swagger. The self-assurance was artificial, because at 20, I felt like a child again. I just wanted to help out a hard-working man, but I could feel the cool stares of the other affluent restaurant patrons and designer shop customers. Maybe they felt guilt that they hadn’t given anything, or maybe they forgot that they at one point or another needed help to get where they were. Either way, I was in the vast minority when I dropped the cash in his case, and added “Thanks man, you sound great”. I cracked a chuckle when he flashed a wily smile and replied, “hey man, just tryin’ to help your date out”. I liked him. He had style and confidence, and when my eyes weren’t on my girlfriend, I was watching him, wishing more people might pay him for his service. As the smells from the Chinese, Italian, and Indian restaurants wafted into the air and the sun set behind the steeple of a Victorian cathedral, his voice rose above the street like a colorful kite painting the sky and provided a beautiful background noise belying the common city commotion. Despite his talent, my wishes had little effect. I would see people get out of Porsche’s and not pay the guitarist even a glance as a party of 50 exiting the steakhouse walked by without offering a single donation. How in the world does this guy make any money? If people who could literally drop a hundred dollars on the performer and not even notice a dent in their wallet refused to part with even a quarter, who would give this guy anything?
Now that was a presumptuous question. Remember, as I mentioned before, Generosity isn’t classist, as my previous question would have implied. For a summer night he was doing alright, probably scoring on 1 out of every 50 bystanders. Looking at the 49 became discouraging, so instead I chose to focus on the 1’s. This focus revealed a vastly surprising phenomenon. The first person who I saw drop a coin into the guitar case wore tattered sweatpants and had just woken up from a brief nap on a park bench, warming himself with a torn blanket. The next person to donate was another elderly street performer, who had just wrapped up his juggling act. He flung a few bills the musician’s way as he struggled to carry all his juggling balls and batons to his rusty bike. A pregnant African-American woman shuffling down the street with a McDonalds bag in her hand was the third person to lob a few jingling quarters into the case. Then a 12 year old who begged his dad for a dollar to give. Then a guy who looked like he was straight out of Woodstock. Then a street-sweeper, whose job that night must have been made less monotonous by the notes coming from the musician’s guitar all evening. The trend continued all night. Those who seemed most desperate were also the ones who seemed most eager to help out a struggling stranger. Maybe the napping man appreciated the calming music as he slept, or maybe those without superfluous goods can hear and appreciate the beauty in a street performer’s voice on a simple level that the abundantly wealthy forgot long ago. Whatever the reason, I met Generosity that night, as those who seemed to be most in need were also most ready to give to those in need. I walked away from that date a different person than I had entered. I had a different faith in people, and I had finally met and acquired a new understanding of Generosity.
Most people, I believe, possess the ability and the desire to do good. All things being equal, I think that people from every walk of life hold a unique capacity and wish to be generous, to leave the world a better place than they found it. This is why Dreams for Kids is such a special organization; it takes the youth who many may only see as the future incarnations of Burlington’s pregnant McDonalds customer or park bench tenant, and instead explores and encourages their Generosity, allowing them the opportunity to help others, and throw some change in the world’s guitar case. The universal applicability of generosity is a special entity as it serves as an underlying connection between all people. When we see this connection, and elevate our similarities above our differences, we can all come to know Generosity. And through knowing Generosity and its collective reach, we can allow it to guide every one of us with universally tolerant goodness through easy or hard times in any life, like a sweet song rising above the commotion and isolation and ringing beautifully through a city street.
I became involved with Dreams for Kids through a summer internship program I am attending this summer. When I first learned that I was interning with Dreams for Kids I had never heard of their organization before. Out of curiosity to learn more about this company I was going to be working with for a month, I looked up Dreams for Kids online. While looking at their website I could not help but smile at the differences in these children’s lives they were making.
For my whole life I have always been drawn to making a difference in people’s lives. One of my favorite memories from elementary school has to do with a girl named Casey. Casey was born with autism. I remember being six and going to the public library with my mom and walking up the large white steps to borrow books on autism. Sitting in a large chair I remember my mom was trying to explain to what autism was. My mom in a quiet voice explained how society viewed Casey different from other children my age. At this young of an age it was hard for me to understand what autism was and how people viewed my friend differently than me. To me she didn’t seem any different than any other student in my class.
When Casey attended my seventh birthday party. Casey’s mom stopped me for a second from running around with everyone to thank me for inviting Casey. She explained to me that this was the first birthday party Casey had ever been to and that for an afternoon Casey final would be able to experience what ever other child does with birthday parties. As I got older Casey got moved into the special education classes at least once a week I would go visit her in her class. It always broke my heart that I was doing algebra and Casey needed more help with things I had learn three or four years earlier. I’m glad for moments in her life I helped Casey feel as though she was similar to all the other kids her age.
Dreams for Kids helps all different children and youth turn I can’ts into I can’s. Along with helping them overcome obstacles in their own lives. Being an intern and working behind the scenes of all the hard work that goes into each of these events to make these youths lives better, makes me smile that I have not only made a difference in Casey’s life but I am helping make a difference in all these other children’s lives.
Yesterday I was able to enjoy a nice summer day at the Diversey Yacht Club where our first ever summer event was hosted. There were so many surprises in store for the children who arrived to the event. There were special guests who attended the event as well; such as Mr. Jesse White, James “Big Cat” Williams, Israel Idonije, and Don Hyun K. Seeing the smiles light up on the faces of these children really did remind me of what was possible. While the kids roamed across all the different stations of face painting, taking pictures with firefighters, policemen and a military dog, I got to talk with some of them one-on-one.
I remember one young lady named Briel. She was incredibly sweet and definitely was not shy. She introduced herself to me and we talked about what she wanted to be when she grew up. She smiled and said with an assertive tone, “I want to be a singer.” There was something about the way she said those words that made me believe her. There was no hesitation or doubt. I could only notice the gleam in her smile.
After a while I met with another young man named Terrence. His stature could not compare to this hunger for adventure and fun that day. He wanted to go fishing and that is what happened. I asked him what he liked doing and he replied, “I like working for Mr. White. I flip!” I found this funny as I always referred to it as “tumbling” and not “flipping”, but just listening to him talk on and on about how he enjoyed “flipping”, I wanted to learn how to flip too, but I can’t even cartwheel to save my life. I’m sure that the children at the event had a wonderful time because I know I did. Just watching them enjoy the day made me feel like a kid again.
My friends know me as a beauty junky, a Kpop fanatic, and even a Youtube freak and I do believe that is what makes me me! However, that is just one part of me. Another part of me has always loved being involved with my community. I still remember the first time I became involved with Dreams For Kids. I was still a junior in high school, and at our annual Club Fair, next to the ALBATROSS club table sat Abby Kritzler, the woman who inspired my friends and me to be part of Dreams For Kids. I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into at the time, but it was well worth putting my name and email on that sign-up sheet. Since that day, Dreams For Kids did not just educate me about a completely different world that I used to acknowledge, but never really understood, but they have also taught me leadership skills, how to inspire others, and to be role model for others. This summer was no different than any other. As summer approached, I had an itch to get outside to make a difference in my life. I decided to intern for the nonprofit organization that inspired me to be a better person. You guessed it. I am currently interning for Dreams For Kids! It has been such a great time getting to meet new and old members of the DFK family. The experiences that the DFK family has shared with me have positively impacted me. I don’t know what is in store for me in the future, but I’m sure that this is only the beginning. I can’t wait to explore and be part of wonderful memories to come. What are you going to be doing this summer? Get out there and make a difference. It’ll be worth it. YOLO.
Dreams For Kids makes memories happen for kids with disabilities with our Extreme Recess program!
Extreme Recess gives kids with physical and/or developmental challenges the opportunity to participate in many different kinds of sports, many of which they wouldn’t have ever gotten a chance to do otherwise.
This summer, Dreams For Kids is hosting three Extreme Recess events, thanks to generous donations by all of our sponsors.
The inaugural event is taking place in mid-July in Twin Lakes, Wisconsin where kids and their families will be able to participate in adaptive water sports.
The month of August bring two more events:
- golf in Orland Park, Illinois
- baseball in New Lenox, Illinois
For these kids, being able to participate not only encourages them to get outside and play, but also boosts their confidence and makes them realize everything they can do, versus things they can’t. The Extreme Recess events also allow their families to participate with them, allowing for precious family bonding time and the chance for the whole family to do something fun together.
How you can help?
- donate money
- $50 will allow one child to participate in an Extreme Recess event.
- $200 will allow 4 children with disabilities to experience an Extreme Recess event
- $500 Will provide entertainment for an event
- $1,000 will provide t-shirts for all participants plus, you have the opportunity to place you logo on the back of the shirts.
- Come have fun with the participants and their families and help them have a magical day
Having fun as a kid is a DEFINITE necessity and if you have ever seen an Extreme Recess event for yourself, there’s no denying that these kids are having the time of their lives. Come join us and support these kids and their families as they take recess to the Extreme!
Email Dane (DaneS@DreamsForKids.org) or call 866-729-5454 to find out how you can join in the fun today!
I was running late as usual and neared the building with angst, walking as fast I could. When I reached the Illinois Center for Rehabiliation and Education-Roosevelt (ICRE-R) parking lot I passed a window and could see the teens inside in their wheelchairs and my fast beating heart began to slow. I was joined by Cortez Alexander, Executive Board member and former Dream Leader, and Dane Shimizu, Midwest Programs Director, who were patiently waiting for me. As we made our way through the building, we passed many teens, some with severe physical disabilities and some with developmental disabilties; I held back tears.
I was fully aware that ICRE-R is a facility that is beneficial for all its residents but I still couldn’t help but feel sorry for the adolescents that lived there. Why were they born with disabilities and missing limbs? Why couldn’t they use their legs to walk around like most individuals? Would they be able to have the opportunities that most take for granted? and why was it that I had been born different from them? All these thoughts and a million more were in my head as we exited the eleveator and walked into the room filled with Dream Leaders and with watery eyes I looked around the room and forced a huge smile.
Little did I know though that these young adults would blow me away; making my disengenuine smile become a radiant grin for all to see. Not only were they motivated, determined, and inspirational but they were making waves with each word they spoke.
One young lady in particular had words beyond her years and said, “I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. I am happy with who I am…” And I thought to myself, “Could you imagine if all girls were this confident and bold?” I thought this because I am surrounded with friends, co-workers, and relatives who constantly degrade themselves and lack self-esteem even though they are beautiful women. Not Christine though, she was happy with her body, her looks, and her capabilities. She didn’t want me or anyone else to feel sorry for her nor any of the young adults at ICRE for that matter. What she wanted was for people to look beyond her disabilities and look instead into her strengths and possibilites. Christine moved me over and over and her words were so much more powerful than I could have ever imagined. The last thing she said before we finished our session was that the star we made togehter out of yarn, “was like our goals and dreams, infinite.” Suddenly my goals seemed small, my successes minimal, hearing Christine speak made me think BIG, made me envision larger possibilites for myself. How silly I felt now, how stupid I felt, thinking these awesome young adults needed my sympathy. What I really needed was there wisdom and I got much more than I bargained for.
These students are much more than Dream Leaders they are role models and I am blessed to say I had the chance to meet them and hear their thoughts and feelings. They have forever changed me.
What is your personal description of the Dreams For Kids mission?
To me, the most important aspect of Dreams For Kids is that it allows the most precious and often forgotten members of society, impoverished youth and kids with disabilities, to realize their self worth. I strongly believe that when people know that they are cared for and that they truly matter, they can make great changes in both their lives and the lives of others. Dreams For Kids creates this by providing opportunities for self-growth, confidence building, and self-empowerment. Most importantly Dreams for Kids programs, especially Extreme Recess, gives kids a chance to forget inhibitions and/or disabilities and just have fun!
Why did you decide to intern for DFK?
My biggest passion is the well-being of children; and I have been involved in organizations devoted to creating opportunities for individuals with special needs. That being said, when I first found out about Dreams For Kids it seemed too good to be true! I want to have a role in empowering kids that are usually not given a chance to realize how valuable they are and I could not imagine a better way to do so than being a part of the Dreams For Kids team.
What are your dreams in life, including when you were a child?
I had a broad variety of dreams as a child, ranging from becoming a firefighter to a professional ice cream tester. The most consistent dream was to open my own bakery that would give out cookies for free and to marry a prince who would give me my own pony along with my engagement ring. While my dreams have changed a little bit now, the common thread between them has always been to lend a helping hand and spread joy to my community. I hope to join the Peace Corps or Teach for America after graduation, and after that I plan to figure out how to turn my love of helping others into a career either through non-profit work or education.
What do you hope to gain out of this experience?
I hope to gain relationships with the youth we are empowering and their personal stories of hope and perserverance. I hope I can help our participants realize that they are extraordinary and that society needs them just as much, if not more, to lead the way to a better future.