When you visit the DREAAM House you see young boys preparing for their greatness. A group of pre-K boys who live in neighborhoods that sometimes placed them at risk, entered the DREAAM House for the first time in July 2015.
Tracy Dace, founder and visionary director of DREAAM, an acronym for Driven to Reach Excellence and Academic Achievement for Males, remembers how he felt that day.
“I had all kinds of emotions,” he says. “I was like, ‘Why did I come up with this idea?’ But the boys’ smiles and parents’ excitement eased all my anxiety and self-doubt.”
Video link address: https://vimeo.com/204072900
“The motivation and encouragement my son gets from people who look like him help him realize that he can improve his situation by making better choices,” says Clarice Merriman,
“This is the village helping me raise my son,” adds Eugenia Herman. “His reading level has gone up; he’s a scholar in his classroom—the teacher told me that at a parent-teacher conference.”
The Champaign (Ill.) School District has also taken notice. Dr. Susan Zola, assistant superintendent of achievement, instruction and curriculum, says already this cohort of African-American boys is seen in a different way.
“They might not have been recognized in a collective group in a typical school model,” she says. “Short-term it has allowed us to reach out to partners, make links to families, to find out what else these young men might need in terms of educational needs.”
Dace is excited the boys are taking on some of DREAAM House’s “expectations and teachings.” He can’t wait to see them walk across the stage when they graduate. But for now, Dace remembers how he felt when the DREAAM started—and how he feels now.
“I wondered, ‘Is this going to work? Are these kids going to get bored? Are they going to show up? Are they going to come back the next day?’” he says as tears roll down his face.
“They showed up. They show up. The DREAAM House is a life-changing initiative because of the kids, the parents, the teachers, the school system, the community, the churches. Not one need has gone unmet. That’s God. That’s God.”
Dace’s idea was to create a summer program for boys to enter at an early age (pre-K) and then to walk along with them as they develop, change and grow until they graduate from high school. The program was birthed after working with boys in high school, elementary school, community college and in juvenile justice. As he got to know these young people—and experience the conditions in which they had to navigate, survive and learn—Dace recognized at a deeper level there was a crisis going on.
“When there’s a crisis, you go into crisis mode, right?” says Dace. “You respond. The DREAAM House is our response.”
Dace went to the mission committee at First Presbyterian Church of Champaign, where he was serving as mission coordinator, with his idea for the DREAAM House. Hearing Dace’s vision, the church decided to support him with seed money—$20,000 a year, for each of three years—so he could get the project off the ground. As it began to take shape, with the initial pre-K summer program followed by an after-school program, First Church in Champaign and other Presbyterians in the Presbytery of Southeastern Illinois began to give more than just financial support.
“Presbyterians have a heart for social justice,” says Dace. “We now have Presbyterians who coach soccer. They mentor, drive vans, fix snacks, read to the boys.”
Zacharyiah Austin, a part-time employee of DREAAM House, understands how critical it is for other adults to spend time with these kids and to give them their energy and focus.
“Some of the boys are close to being thrown in the shuffle, where they don’t fit,” he says. “Our role is make sure they know how to tap into their potential, show it to their teachers and principals.”
Based on what you see on the walls of the DREAAM House—signs about “boys showing respect, using nice words, and working hard”—and what you hear from DREAAM House moms, it appears to be working.
Paul Seebeck, mission communications strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: DREAAM House
Let us join in prayer for:
First Presbyterian Church of Champaign Staff
Chuck Carlson, interim pastor
Eric Corbin, covenant associate pastor and technology coordinator
Mindy Watts-Ellis, director of children, youth, and families
Marcia Franks, administrative assistant, operations team
Kristi Corbin, mission coordinator
Joe Grant, director of music
Andrea Pope, contemporary worship director
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
God of grace and justice, may we empower our families and children with the means to stand up together for economic security and physical safety as we seek to become the beloved community. Amen.