The Eastside Dreamers Academy does more than just talk about dreams. It makes them come true.
For at least one “Dreamer,” a life-long wish to visit the nation’s capital will be granted on Nov. 14-16 when she and ten Dreamers head to Washington, D.C. on a trip made possible by the Eastside Dreamers Academy and the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Mildred Ray is one of the Eastside Dreamers Academy’s “Rockstar Dreamers.” She went through the program herself, as a staff member with Councilman Alan Warrick (D2), and was so inspired that she became a mentor. When it came time to select something “epic and meaningful” for those who had excelled in the program over the summer, the staff immediately thought of Ray and her dream of visiting Washington, D.C.
Winslow Swart, chief inspiration officer at One Million Dreams, occasionally gets caught up in the magic experienced by the Dreamers as they see opportunities become reality. Then he remembers that those dreams are his business.
“Oh yeah … that’s what we do,” Swart said.
He reminds himself and the Dreamers that what appears to be luck is often the result of hard work, faithfulness, and ingenuity.
“(Ray) didn’t get lucky," Swart said. "She was there almost every minute of every day this summer there with us and the kids. She worked hard."
The Dreamers spent the summer expanding their horizons on a local level. Visits to Rackspace, the San Antonio Zoo, and the Toyota Plant demonstrated the opportunities and learning resources in their own backyard. Many of the Dreamers, kids from zip codes with high concentrations of poverty, have spent their lives in a city within a city.
While the San Antonio Zoo might seem like a citywide attraction, many children never get the opportunity to go. Rackspace may be a household name for many, but Swart said some of the Dreamers had never even heard of the tech giant.
After slowly stretching their world, Swart and his team of mentors wanted to do something that would blow it wide open.
A trip to Washington, D.C. fit the bill. One of the main goals of the Eastside Dreamers Academy is empowerment. Students are mentored and challenged to look at their community and figure out what could be better, and then to pursue that change. Along the way, their mentors help them figure out how their own passions align with the good of the community. They learn not only to work toward their own dreams, but to speak up for themselves and their community as well.
“They can shift the locus of control … by finding their voice,” Swart said.
Washington, D.C. represents the ultimate frontier of civic engagement and empowerment. Through the efforts of One Million Dreams Co-founder Alberto Altamirano, the Dreamers will get a special tour of the White House, where they will get to explore beyond the ordinary tours, and hopefully meet the president.
“I’m fairly certain someone will mention this to the president and it will be interesting to him,” Swart said.
U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) will be waiting at the Capitol to greet them.
The students also will tour various Smithsonian museums, though the African American History Museum is fully booked for months in advance. Swart is hoping they can find a way to make a visit happen.
Conversing with senators, members of congress, and other decision makers will give the students on the trip something to look back on when they face challenges down the road. They'll be empowered by the memories of speaking with some of the most powerful people in the world.
“Some of it, they will get it now," Swart said. "Some of it, they will get it later."
Swart hopes that students will see Washington, D.C. as an aspirational destination. In addition to the civics lesson, he hopes that they will feel a little star struck, in the sense that they are meeting their heroes. While the San Antonio Spurs and certain celebrities make fine role models, Swart wants the Dreamers to pay as close attention to lawmakers and leaders as they do to the Spurs' starting lineup.
The elected leader who has made the biggest difference in their lives so far is the councilman who will be with them, Swart said.
Warrick will accompany the group and help them make local connections. Students who want the Oval office or a seat in the Capitol have to understand the path to get there, and the service they have to render along the way. Warrick will be there to remind the Dreamers of the many ways they can serve their community in an even more immediate way.
Warrick, Swart and Altamirano have big dreams themselves. They want to bring President Obama to the Martin Luther King March, or perhaps bring Oprah Winfrey to a community event. They want to do big things that show the magnitude of what is happening in San Antonio and the national attention it deserves.
The Eastside Dreamers Academy's funding was recently renewed, so its leaders will be able to work with the summer cohort through the school year. They have gained permission to seek matching grants, and plan to welcome a new summer cohort twice the size of the first.