Spotlight On Dreamer Alumni: Jason Estevez

Name: Jason Estevez

Dreamer Cohort: Felix Rohatyn

Year joined program/Which grade were you in? 1986/6th Grade (P.S. 137 - Lower East Side)

What did you think about “I Have A Dream” – New York when you were in school? I thought very highly of the program, I knew it was a valuable program and i was appreciative.

What High School did you attend, and what year did you graduate? Amityville Memorial H.S. Graduated 1992

Did you go to college/secondary school? If so, where and what did you study? I attended LIU-C.W. Post, in Long Island. Major in Business/Finance

What are you doing now? I am currently with Dept. of Homeland Security-U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Svc. as an Immigration Officer.

How would you explain the “I Have A Dream” program to someone who had never heard of it? I would tell them the program provides guidance to further your Education, creates opportunity for inner-city children and lays the groundwork for enhancement in life.

How did being a Dreamer affect you? The program changed the way i envisioned my future, our program mentor (Sam Sanchez) instilled in me, and the other Dreamers, the program's principles. It taught me how to value education. 

What were some of your favorite memories about being a Dreamer? The friendships and connections made as a result of the program are priceless. The mentoring sessions and workshops were invaluable.

Would you be where you are today without “I Have A Dream” – New York? Why or why not? No, growing up in the Lower East Side we were limited in Education-development, counseling and after-school activities. The program gave us goals, vision and focus.

What does your family think of “I Have A Dream” – New York? My family is grateful.

 If you are a Dreamer Alum who would like to share your story for the blog, please contact Thierry Cazeau at tcazeau@ihaveadreamny.org . 

  Dreamer Alum Jason Estevez

Dreamer Alum Jason Estevez

Spotlight On Dreamer Alumni: Danilo Rodriguez

Name: Danilo Rodriguez

Dreamer Cohort: Rohatyn Class, 1986

Which grade were you in?:  Grade 7

What did you think about “I Have A Dream” – New York when you were in school?  Initially I was unaware of what the program was, it became evident as the first year progressed, and I found myself in awe of the opportunity that presented itself.

What High School did you attend, and what year did you graduate?  Brooklyn Tech, 1992

Did you go to college/secondary school? If so, where and what did you study? Yes, Columbia University for Undergrad and Columbia Business School for Graduate school

Did you graduate college (2-year, 4-year, or vocational school)? If so, what school and what did you study? Columbia University, Electrical Engineering and Mathematics/ Columbia Business School, MBA

What are you doing now?  I’ve just returned to the United States after working six years in the Middle East (United Arab Emirates).  I’ve come back with my family and am currently settling back in to the city.

How would you explain the “I Have A Dream” program to someone who had never heard of it?  It’s a program that provides a path to a college education to youth that would otherwise not have one.

How did being a Dreamer affect you?  It’s the biggest opportunity I received in my life, it was my way out of a life that didn’t have many positive outcomes.  It was an opportunity I knew I needed to take full advantage of as it would be my only shot at the education I deserved.  It set me on the path to who I am and where I find myself today.

What were some of your favorite memories about being a Dreamer?  Mainly the time spent with the Rohatyns, my sponsors.  It gave me a glimpse into a different part of the city, and it showed me that New York, and the rest of the world for that matter, wasn’t just my current environment, there was something more to explore, and different people to interact with.

Would you be where you are today without “I Have A Dream” – New York? Why or why not?  As I mentioned, I Have A Dream set me on a completely new and different path, one that I could not imagine given my circumstances at the time.  It opened up opportunities that I would otherwise not pursue for it would be, as I imagined it, out of my grasp.  I think the most important lesson I received from the program was not to limit myself or my thinking; to think big, and to be able to set big goals.  Even though they may seem out of reach, there’s always a way to reach them.

What does your family think of “I Have A Dream” – New York?  My family understands that I was involved in a program that helped me through college, but I don’t think they fully grasp the impact that it has had in my life.  Somehow I would like for them to know how important this program was for me.

  Danilo Rodriguez with Family

Danilo Rodriguez with Family

 If you are a Dreamer Alum who would like to share your story for the blog, please contact Thierry Cazeau at tcazeau@ihaveadreamny.org . 

Spotlight On Dreamer Alumni: Jimmy Mejias

Kicking off the New Year, we have a special interview with Dreamer Alum Jimmy Mejias. We hope that you will enjoy reading about his experiences! 

  Dreamer Alum Jimmy Mejias

Dreamer Alum Jimmy Mejias

What grade were you in when you became a Dreamer? 

I believe 6th grade

What did you think about “I Have A Dream” – New York when you were in school? 

It gave me a sense of purpose. It gave me a feeling that there’s something in front of me that I can accomplish…When I learned that I was part of this fascinating group… It just gave me this feeling that this is a great opportunity for me. I felt like I had a system to keep me structured in school…There [were] different impacts to me overall as a person, but the immediate one was the feeling that I was part of something really special.

How big was your Dreamer class?

It consisted of two sixth grade classes…there was probably 30-35 students in each, so 60-70.

What High School did you attend, and what year did you graduate?

I attended Seward Park High School, and I graduated in 1992.

Did you go to college/secondary school? If so, where and what did you study?

Originally, I attended Hunter [College]. I wanted to be a teacher at first, so I set myself up to major in education and then during the first two years of college…I had a chance to select an elective. It happened to be a business management class, and I was thrilled by what I was learning in that class. That was the first chance that I got to get a little taste of what business is, and from there everything else is history.

In that business management class…there was an assignment, sort of a like a project the professor did with us where we had to answer questions responding to characteristics about ourselves, and he would tally that up and tell us what business title was relevant to us. Based on our answers, he would tell us, “oh, you’re an accountant, or you’re an investor”…Mine came back as a senior accountant, and he attached a salary there…When I saw the salary, that’s when I started saying to myself “what is an accountant? I want to learn what that is!” And that’s what started my journey to where I am now…Then I started learning what business is, and said “wait a second! Everything around us is a business!”...so I thought that this work role is pretty secure, meaning I’d always have an opportunity to have a job, and there’s always new ventures in front of me, and this is why I chose to go that route.

Did you graduate from Hunter?

I didn’t graduate from Hunter. I did one year in Hunter and then I transferred to a school called Boricua College…The reason I went there is that I wanted to improve my grades. When I was at Hunter, I didn’t take school seriously. I just went to school for a financial aid check…I always had a natural linkage to school, which [I Have A Dream] instilled in me, that education is valuable and you need to go get it. That’s the most that I’ve learned from the “I Have A Dream” Foundation, that just stuck with me forever and that’s also a huge part of who I am today…

So I wasn’t doing too good in Hunter, I wasn’t doing horrible, but I wasn’t taking school too as serious as I was supposed to. I was a mediocre student at Hunter, then I transferred to Boricua College to get my grades up, and then after I got my Associate’s from there, I moved on to Baruch [College]. That’s when I started to get real serious and started kicking butt in school. I loved school, I did anything for school, that was my life.

What do you do now?

I work with a particular business account called a merchant account – that’s a business account that allows businesses to accept debit and credit card transactions from the customers. That’s what my career is – I open those accounts, and once I open them, I manage them and whatever else comes with the territory, that’s my work role.

What have been some exciting experiences for you since leaving high school?

I had a lot of exciting experiences…we can start with my first work role, which can focus on my growth…during high school, I had some close friends…our first job ever, we were messengers, and we used to do that for two hours every day, Monday through Friday. We had the same route every day and we earned $45 a week pay. We did it with dignity, you know, we did it with passion, and when we wanted to buy our little goodies, we had to buy it one week at a time. We used to do this together.

When I graduated high school…I didn’t jump right into Hunter, I took a one-year break…I always knew, deep down in my heart, that I was going to go to college, and I was going to finish college, and I want to have a real work role. I’ve always known that in my heart. When I finished high school, I was so excited that I had graduated, I had my high school diploma, and then…[I wanted] to take a little break and having a nice, full-time job …I had the opportunity to be an administrative assistant for the Henry George School of Science…I was also a bank teller, I did some factory work at a steel factory in the grinding department.

"I always knew, deep down in my heart, that I was going to go to college, and I was going to finish college, and I want to have a real work role. I’ve always known that in my heart."

When I used to work on the machines in the factory, the foreman used to let me be with my textbooks by the machine. That was when I was at Baruch, so they knew I majored in accounting…I would tell them, “I got a lot of things to read, would I be able to read it by the machines as I work? Can I walk and chew gum, is that ok?” And they would say “that’s fine, Jim, as long as you don’t back up, if you can read while the machine is flowing, that’s fine.” I used to be in the factory with accounting textbooks, with management textbooks, and reading them depending on what I had to do with school.

There even came a point where they offered to take me to get a license, to take me to school to do advanced grinding….I told them no, I loved the offer, I appreciated the offer, but I wanted to be an accountant…The “I Have A Dream Program” instilled in me – if you envision something, if you have a dream, step forward and make it happen. Anyone might have been, like, “$28 an hour? That’s ok, that’s fine!” But I just passed it on…I [wanted] to continue to go to school…

I was an auditor, I used to do internal audits, that was a great experience for me. I used to visit different businesses and do audits…My fiancé just came to me and she said “they ask you to talk about something exciting and you talk about your past work roles!” [Laughter]

I think one of the most exciting things was when I got accepted to Baruch. That was big in my life. That was real big. That was the school I wanted to go to the most, that was the #17 business school in the country…I had to take an exam to get in there, and when I learned that I passed and was accepted, that was one of the most exciting times in my younger days.

How would you explain the “I Have A Dream” program to someone who had never heard of it?

This is a program where the intentions are very, very special and what they do is they provide structure to a set of students...They guide you on making your achievements to make it to the next step.

What they do is, it’s like an additional crutch, it’s like a set of crutches - they’re going to be there for you to lean on, they’re going to guide you to do things the right way, especially in school…they’re going to guide you in how to take care of your studies, they’re going to show you the tutoring programs, they’re going to set up the tutoring programs, they’re going to provide structure to keep everyone interacting, there’s celebrating, there’s Thanksgiving, there’s dinners, Christmas, huddles, gift-giving.

This is structure…for example, if you’re a youngster, and you come from a low-income family, just like me – I’m not saying I was dirt poor, but I sure didn’t have everything – so someone like me, that can be a motivator, it can be like “hey, you know what? I got mommy and daddy at home, and I like school, but I got the “I Have A Dream Foundation” too. They support me! I got counselors I can talk to on a daily basis. I can talk to them, I can share with them, and they always got something in line for us.” Every time. And it’s true! That’s how I looked at it. It’s a program where they’re going to give you all the resources for you to elevate.

What were some of your favorite memories about being a Dreamer?

My favorite memories of being a Dreamer…just knowing that I have people on my side for me to take the next step, that was so comforting mentally. I had no fears when it came to school, because I was like “I got Sam Sanchez on my side, I got Mrs. Brooks on my side.” That’s the honest truth. I remember, for example, how they used to get us high school folders when we were in Junior high school level. They were telling us that we had to show them folders of high schools that we were interested in, that it was time!  There are deadlines! You got tell us! You gotta look for it! That’s just an example, they were there, they were available to us. That was the time where students get lost, maybe they’re parents don’t make it so important of an issue, and rather them go to a high school that they were really interested in, they would go to a zone high school, just because it was really uncoordinated, the search.

"I had no fears when it came to school, because I was like 'I got Sam Sanchez on my side, I got Mrs. Brooks on my side.'”

Another thing - I used to love the huddle, when we used to do things like the Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, just seeing everybody there. That always kept my heart warm – I always used to say to myself, “look, all of us are here, and this is just great.” I just loved the fact that they kept us together as the years went by, sixth, seventh, eight, ninth, when high school came, everybody scattered. But still, they maintained us together. How? With structure. With a trip here and there. With a huddle, with a meeting, with a reunion, those are the things that made me happy.

As a student, I had a natural connection with school. I loved school…you didn’t have to tell me to [work hard in school.] The program taught me that education was valuable. That’s what it taught me…Education is a must and you have to do it if you want the best of things in this world. That’s what it taught me, simple and plain. That’s what I got out of it.

 What does your family think of “I Have A Dream” – New York?

My mom is grateful…my mom knows Sam Sanchez. My mom probably looked at him, not like a dad to me, but she would look at him like “man, this is the adult that guided my son in the right direction in school.” So, I would say she’s highly grateful.

 What advice do you have for current Dreamers?

I’m an advocate for education, you understand? So my advice to them is just finish your school, keep in touch with your peers, keep the friendship alive, and keep your involvement in the program, because this is until the end of the rainbow. There is no end.

The opportunities that they have, they’re part of a program that’s providing them structure to get to the end of the rainbow as far as school’s concerned. They have to do that, [I Have A Dream] sets the path for them, but they’re the ones that have to make it happen for themselves. But if they do, everything after that will fall into place…

Keep the dream alive! That’s my advice.


Spotlight On Dreamer Alumni: Juan D. Martinez

This month, we chat with Juan D. Martinez, Esq., part of the Original Dreamer class. Juan also recently hosted a site visit of the U.S. State Department for those attending this year's National Dreamer Conference in Washington, DC. Thank you for sharing your stories and being an inspiration to our Dreamers, Juan!

  Original Dreamer Juan D. Martinez, Esq.

Original Dreamer Juan D. Martinez, Esq.

Name:  Juan D. Martínez, Esq.

Dreamer Cohort:  Eugene M. Lang

Year joined program/Which grade were you in?: 1981/6th grade

What High School did you attend, and what year did you graduate? The Bronx High School of Science, Class of 1987.

Did you go to college/secondary school? If so, where and what did you study?Swarthmore College, B.A. in Philosophy, Class of 1991.

What are you doing now? I am a Foreign Service Officer/Diplomat in the U.S. Department of State.

How would you explain the “I Have A Dream” program to someone who had never heard of it? The IHAD Program provides academic support and resources that “fill in the gap” present for many students in disadvantage communities that help to open doors to educational opportunities that might not otherwise be available.

How did being a Dreamer affect you? Being a Dreamer has truly been one of the most positive experiences in my life. I have been incredibly fortunate to have had the educational opportunities afford to me, but, also to have been able to form life-long bonds with my sponsor Gene Lang, Project Coordinator Johnny Rivera, and several of my fellow “Original Dreamers,” even more than thirty years later.

What were some of your favorite memories about being a Dreamer? Getting together with fellow classmates/Dreamers at our Community-Based Organization, the Youth Action Program (now YouthBuild USA: http://www.youthaction-nyc.org/2.html), after school and during the summer.

Would you be where you are today without “I Have A Dream” – New York? Why or why not? While it’s likely that I would still be where I am today without the “I Have A Dream” program, it would have been a decidedly more difficult path.

What does your family think of “I Have A Dream” – New York? My family have been supporters and fans of the “I Have A Dream” program, as a whole, since its inception.

Spotlight On Dreamer Alumni: Saul Arvelo

Name:  Saul Arvelo

Dreamer Cohort:  Ravenswood I

Year joined program/Which grade were you in?: 3rd Grade; 1993

What did you think about “I Have A Dream” – New York when you were in school?  The program was an “academic training ground” that supplemented the education that I was receiving in school.  Because of the [investment] of time and energy from our mentors, I was able to excel in school.  IHDF-NY also provided a safe place for us to be creative

What High School did you attend, and what year did you graduate?   Long Island City High School Class of 2004.

  Dreamer Alum Saul Arvelo

Dreamer Alum Saul Arvelo

Did you graduate college? If so, what school and what did you study?  I graduated from Hofstra University with a BA in Communications.

What are you doing now?  I am actually in the middle of an exciting transition in my career.   I had been working at the Disney ABC Television Group as a Talent Acquisition Coordinator.  However, my true passion lied within television production and development, and I am finally able to make that dream a reality, as I am now working as a Production Manager for NBC Universal’s Daytime programming. 

How would you explain the “I Have A Dream” program to someone who had never heard of it?  IHDF-NY is a true year-round youth development organization that keeps kids on the right track academically, while supplementing the education that they receive with amazing life lessons and experiences.  They expose the kids that they serve to an unlimited amount of opportunities that they otherwise wouldn’t have direct access to. 

How did being a Dreamer affect you?  Being a Dreamer affected me in huge ways.  It provided a platform for me to display my craft and to be successful.   Ever since I was a young kid, I always had a passion and interest in all things media-related, from acting and singing on stage, to production and writing.   The I Have A Dream Program helped develop my social skills and confidence to actively pursue those interests.  They also put me in touch with key industry figures and taught me how to network with professionals.  As a result, I landed key internships during my college years with VH1 and ESPN, where I helped produce the annual ESPYS, which in turn, led to a successful early career at both ABC and NBC.

What were some of your favorite memories about being a Dreamer?  The bond that my friends and I made with our Program Directors, Staff, and sponsors is something that will always stand out.  We were incredibly lucky to have so many positive role models in our lives; something that definitely wasn’t the case for other kids in my neighborhood who weren’t a part of the program.  I specifically remember the college trips with our Program Director, Thierry Cazeau.  Mr. C (as I’ve always liked to call him) simply knew how to get us so rallied up and excited about the whole experience.  I also remember going out to lunch with our sponsor, Mr. Friedman.  We did this a few times during the years, as he would check in on our academic progress and see what kinds of goals we were setting for ourselves.  Mr. Friedman held us accountable.  He even came up to have lunch with me at Hofstra University;  a gesture that I’ll never forget.

What does your family think of “I Have A Dream” – New York?  My family is forever grateful for the IHDF-NY.  They entrusted the program with me at such a young age,

Are you still involved with “I Have A Dream” – New York? How?  I am definitely still involved with IHDF-NY.  I’ve served as an amanbassador and spoken on their behalf at various events and fundraisers.  I also recently participated in a career day event for the Dreamers at the Ravenswood II Program, as well as served as a translator for the Spanish-speaking parents at a FAFSA Application session.

 If you are a Dreamer Alum who would like to share your story for the blog, please contact Thierry Cazeau at tcazeau@ihaveadreamny.org . 

Spotlight On Dreamer Alumni: Jamie Caceres

This month, we chat with Ravenswood I Dreamer Alum Jamie Caceres. A big thanks to Jamie for sharing her story!

  Dreamer Alum Jamie Caceres

Dreamer Alum Jamie Caceres

Name: Jamie Caceres

Dreamer Cohort: Ravenswood I

What did you think about “I Have A Dream” – New York when you were in school? Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to hang out in the streets alone with my friends. The "I Have A Dream" Program was my only opportunity to see my friends, therefore as a child, I looked forward to going to “The Program” afterschool and during the summer.

What High School did you attend, and what year did you graduate?  My parents and I moved to Florida when I was 12 years old. I attended John I. Leonard High School in Greenacres, FL

Did you go to college/secondary school? If so, where and what did you study? I attended Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, FL and received my BBA degree with a major in finance.

What are you doing now? I work at Morgan Stanley as a Registered Client Service Associate.

How would you explain the “I Have A Dream” program to someone who had never heard of it? I introduce the program as an organization that focuses on creating an opportunity for youth to attain a higher education.   

How did being a Dreamer affect you?Being a Dreamer has affected my life immensely. It’s a part of who I am, the reason I am on path to the quality of life my ancestors fought for me to have. They brought my family to the land of opportunity and that is exactly what I received through being a Dreamer.

What were some of your favorite memories about being a Dreamer? Some of my favorite memories as a Dreamer were going to Morry’s Camp, attending Mets games with my dad, learning to swim at the Boys & Girls club and taking field trips.

   Jamie's graduation photo

Jamie's graduation photo

Would you be where you are today without “I Have A Dream” – New York? Why or why not? I don’t believe I would be where I am today if it weren’t for “I Have A Dream.” College was a thought introduced solely by “The Program” and only made financially possible by them. Not only did they assist financially, they also provided tutoring to help in your academic short-comings.

What does your family think of “I Have A Dream” – New York? My family didn’t have the means to put me through college. They are grateful for the role [that] “I Have A Dream” played in my success and in my childhood development.

Are you still involved with “I Have A Dream” – New York? Yes, I am part of the Dreamer Alumni Network of New York.

 If you are a Dreamer Alum who would like to share your story for the blog, please contact Thierry Cazeau at tcazeau@ihaveadreamny.org . 

Spotlight On Dreamer Alumni: Melissa Ashton

  Dreamer Alum Melissa Ashton

Dreamer Alum Melissa Ashton

Name: Melissa Ashton

Year joined program/which grade were you in? 1996 / 10th grade 

What did you think about “I Have A Dream” – New York when you were in school? I was excited to join because it was a program that was geared at preparing me for college. 

What High School did you attend, and what year did you graduate? George Westinghouse Vocational and Technical High School, I graduated in 1999.

Did you go to college/secondary school? If so, where and what did you study?  I graduated from West Virginia Wesleyan College, my major was International Business and my minor was Political Science.

What are you doing now? I am employed by New York City Department of Social Services, Human Resources Administration and I am a supervisor with the division of Fair Hearing.  

How would you explain the “I Have A Dream” program to someone who had never heard of it? IHDF-NY was an after school college prep [and] mentoring program that offered tutoring services.  IHDF-NY also gave us an opportunity to obtain summer and winter jobs with prestigious companies. This taught us the value of employment and taking pride in our careers.  In addition to mentoring, tutoring and job development the IHAD program took us on various trips such as skiing and basketball games, some of us even had the once in a life time opportunity of going to Africa.  This program kept us focused and motivated because we were surrounded by positive people who only wanted the best for us.

How did being a Dreamer affect you? It affected me in more ways than one.  I started in the 10th grade so at that time I was more concerned about hanging out with my friends and having a social life, but joining the program reshaped my thought process and I realized that my education was what was most important.  The program gave me a better sense of who I was and taught me that being persistent and dedicated was the key to turning my dream into a reality.  

What were some of your favorite memories about being a Dreamer? I remember Mr. Ronald Jones helping me with my math homework assignments, our weekly Tuesday Dreamer meetings, traveling to Africa and Costa Rica and our annual Christmas parties at Tudor Investments when it was located in Manhattan.

Would you be where you are today without “I Have A Dream” – New York? Yes, I would say so because my mother was a serious lady who constantly stayed on top of things and she pushed me really hard, but I must say IHDF-NY assisted her along the way.  It reminds me of the saying “It takes a village to raise a child.”

What does your family think of “I Have A Dream” – New York? My family believes that there was no other program like the I Have A Dream program and we will forever be grateful.

 If you are a Dreamer Alum who would like to share your story for the blog, please contact Thierry Cazeau at tcazeau@ihaveadreamny.org

Dreamer Alumni Pay It Forward

  Dreamer Alumni Jonathan Williams and Fenton Joseph

Dreamer Alumni Jonathan Williams and Fenton Joseph

One of the values that “I Have A Dream” strives to instill our Dreamers is generosity, to recognize the importance of giving back to the community. As “I Have A Dream” has a commitment to ensure opportunities for our Dreamers to reach their full potential, we hope that as Dreamers achieve success in their lives, they will pay it forward and help the next generation accomplish their goals.

Two Dreamer Alumni from the Old Westbury Cohort on Long Island, Jonathan Williams and Fenton Joseph, have taken this idea to heart. This spring, they launched the Dreamer for Dreams Scholarship at their high school alma mater, Westbury High School. The scholarship was created to be given to a rising senior who has a commitment to social change. This year, the recipient is a graduating senior who will be attending Stony Brook University in the fall, where she will begin pursuing her doctorate in child psychology to address issues of low self esteem and a lack of acceptance. During the ceremony, Jonathan and Fenton spoke of the impact that “I Have A Dream” – New York had on their lives, and Jonathan surprised the audience by announcing a commitment to continuing the scholarship to future students for at least another three years.

Jonathan says that the idea was inspired by his grandmother, who passed away in 2011. “Giving back to the community was something close to her heart and was something that I wanted to do in her memory.  As my best friend (and a fellow Dreamer), I couldn’t think of anyone better to collaborate with than Fenton.  We tossed around ideas about what the scholarship should stand for (just giving money didn’t feel right) and impacting social change kept being the centralized theme.  I knew from the beginning that bringing other Dreamers together to provide a scholarship for one student who had dreams of attending college was exactly what I wanted to do.”

Jonathan and Fenton contributed their own money to start the scholarship fund, but also used this as an opportunity to reach out to fellow Dreamers from their cohort and rally them to the cause. Their cohort Sponsor Jefry Rosmarin, as well as former Dreamer Mentor John Tanenbaum, agreed to match any amount that they raised. They raised a total of $2,300 for this year’s scholarship, and hope to increase next year’s scholarship to $10,000. Fenton and Jonathan are currently discussing creative ways to raise these additional funds and bring greater awareness to their cause.

Jonathan says that this experience “has definitely been on the most rewarding endeavors of my life.  The dream started [when we were] Dreamers and now we are able to provide dreams for others, as well.” Both agree that this year was a great success, but they are eager to get started on next year’s scholarship. All of us at “I Have A Dream” – New York are inspired by these two Alumni and are thrilled to see that the message and spirit of the Dreamer Program continues to be spread to a broader audience.

Spotlight On Dreamer Alumni: Anthony Ron

This month, we speak with Anthony Ron, aka DJ Dubbz, for our Spotlight On Dreamer Alumni series. Thank you Anthony for sharing your story with us!

  Dreamer Alum Anthony Ron, aka DJ Dubbz

Dreamer Alum Anthony Ron, aka DJ Dubbz

Name: Anthony Ron

Dreamer Cohort: Chelsea 1

Year joined program/Which grade were you in?:
1993 - 2nd Grade

What did you think about “I Have A Dream” – New York when you were in school?
There was a time when I didn't want to go to the "I Have a Dream" Program because I felt it was another extension of school. I did not yet know the value of the commitment that my Sponsor, Jeff Gural, had made with me as a second grader. In the earlier years I cringed at the fact that I was going to an after school program where I had supervised homework help. During that time in my life, I had developed chronic asthma, and was in and out of the hospital. I would miss school for weeks, and struggle to complete my assignments at home. My biggest support systems were my family, and “I Have A Dream” – New York. My counselor Hannah Wise who would soon become the Project Coordinator was more than just a counselor, she doubled as a big sister in some regards. Hannah would help me with my math and writing homework on a weekly basis. It was the first time in my life that someone who was a total stranger was actually rooting for me to win. I don't know if she treated everyone the same way, she could have made us all feel like this. But, coming from a Housing Project from the inner city, naturally you are conditioned to not trust people. Especially the kindness of a stranger. Hannah was probably the reason why I stuck with the program to this day. She has since moved into the healthcare field as a Registered Nurse and continues to be a great support system in my life.

What High School did you attend, and what year did you graduate? 
La Salle Academy - 2004

Did you go to college/secondary school? If so, where and what did you study?
[I graduated from] John Jay College [in] New York City, I studied Public Administration.

What are you doing now?
Currently I am a new business owner. I opened up my doors in January 2013. This company has enabled me to have many different kinds of clients from all walks of the entertainment industry. I started out as a DJ when I was 12 years old, and I have carved my niche in the market and am currently diversifying my services to reach a new client base.

How would you explain the “I Have A Dream” program to someone who had never heard of it?
It is an organization that enables kids to make their own choices. They can choose to sit and learn more, and become a more stable human being, or they can choose to simply not. It is an organization that mentors children, helps with tutoring, and ultimately pays your college tuition, in the event that financial aid through government funding is not possible. This promise is a guarantee, it can be cashed out to the bank, it all depends on the Dreamer if they choose that path.

How did being a Dreamer affect you?
It affected me a greatly because it exposed me to a world that I had no idea existed. Coming from the inner city in Manhattan, there were many distractions and obstacles that we faced in our environment. IHDF-NY showed us that there were positive people out in the world that actually were betting on us to win. That was an amazing idea for me, to meet people that cared for me unconditionally.

What were some of your favorite memories about being a Dreamer?
I remember us all packing into a bus and heading to our Sponsor Jeff's house. He would break out a cotton candy machine, a popcorn maker, and we would enjoy his huge estate in upstate New York. The Dreamers would bring their parents along for the trip and it was a really great bonding experience between parents, dreamers, and staff.

Would you be where you are today without “I Have A Dream” – New York? Why or why not?
I don't believe that I will be in the place I am career wise without the "I Have a Dream" Foundation. They nourished my goals before I even set them. They kept me focused on my studies throughout high school and college. So many of my peers did not have the I Have a Dream in their lives, and it's sad to say that most of them are nowhere near where they want to be in life. I think a huge part of my confidence and business sense comes from my upbringing. IHDF-NY played a huge part in that, I truly don't know where my place would be in this world if they were not a part of my life.

What does your family think of “I Have A Dream” – New York?
They were always very supportive of me being involved in IHDF-NY. There was never a time when there was any type of friction between my parents and the IHDF-NY staff. My family believes that because of their help, I was equipped with the social skills necessary to land certain deals that came my way over the years.

Are you still involved with “I Have A Dream” – New York? How?
I am still involved with the I Have A Dream Foundation. I am on the IHDF-NY Junior [Dreamer] Alumni Board. I also have a possible "Green" venture that could be a great thing for the foundation as well. This is one of my newest ventures, I will give details on it when things do materialize.

 If you are a Dreamer Alum who would like to share your story for the blog, please contact Thierry Cazeau at tcazeau@ihaveadreamny.org 

Spotlight On Dreamer Alumni: Stephanie Sosa

For July's Spotlight On Dreamer Alumni, we chat with Stephanie Sosa, a Dreamer graduate from our Melrose I cohort. A big thank you to Stephanie for sharing her story, which we hope you will enjoy as much as we do!

Name: Stephanie Sosa

Dreamer Cohort: Melrose I

Year joined program/Which grade were you in?: 3rd grade

What did you think about “I Have A Dream” – New York when you were in school? I was very appreciative of “I Have A Dream.”  I had somewhere to go after school and during the summer.  There was always something exciting going on and I never wanted to miss a day.

What High School did you attend, and what year did you graduate?  Talent Unlimited, Class of 2008

   Stephanie Sosa in her NYU cap and gown!

Stephanie Sosa in her NYU cap and gown!

Did you go to college/secondary school? If so, where and what did you study? Siena College, Social Work Class of 2012 and New York University- Wagner School of Public Service, Master of Urban Planning Class of 2014

What are you doing now? I graduated with my master’s degree in May and finishing up my community development fellowship at Fordham Bedford Housing until the end of June.

How would you explain the “I Have A Dream” program to someone who had never heard of it? The “I Have a Dream” program is a network of people who believe that children in need have the right to decide who they want to be in the future.  “I Have A Dream” provides Dreamers with the resources they need in order for them to benefit from the education system as much as possible and introduces them to a new family of people who supports and believes in them.

How did being a Dreamer affect you? Being a Dreamer raised my self-esteem and taught me that I can be whatever I want to be as long as I work for it.  I also gained a lot of academic and social skills that have allowed me to excel as a student and professional.

What were some of your favorite memories about being a Dreamer? I loved spending time and growing with my cohort.  We had our ups and downs, but we became a family and always supported each other. 

Would you be where you are today without “I Have A Dream” – New York? Why or why not? I believe that I would have gone to college and graduate school, but my situation would have completely different.  The level of support that I received while being in the program allowed me to accomplish a lot more than I probably would have been able to on my own.

What does your family think of “I Have A Dream” – New York? My family is appreciative of the program and all of the opportunities that it has provided for me. 

Are you still involved with “I Have A Dream” – New York? How? I am still involved with “I Have a Dream.”  I have spoken to Dreamers at different events about my experiences with the program.  I have also met with Dreamer Alumni in the past. 

 If you are a Dreamer Alum who would like to share your story for the blog, please contact Thierry Cazeau at tcazeau@ihaveadreamny.org 

Spotlight on Dreamer Alumni: Janet Gonzalez

This month, we talk with Janet Gonzalez, a member of Eugene Lang’s original Dreamer class. Many thanks to Janet for sharing her experiences, and for continuing to help Dreamers decades later!

  IHDF-NY's first Program Director Johnny Rivera, IHDF Founder and Chairman Emeritus Eugene Lang, and Dreamer Alumni Janet Gonzalez

IHDF-NY's first Program Director Johnny Rivera, IHDF Founder and Chairman Emeritus Eugene Lang, and Dreamer Alumni Janet Gonzalez

What did you think about “I Have A Dream”-NY when you were in school?  I felt it was a positive outlet.  The community center we would meet at on 110th street was a "fun" place where I saw my friends and we sat around and talk about what was going on in our lives with school, family, etc.  We also had writing and math classes that really helped me a great deal straight through college.   To me it was that place we called a "home" outside of home.  At least that's what it meant to me.

What high school did you attend and what year did you graduate?  Norman Thomas HS, 1987.

What are you doing now?  I currently work at Conde Nast.  I am the production manager at Glamour magazine.  I pretty much built a layout map and make sure our printing plant produces the book at the most efficient rate.  It's quite a challenge to achieve but greatly satisfying once I receive that first bound book in my hands!

How would you explain the “I Have A Dream” program to someone who had never heard of it?  I would say its an amazing foundation that helps children from lower income communities develop an appreciation for education.  It helps students with all academic challenges in junior HS, HS and eventually college.  Throughout your school years, the foundation will not only be a place where people care about you and help you in many areas academically or with employment for example, but a place you can go to anytime just to chat with friends.  The program also assist with college tuition.

How did being a Dreamer affect you?  What I mainly got out of being a Dreamer is a great appreciation to "always give my best." I remember clearly taking a writing class at the youth center with Ms. Julia Smith (our writing teacher at that time) and being pushed hard in such a loving, effective way.  She would always say to me, “Is that your best?” It was such an effective way for her to get me to write so much better.  Eventually, she helped me get a summer job at Citibank.  I'll never forget Julia.  She was a great asset to the program and someone I always remember.

What were some of your favorite memories about being a Dreamer?  Our outings!  We had some pretty fun activities at the youth center but occasionally our coordinator, Johnny Rivera would take us out on outings and those were always a lot of fun.  I remember going for lunch and dinner with Mr. Eugene Lang.  I always thought it was quite surreal that these inner city kids would be sitting at a restaurant with this multi-millionaire.  It was fascinating how we were able to have such interesting conversations with him and really enjoy it. These are fond memories I always cherish.  

Are you still involved with "I Have A Dream" - NY? How?  This month I will host an event at my work place where twelve high school students will visit.  The Dreamers will attend a seminar where my co-workers and I will talk about our work and how the magazine business functions.  The students will then be taken on several tours throughout the company.  I enjoy giving back to the community whenever possible.   I hope to help the Foundation grow and become more successful in the near future!

 If you are a Dreamer Alum who would like to share your story for the blog, please contact Thierry Cazeau at tcazeau@ihaveadreamny.org 

Spotlight on Dreamer Alumni: Fenton Joseph

As part of a new recurring series, today we are happy to share an interview with Fenton Joseph, a Dreamer Alumnus, who shares his past experiences as a Dreamer and his current career and life pursuits. Many thanks to Fenton!

  Dreamer Alum Fenton Joseph

Dreamer Alum Fenton Joseph

Name: Fenton Joseph

Dreamer Cohort: Old Westbury; Jefry Rosmarin, Sponsor

What did you think about “I Have A Dream” – New York when you were in school? To sum up my impression of the “Dreamers” in one word, it would be: fortunate. This may seem counterintuitive, given the backgrounds of the youth that the program typically caters to; however, I knew that the Dreamers had more than just tuition assistance going for them. They had people who cared about them so much that they donated their time and money to ensure their wellbeing and success. That is such a blessing.

What High School did you attend, and what year did you graduate? Westbury Senior High School, 1999.

What are you doing now? I currently help manage the pro audio design firm that I co-founded in 2010, Ronin Applied Sciences. We design and manufacture microphones, microphone pre-amplifiers, and other high-end audio technology. I am also a communications professional specializing in branding. Above and beyond all other endeavors, I am planning my wedding for March of 2015!

How would you explain the “I Have A Dream” program to someone who had never heard of it? The “I Have A Dream” Foundation is an amazing organization dedicated to helping youth in generally low income communities achieve their potential, through mentorship (from elementary to high school and beyond) and tuition assistance. But it’s so much more than that. IHDF-NY works to give youth what they really need to be all they can be: relationship.

How did being a Dreamer affect you? I think that being a Dreamer really focused my desire to give back in some way. I have always been altruistic, you know, the kind of guy who helps old ladies across the street. Just the other day I saw someone transporting a mattress on the roof of his car and it had fallen off. I ran over to help him put it back on. He didn’t have rope, so I don’t know if it fell off again when he drove off but I did what I could! The selflessness expressed by my own mentors definitely helped point my altruism in the direction of youth. I remember the talks I had with my mentors and how much I appreciated having someone to talk to, someone who was just willing to listen. Sometimes, lending an ear can make all the difference to a young person. I’ve been told that I am a great listener. I’m sure being a Dreamer had something to do with that.

What were some of your favorite memories about being a Dreamer? Raphael Santiago was our on-site program coordinator. Many of us affectionately referred to him as Santiago, and he really helped bring the program to life. I remember walking down the "dead end" hall where his little office was tucked away. It was the only office in that hallway, so only the Dreamers went back there. It was kind of special to have a little place to go to. We loved spending time there chatting with him, so much so that he often had to kick us out and remind us that we needed to go to our classes! I still consider Santiago a very good friend.

Another fond memory was participating in a tutoring/mentorship program at a local elementary school. After school was out, a few Dreamers would stop by Powell's Lane Elementary School in Westbury and spend time with some really special children. We would help them with homework and partake in fun activities. This was the first time that I felt the joy of working with children. They were always excited to see us, and we were just as excited to see them. I had the pleasure of participating in this program for about two years. I don't remember the names and faces, to be honest, but I will never forget the feeling of joy that comes with helping a child. There's nothing quite like it. 

Are you still involved with “I Have A Dream” – New York? How? Yes I am. In January of 2014, I became a member of the Junior Board of Directors for the IHDF-NY chapter. It has been extremely humbling and inspirational to meet the people who donate their time and energy to this great organization, and I sincerely look forward to contributing to IHDF-NY’s success, as well as spending quality time with the current class of Dreamers.

 If you are a Dreamer Alum who would like to share your story for the blog, please contact Thierry Cazeau at tcazeau@ihaveadreamny.org