27 May

I Have a Dream Foundation

A look at Adolescence Programs

Kelly A. Burton

Park University


People often say that one person can not make a difference, yet Eugene M. Lang who founded the I Have A Dream Foundation has made plenty.  The I have a dream foundation offers children who normally would not finish High School or go to college, the guidance and means to obtain these goals.  Offered in 17 states the I have a Dream Program has provided services to thousands of children since the late 1980s.  This paper looks at the foundation nationally and local for Texas.

I have a Dream Foundation, A look at Adolescence Programs

            High school dropout rates in the United States over the last three decades have been on the decline.  Starting with a high of over 6 percent in the 1970s to just over 3 percent in 2007 (Cataldi, Laird, & KewalRamani, 2009).  Individuals that drop out of high school start life with a disadvantage, in 2007 the median income for a person who did not complete high school was $24,000 compared to $40,000 for someone who completed high school or a GED program (Cataldi, et al., 2009, p.01).   Economic social status plays a part in the dropout rate, in 2007 students in low-income families were 10 times more likely to drop out of high school than their peers who lived in higher income brackets (Cataldi, et al., 2009, p.04).  Highs school dropout rates are also affected by region, those in the western and southern parts of the United States have a much higher percentage of drop out than the rest of the United States (Cataldi, et al., 2009, p.07).  Texas for the years 2002/2003 had a graduation rate of only 66.8 percent, of the over 33 percent that did not graduate high school were hispanic (Swanson, 2006).  In Texas the majority of students are hispanic, so the non graduating percentages are in line with the demographics of the schools.

One of the reasons that the United States dropout rate is declining is credited to programs like the I Have a Dream Foundation.

I Have a Dream Foundation

In 1981, Eugene M. Lang returned to his elementary school in East Harlem to give a sixth grade graduation speech.  As a successful business man, he wanted to share with the graduating class that with hard work and dedication, they could obtain the success that he had.  The principal of the class informed Eugene that approximately 75 percent of the kids would never finish high school.   Shocked, Eugene changes his speech and told the kids that every one that graduated from high school would be given the chance to attend college for free. (I have a dream, 2008).    According to the Arete corporation who conducted an impact analysis of the program, reports that 90% of the original class graduated high school or obtained a GED, much better than the historical 25% (2001), of those, 60% went on to obtaining a college degree (I have a dream, 2008).  Additionaly the Arete impact study highlights several positive impacts from participation in Dreamer programs: higher school attendance, teen mothers staying in school, higher resistance to peer pressure, and lower delinquency rates (2001).

The initial success of Eugene’s project has started a nationwide project, there are over 3,500 kids in a dreamer programs in 17 states.  These kids are mainly from lower social economic areas where at least 75% of the kids qualify for free or reduced lunches (I have a dream, 2008).   Focusing on these lower income areas where there is a ten fold chance kids will not graduate from high school is helping our nation lower our drop out rate.

The I have a Dream program has a very simple vision outlined on their web page: “Our vision is that one day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to pursue higher education and to fully capitalize on their talents, aspirations, and leadership to have fulfilling careers and create a better world.” and focuses on six simple core strategies:

  • Foster the expectation of college
  • Ensure academic readiness
  • Cultivate Dreamers’ ongoing leadership
  • Empower Dreamers and their families
  • Ensure financial access
  • Create a context conducive to success

The ability to goto college in the United States should never be an issue of money but of desire and talent. However until we have a system that allows all children to attend college we have to rely on generous programs like I Have a Dream.  While the financial aspect of this program is a large one, the foundation provides mentoring and other services.  All services from the foundation are provided by private volunteers and donations.

In 1998, President Clinton started a national government program called Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP), allocating federal funds to offer scholarships for lower income children. (I have a dream, 2008).  Students who want to participate in the Gear Up program must work harder to be eligible for college money.  The program promotes working in after school programs as a method of increasing the participants civl awareness and chance for scholarship.  Studies have shown that students who participate in these types of program become better students and better adjusted adolescents.  Conversely children who have too much unsupervised idle time are more prone to get into trouble.  In 1999 approximately 8 million children aged 5 to 14 years are left unsupervised (Apsler, 2009).  Aspler in a study of after school programs points out that children who are engaged in after school program have a much lower rate of risky delinquent behavior, drug use and sexual promiscuity (2009).  In order for an after school program to be successful it must adhere to the following guidelines, (1) have specific goals, (2) structured programming based on sound educational techniques, (3) frequent attendance (Apsler 2009).

On a national level programs like I have a dream, gear up, and after school programs can dramatically improve the chances for an adolescent to become a viable and contributing member of society.   Since the majority of the drop outs occur in southern and western regions of the United States we turn our focus to a local Texas affiliate of the I have a dream program to see the results.

Texas – I Have A Dream Foundation Affiliates

In Dallas, Texas, the I have a dream foundation takes further steps to help children stay in school, with the addition of special services for the Cedar Spring housing development occupied by lower income families.  Since 1994 the Dallas chapter has been providing service for over 50 children in the Cedar Springs Housing development (IHAD, Dallas, 2010).  Children are offered tutoring mentoring and recreational programs right in their housing development.  Currently the Dallas chapter is in financial trouble as their main sponsor can not provide the needed funds to continue, they are short $150,000 and seek donations via their web page.  The Dallas program does not guarantee a paid college scholarship for its members, but does offer extensive resources to help the children obtain the resources to obtain their degrees.

Fort Worth, Texas’ I have a dream foundation was started in 1988 and offers the traditional IHAD services to get kids into college (IHAD, Ft Worth, 2010). Since it’s inception, the Ft Worth affiliate has helped over 700 children from lower social economic status obtain their education needs.  The Ft Worth chapter points out some interesting facts on people who do not graduate from high school: (IHAD, Ft Worth, 2010)

  • Two-thirds of Welfare recipients do not finish high school. The average annual cost of welfare programs to taxpayers is $11,000 per family.
  • According to the Department of Labor, 27 million working adults over 17 years of age are illiterate.
  • 85% of the inmate population of Texas Department of Corrections did not complete high school. The average annual cost to taxpayers is $24,000 per inmate.

The Ft Worth chapter has been very successful helping six graduating classes obtain a 74% graduation rate, with over 50% of those graduating continuing on to college or vocational school (IHAD, Ft Worth, 2010).

Unfortunately other large cities in Texas do not have this valuable program, San Antonio and Houston were not listed on the list of affiliates.   It is very feasible to offer the I had a dream program for at least a two year degree from local community colleges in all large Texas Cities.  The average cost for a two year degree from a Texas community college is only $3200, a small price to pay to ensure all are afforded the chance to obtain higher education.


             Adolescents face many problems that can lead to them dropping out of school. Dealing with their ever-changing bodies, peer pressure, and trying to find their identity can overburden them and effect their learning abilities in school.  Some researchers recommend intervention early on to help the adolescent deal with these problems and get their focus back on school and a career path.  Debra M. Hernandez Jozefowicz-Simbeni, in her article “An Ecological and Developmental Perspective on Dropout Risk Factors in Early Adolescence: Role of School Social  Workers in Dropout Prevention Efforts”, points out that children who drop out of high school normally dropout mentally way before they actually drop out of school (2008).  She recommends that steps be taken while children are in middle school to mentor them along and ensure they stay in school.  Programs like the I have a dream program start in the sixth grade, plenty of time to work with the children and keep them in school.

Because the I have a dream program is privately funded, there is easy access for the children to receive the help as opposed to the Gear Up program. While the Gear up program is a positive program and helps those in need, the criteria is much stricter and riddled with Red Tape.  While some might think it is the governments job to run programs like Gear Up, I beg to differ.  Programs ran by government entities are offered bloated and mismanaged, resulting in the amount of actual aid getting to those that need it reduced greatly.  The burden of educating and ensuring our younger generations are ready to face the world is ours, the people.

Eugene is a perfect example of what we must do to fix our unbalanced educational system, and shows what one person with drive and determination can do.  The ability for anyone to exceed in our world should not be based on one’s social-economic standing in the world.  If we provide a person with the proper environment, resources and guidance they should be able to achieve anything they set their goals to.  This brings up the old question of nurture verses nature, and many might argue that we are pre-wired into our destiny, however efforts like the I have a dream program weighs heavily on the nurture side.

Programs like the I have a dream program should be implemented in every city that has disadvantaged youth.  The fact that only 17 states has the program shows that we as humanity place our focus on the wrong things.  In my example of Texas, one of the largest states, and a state that is part of the southern region which has a high drop out rate, chose to only implement two cities.  My home city of San Antonio with a population of over a million people, has no I have a dream program, yet we have a high drop out rate.  One of the problems is that a lot of people are not aware of this type of program.  A grassroots effort is needed to get people involved into the program.  Money is not the only resource needed, equipment, people to mentor, and community support are also required, of these items I think every one can find one that they can help with.   People will say times are tough, we are in a recession, and how much can I really help?  In San Antonio, if every person would donate just one dollar a month, we would raise over a million dollars every month, twelve million dollars a year.  Can you donate a dollar a month?


Arete Corporation.  (2001). I have a dream the impacts. Retrieved from http://www.ihaveadreamfoundation.org/images/downloads/AreteSummary_2003.pdf

Apsler, R. (2009). After-School Programs For Adolescents: A Review Of Evaluation Research. Adolescence, 44(173), 1-19. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

Cataldi, E.F., Laird, J., & KewalRamani, A. (2009). high school dropout and completion rates in the united states: 2007. NCES 2009064, 064. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2009064

I have a dream. (2008). I have a dream foundation. Retrieved from http://www.ihaveadreamfoundation.org/html/

IHAD, Dallas. (2010),  I have a dream foundation Dallas Texas.  Retrieved from http://www.ihaveadreamdallas.org/

IHAD, Ft Worth. (2010),  I have a dream foundation Dallas Texas.  Retrieved from


Jozefowicz-Simbeni, D. (2008). An ecological and developmental perspective on dropout risk factors in early adolescence: Role of school social workers in dropout prevention efforts. Children & Schools, 30(1), 49-62. Retrieved from PsycINFO database.

Swanson, C.B. (2006, October 01). High school graduation in texas, independent research to understand and combat the graduation crisis. Retrieved from www.edweek.org/media/texas_eperc.pdf

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