Mentorship program for low-income children grows, adds 2nd chapter

The Tufts Directing through Recreation, Education, Adventure, and Mentoring (DREAM) program is adding an additional chapter at the Somerville Housing Authority’s apartments at Clarendon Hill, which will begin meeting this semester.

Tufts DREAM Chapter Chair Zoe Leaf explained that DREAM is a mentoring program in the Northeastern United States which pairs college students with low-income students living in public housing to build long-term relationships and improve student outcomes.

Leaf, a senior, explained that the program’s continued success in impacting the lives of students in the community has led to increased demand by possible mentees. In order to maintain the small size and intimacy of the mentoring groups, the chapter chairs decided to split the Tufts DREAM chapter into two groups, thereby adding an additional chapter.

Leaf noted that the groups would be identical in size and in nature, and will function in the same manner as the original group.

“We chose to create a second chapter rather than expanding the existing one because DREAM operates through a village mentoring model, meaning that we do programs with all the mentors and mentees together once a week,” Leaf wrote in an electronic message. “We were worried that expanding the group too much would jeopardize the intimacy of our group and how well we work together.”

As the original chapter has existed for longer than the new one, Leaf added that the chairs will make sure to properly prepare and train the new mentors.

“Because our DREAM chapter has been operating for much longer than this new one we’re here as a resource for the new mentors of the new DREAM, and want to support them in any way we can and be a resource for them,” Leaf said.

According to Leaf and Tufts DREAM’s other chapter chair Noah Michaud, the goal of the DREAM program is to encourage relationships between mentees and mentors. Leaf emphasized that the presence of a young adult in a child’s life is an incredibly beneficial experience for the mentees.

“It can be very empowering to have a positive adult in a child’s life and have someone to pursue their interests.” Leaf said.

Leaf explained that since the program is a mentoring program by definition, the chapter offers tutoring, to which Michaud, a junior, added that there is a one-to-one ratio between mentors and mentees.

Leaf attributed the success of Tufts DREAM to the dedication of mentors, who sacrifice their free time to build meaningful connections with their mentees.

“Our mentors really care about this program and the kids we work with, and we are constantly pushing each other to do better for the program,” Leaf said. “All mentors are constantly introducing new ideas; people work so hard.”

However, Michaud added that the success of the program is a product of many years of relationship building, due to its long-term nature.

“It can be hard to measure success when doing child mentoring, as it’s not something that happens overnight,” Michaud said. “But the returning commitment of our mentors is really important and our consistent growth rate is definitely a sign of our success.”

DREAM Mentor Soliman Aboutaam described the mentoring program as a rewarding experience in which to participate.

“Everyone is really passionate and willing to take time out of their free times to making sure that the programming on Friday runs as well as possible,” Aboutaam, a first-year, said. “It is [as] fulfilling as what I put in the kids give back to me.” 

Michaud added that, in the future, the program can encourage not only stronger connections with the youth of the community but the community at large as well.

“I think growing our connection to the community in general and families, with lots of passionate people, would be a really great step forward for DREAM,Michaud said.

Regarding improvements for the program going forward, Leaf noted that she hopes to continue ensuring mentors feel comfortable in the difficult situations that often come during mentorship.

“We have a lot of difficult conversations as mentors and I think becoming more comfortable with those conversations is something we are always working on,” Leaf said. “We could do this in formal settings, such as workshops and trainings, and also informal settings to make sure our mentors feel prepared.”

Leaf emphasized that the program is on a path towards continued growth.

“We are always impressed by how dedicated everyone is and we have no worries,” Leaf said.