On September 8th, Governor J.B. Pritzker announced the recipients of the last rounding of funding from the Illinois COVID-19 Response Fund. The Fund granted $7.5 million to seven non-profit organizations throughout the state that serve Black and Latinx communities. One of those selected was DREAAM House, which provides social and academic development for African-American boys in C-U. With $400,000 in grant money, DREAAM House will partner with The Well Experience, a C-U non-profit with similar goals of reaching underserved families and youth, for their Hope in Action Project.
I spoke with DREAAM House founder and executive director Tracy Dace in 2017 about the mission and work that the organization was doing in the community, so I took this opportunity to follow up with Dace and find out more about this new initiative.
Smile Politely: Can you describe what DREAAM House services have looked like over the past several months, as we've had to navigate COVID?
Tracy Dace: Since Spring Break, we have offered several services, including virtual and in-person enrichment and programming, family support (over 1800 dinner meals delivered and prepared over 250 care packages), and financial assistance to families in Champaign, Urbana, and Rantoul. DREAAM has very supportive partners, such as Jubilee Cafe and UniPlace Church who prepared dinner meals and staff delivered to DREAAM families. We also provided virtual tutoring and targeted academic interventions to over 75 children at no cost to parents between April and July. This summer, we re-designed our kindergarten readiness program and offered it virtually. Families received all the supplies, including books, to participate in the program safely from home. During COVID-19, it has been important to remain committed to our mission of sustaining a culture of academic achievement. In addition, we collaborated with local churches and created a small, in-person program called Safe Outdoor Summer (SOS). This was a Saturday program for 24 kids. The focus was to offer physical activities that addressed social emotional learning. We did several other cool, safe summer program activities, such as visits to Hendrick House Farm and horseback riding at Darren Woller's stables. The kids had fun and stayed safe and socially distanced. They did a super job with wearing masks and washing hands.
SP: What types of needs are you seeing amongst the kids and families you serve in the midst of all of this?
Dace: A need I am seeing is physical activity amongst DREAAMers. We are addressing that through offering recreation on Saturdays and will schedule long, active recess breaks during in-person, full-day programming. Another need is social emotional support during this pandemic and remote learning. Remote learning has compounded the stress of living during a pandemic. We need to create ongoing platforms to hear from parents and have immediate response to their struggles and concerns. Lastly, the most critical need is educational support and the devastating amount of learning loss since March. As we continue with remote learning, the achievement gap that adversely impacts Black children will continue to widen. Their academic health is more than a need. It is a crisis.
SP: About how many kids are participating in DREAAM House services right now?
Dace: DREAAM is reaching, teaching, and empowering between 60-70 children, teens, and young adults. These numbers will increase as we scale up virtual tutoring and provide in-person, full-day programming starting in mid-October.
SP: Tell me a little more about The Hope in Action Project and how it will impact families in need.
Dace: DREAAM, in partnership with The Well Experience, will implement the Hope in Action Project in Champaign County, primarily in the communities of Champaign, Urbana, and Rantoul, where unemployment and mental health rates are rising.
We will serve 300 participants through a multi-tiered, evidence-based system of services and supports that are accessible, coordinated, and take a holistic view of the individual and families. .
Specifically, The Well Experience will engage 20 families in wraparound services and culturally-responsive supports and launch a program for pregnant teens.
DREAAM will form a community think tank to design individual-level and small group interventions to address gun violence that profoundly derails the lives of Black teen males
Twenty-five young adults (ages 18-30) will receive career training, paid work experiences, and supportive services (life coaching, financial assistance) to increase life opportunities and disrupt generational poverty
DREAAM will provide full-day childcare and educational services to up to 40 DREAAMers
Other individuals and DREAAM/TWE families will receive financial support with short-term needs.
DREAAM House is also a community partner of Community Foundation of East Central Illinois, and a part of their Community Solutions Incubator.
Top photo from DREAAM House Facebook page.