In Our View: ‘Dream’ Realized

Local program has guided four classes of students through high school, into college

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Over the years, the proverb that “it takes a village to raise a child” has been turned into a political football. While some have hijacked the phrase to justify government programs designed to support children, the people behind Vancouver’s I Have a Dream affiliate have remained true to the spirit of the words.

Started in 1995 and developed through the years under the guidance of Mary Granger, Vancouver’s program has helped shepherd four classes of students in low-income areas through their elementary, middle and high school years, then to college. Sponsors pledged $2.2 million to privately fund four projects, essentially adopting an entire grade level at a local elementary school in 1995, 1997, 1999 and 2001.

Granger, unfortunately, did not get to see her dream through to its conclusion. She died in November at the age of 78, but her vision has reached its fruition: The final group of students became part of the program as second-graders at Martin Luther King Elementary in 2001, and many of them recently graduated high school.

As detailed in a story by Tom Vogt in Sunday’s edition of The Columbian, several of those students have overcome difficult backgrounds to forge the foundations for what we hope will be successful lives. Shyquilia Hampton, for example, became the first member of her family to graduate high school when she finished at Hudson’s Bay.

According to officials of the local program, about 330 students have received support projects, with about 85 percent of them graduating high school. Roughly half of those have gone on to college.

Started in 1981, New York-based I Have a Dream Foundation is designed to provide assistance with college tuition and support with getting there. The Vancouver affiliate pays for tuition equaling as much as half the cost at Washington State University, minus a student’s grants, scholarships and aid. The program also assures full tuition coverage at the community college level. Yet it offers more.

“I wanted to be a part of their lives,” Kathi Wiley Gladson, vice president of Vancouver’s I Have a Dream affiliate, told The Columbian. “I know their stories, and I am amazed by their resiliency and accomplishments and their abilities to rise above extreme difficulties — and do it well.”

That, perhaps, is the overriding lesson of the I Have a Dream program — that being involved or demonstrating interest in the lives of disadvantaged youngsters can be as valuable to the students as monetary assistance. In many situations, regardless of income level, a child simply needs to know that somebody cares.

But the other lesson of the local I Have a Dream affiliate is provided by the sponsors. A total of $2.2 million was initially pledged to support four projects, and organizers say that number has been exceeded. For the students who became the high school class of 2011, seven sponsors pledged a total of $700,000.

Few people have the means to make such a contribution, but the entire community will benefit from those who did. By enhancing the lives of youngsters who might otherwise have had little direction and little hope, the sponsors have assisted with the development of productive citizens who will strengthen our community.

That is the true meaning behind the notion that it takes a village to raise a child. On occasion, this support can be provided through government programs, but there is much to be said for private community involvement. Because there is no replacement for investing in our neighbors.