Veteran not afraid to Dream Big

Mountain View grad strives to raise profile of youth-oriented nonprofit

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dreambigcc.org

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Nathan Webster: Veteran not afraid to Dream Big

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Peggy McCarthy: On front lines of mental health crisis

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Randy Fox: From inadvertent spotter to hall of fame coach

Lehman Holder: Outdoorsman happy to take the lead

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Sara Teas, Jen Studebaker and Lee-Anne Flandreau: Fort Vancouver library's virtual services go off the books

Tanya Bachman: Art teacher molds students with her can-do attitude

David Speer: Labor & Industries agent helps employees, mends fences

Ryan Hurley: Building community key for developer of Sparks building

dreambigcc.org

George Tsugawa: Woodland man tells students of life in internment camp

Nathan Webster: Veteran not afraid to Dream Big

The Johnsons: Amboy siblings recall childhoods at ‘the Big House’

Peggy McCarthy: On front lines of mental health crisis

The Proctors: Vancouver couple fight for veterans

Randy Fox: From inadvertent spotter to hall of fame coach

Lehman Holder: Outdoorsman happy to take the lead

Wade Leckie: ‘Bike guy’ pumps up city’s bicycling scene

Sara Teas, Jen Studebaker and Lee-Anne Flandreau: Fort Vancouver library’s virtual services go off the books

Tanya Bachman: Art teacher molds students with her can-do attitude

David Speer: Labor & Industries agent helps employees, mends fences

Ryan Hurley: Building community key for developer of Sparks building

“When I was a young boy, around the fifth grade, I wanted to be someone else. I didn’t want to be the person I saw in the mirror. I saw ugliness. It wasn’t me, as least not what I wanted to see.”

— Nathan Webster, “Scared To Be Me”

Nathan Webster, 36, greeted families at Mountain View Ice Arena as they arrived for a Family Fun Day on a Saturday afternoon in December.

Over three hours, Webster handed out 51 bracelets for free admission and skate rentals. That’s about twice the number of people who showed up for a Family Fun Day at G6 Airpark in November.

The people who came may not have known about Webster’s nonprofit organization, Dream Big Community Center, but they’d heard about free Family Fun Day and showed up.

That’s good for Webster, as he uses Family Fun Days to raise the profile of Dream Big CC.

In the seven years since starting his organization, Webster has adjusted expectations while navigating the challenges of breaking into the nonprofit world, where hundreds of groups compete for a limited pool of money.

The first thing that confuses people about Dream Big Community Center? There’s no community center. Buying land and building a center remains a multimillion-dollar dream.

The reality has been that Dream Big CC receives fewer than $50,000 a year from grants, private and corporate donations, including from sponsors Riverview Community Bank and Ryonent, a printing company.

Webster hopes to really raise his organization’s profile in 2015.

There’s “Every Child Is At Risk,” a yearlong fundraising campaign that started in September. The plan is to raise $100,000, which will continue to fund an online learning platform that launched in November, and, for the first time, provide a living-wage salary for Webster, who serves as executive director.

Built by local firm Moca Works using the platform Knowledge Vault, the online component includes age-appropriate lessons for students ages 12 to 18. The lessons were created by Webster in collaboration with MyPlaceToLearn of Welches, Ore.

Since he started offering programs in 2008, Webster estimates he has reached more than 2,500 youth in the Vancouver-Portland area by visiting classrooms.

He hopes the online platform will help him reach a broader audience. He has been marketing it to schools, and other nonprofits that work with children, who will pay to use the content.

Webster has a goal of engaging with at least 5,000 youth at what he calls his virtual community center.

The name of the campaign, “Every Child Is At Risk,” refers to the fact there’s no true definition of “at-risk” youth. He said people often mistakenly believe that he only wants to reach out to minority children from low-income families.

As he writes on his website, any kid can be at risk to make bad decisions.

In his new self-published book, “Scared To Be Me,” he addresses universal concerns about fitting in, overcoming fears and learning to love yourself before writing about how to set and reach goals.

“As I grew older, that fear never left. The boy in the mirror was still scared at the age of 18, even in my 20s,” Webster wrote. “I was scared to be me. I wanted to be anyone else but me.”

Meandering path

In the decade following his 1996 graduation from Mountain View High School, Webster served in the Marine Corps, worked at a health club and then, as a last resort, went to college. While taking classes, he worked full time as a security officer, pulling graveyard shifts at the Nike campus.

While proud of his military service, he still felt as though he was missing out on a big opportunity.

He just didn’t yet know what it was.

“One night, God woke me up and wouldn’t let me go back to sleep,” said Webster. He pictured a community center, a judgment-free zone where teenagers could feel comfortable to go and be inspired, be pushed athletically and intellectually — as Webster felt he never was — so they would set high goals for themselves.

After high school they wouldn’t, as Webster feels he did, set down a meandering path.

Webster filed paperwork in October 2006 to create a nonprofit organization and received his 501(c)(3) status in July 2007, the same year he graduated from Washington State University Vancouver with a degree in public affairs. While finishing his degree, he asked professors for feedback and help about creating a brand. He asked professors if they believed in the vision, and they did.

In “Scared To Be Me,” Webster writes he doesn’t regret serving in the military, but said it wasn’t until he went to college that he discovered his dream.

He said he doesn’t want other youth to dismiss college or miss out on opportunities because they feel they aren’t smart enough. He wants them to really understand that their possibilities are endless.

“If you make that investment,” Webster said, “it will pay off.”

Goals aren’t easy

“Believe in yourself — always,” Webster wrote in “Scared To Be Me.” “To believe is not just an isolated, one-time act. This is a true commitment to yourself and your goal.”

Realizing his own dream of Dream Big CC hasn’t been easy.

Webster, a divorced father of five children, doesn’t pay himself a salary from Dream Big CC, but does pay an executive assistant. He said he’s supported by family and friends who believe in him.

Others in the community who believe in him include his board of directors.

Board member Diana Avalos-Leos, family and community engagement coordinator for Vancouver Public Schools, was an early supporter and has watched the organization evolve.

“In school, we prepare students for post-secondary or vocational, or just prepare them for life. Sometimes we miss the target of preparing students for how to achieve their long-term and short-term goals. It’s no fault of the school system. It’s no fault of teachers,” she said. “It’s a skill set we don’t zone in on.”

Dream Big, she said, applies to everyone.

“We all have a dream, but how do we accomplish that? (Kids) don’t know where to start,” she said.

There’s a role in the community for the organization, she said, and that’s while it has continued to grow.

Ridgefield City Manager Steve Stuart also serves on the Dream Big CC Board of Directors.

“Even through tough times, Nathan’s passion and perseverance haven’t waned,” Stuart said. “It’s funny, even I wondered sometimes why Nathan didn’t just move on to something else. But the reason Nathan is so great at helping young people discover their dreams is because he’s fighting for his.”