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News / Clark County News

Off Beat: I Have a Dream program an investment in people, futures

Sponsors continued on after seeing early success

By Tom Vogt, Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter
Published: April 23, 2018, 6:00am

Ralph Gilbert had lunch with a couple of community leaders in 1997 and brought back something to share with his wife.

It was a commitment to sponsor a program designed to help kids.

It was a 10-year commitment. … At $10,000 a year.

“My mouth dropped open,” Susan Gilbert said, recalling that conversation with her late husband. “He had just started a business, and we did not have a lot extra cash. He said, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ ”

His lunch mates were Mary Granger and Ed Lynch. The program was I Have a Dream, which Granger had launched two years earlier at Washington Elementary School.

Dick and Mary Granger were among the sponsors of that 1995 project; so were Ed and Dollie Lynch,

I Have a Dream Sponsors

(Some supported more than one project)

Richard and Mary Granger.

• Brot and Mary Bishop.

• Leslie Durst.

• Edward and Dollie Lynch.

• Mason Nolan.

• Don Campbell family.

• Ralph and Susan Gilbert.

• Wes and Nancy Lematta.

• George and Carolyn Propstra.

• William and Catharine Byrd.

• Gloria John.

• Russ and Sarah Tennant.

• Mertis Harmon.

• Eva Hunt.

Kathi Wiley.

• Candace Young.

• Rotary Club of Vancouver (Jan Asai, liaison).

As The Columbian reported Sunday, the results of that first class were so promising that a second project was planned for 1997. That’s what the Gilberts signed up for.

“It turned out great,” Susan Gilbert said. So great, in fact, that the Gilberts did it again.

“We saw the benefits when we were working with the Hough kids. We decided to do a second class.”

In 2001, they sponsored the fourth and final project at King Elementary.

The Gilberts’ two-project total of $200,000 helped support college scholarships for those youngsters. But sponsors learned that helping at-risk kids and their families could be much more personal.

One example was a boy who never smiled because of his teeth. The board sent him to Oregon Health & Science University for a “mouthful of braces and orthodontics,” Gilbert said.

The mother of one student, meanwhile, didn’t have any teeth.

Ralph told Susan that “this woman’s confidence level is low. She will never get a job.”

The board paid for the mom’s dentures.

“We decided it was a very good thing to invest in: not just for her, but her family.”

Their investments gave sponsors an opportunity to develop relationships with students over the years.

Not all were success stories. Gilbert recalled a girl’s failed attempt to break out of her family’s cycle of poverty, calling it “heartbreaking.”

But overall, “to see the change and development with a little mentoring — it was amazing,” Gilbert said. “As my husband said, it’s good bang for the buck.”


Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.

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Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter