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Northeastern DREAM makes college a reality

On Friday afternoons in Roxbury’s Madison Park neighborhood, tiny voices excitedly shout, “DREAM’s here!” and tiny figures come running.

They’re shouting for Northeastern DREAM, an organization that pairs Northeastern students with children and teenagers who are living in affordable housing in Roxbury, in order to guide them toward attending college. DREAM, which stands for “Directing through Recreation, Education, Adventure, and Mentoring,” was founded by a college student in Vermont in 1999 and made its way to Boston a decade later, with locations at Northeastern and Boston University.

Sometimes the DREAM effect is not the bombarding rush of a group of children, but the proud text from a teenager to her Northeastern mentor, explaining how she just dealt with a challenging situation in the lunchroom.

However it manifests itself, the joy all points to one thing: Northeastern DREAM is making headway.

Youth from the Madison Park and Orchard Gardens neighborhoods of Roxbury, Massachusetts, go on field trips with their Northeastern DREAM mentors as part of the organization’s effort to guide participants toward attending college. Photo courtesy of Emily Eastman.

“We’re a consistent part of their lives,” said Allie Pettaway, who runs the group with Emily Eastman. “These are children and teens who sometimes don’t have a lot of stability, but they can count on us.”

Twenty-five to 30 children participate in Northeastern DREAM, Pettaway said, and each of them has a mentor. Every week, the mentors collect their mentees and go on field trips, or do crafts, or play sports, “or sometimes we’ll just hang out and talk about what’s going on in their lives,” Pettaway said.

Eastman’s mentee is Kiana, a 15-year-old who’s been in the program since she was 6. She’s now the valedictorian of her middle school class, and Eastman’s pride is evident in her wide smile as she talks about Kiana.

“She’s become such a leader for the younger kids, too,” Eastman said of Kiana. “It’s been so fun to watch her grow.”

“We’re a consistent part of their lives. These are children and teens who sometimes don’t have a lot of stability, but they can count on us.”

Allie Pettaway co-president of Northeastern DREAM

Eastman and Pettaway described how they and other mentors get text messages throughout the week from the children and teens they mentor, detailing the trials and tribulations of elementary and middle school. Sometimes they’ll join their mentee’s families for dinner on the weekend, or stop by during the week to check in and say hi.

“These kids are amazing,” Pettaway said. “They’re so happy in what can be really tough living situations. They’re still kids.”

Pettaway, a chemical engineer, and Eastman, an environmental engineer, lit up when they were talking about their DREAM kids. They remarked on the deep relationships they’d built by guiding teenagers through the murkiness of, well, being teenagers.

This year, DREAM is part of the university’s “Give, Inspire, Transform” campaign to raise money for student groups dedicated to improving the lives of people in local communities.

“It doesn’t feel like volunteering,” Eastman said. “It just feels like something you want to be doing.”

For media inquiries, please contact media@northeastern.edu.

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