Dream Jamaica moves to raise $15 million

Dream Jamaica, a multi-year college preparation and mentoring programme for over 500 high school students, has organised a virtual fund-raising event with a target of $15 million which it says will be used to empower ambitious students to achieve their educational aspirations.

Thus far, the organisation with students from all 14 parishes has raised $1.5 million after a calculated push on social media inspired by a vision of Jamaica “where students are inspired and empowered to succeed and to positively impact their communities”.

Sherene Da’Briel, member of the Dream Jamaica Fund-raising Committee, told the Jamaica Observer that funds generated are primarily used to aid students.

“As a non-profit organisation, Dream Jamaica is transparent about use of funds. In the past, over 95 per cent of funds went directly to the programmes. As we aim to scale, we have been investing in the operational infrastructure necessary to support growth, and also in fund-raising. Our hope is that with full-time staff we can attract enough sponsors to underwrite the fund-raising expenses and redirect those funds back to developing and supporting the programmes.”

Past participants, Da’Briel said, have graduated from universities including The University of the West Indies (UWI) and University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech). Mentees have also completed studies at Harvard University in the United States and York University in Canada, among other institutions.

Crystina Perkins, 19, a medical student at The UWI, has been benefiting from scholarships and grants for four consecutive years. In total, she has received seven bursaries and has credited such to mentorship she received at Dream Jamaica.

Perkins, who declined a scholarship to study veterinary medicine in Bahia, Brazil, said she returns year after year to serve current Dream Jamaica students, coaching students on etiquette and sharing advice about mastering high school and preparing for college.

“When I just started, I was more reserved. I didn’t really know much about the different opportunities that are there and so, going through the programme and being able to actually mature and see all the endless possibilities, I found it fitting to actually give back to other students, students who are in the situation I was in then. I don’t have a problem giving back,” she told the Sunday Observer.

Likewise, Tafar-I Williams, a current UWI master’s degree student, has been a part of Dream Jamaica since 2013, while he was a student of Calabar High School.

“I’ve been a part of Dream Jamaica since 2013 and I have no regrets. I’ve been through the college preparation programme and have gotten many offers. I’ve since studied in France and have travelled the world. I’m now realising my dreams as a project manager, serving as programme director at this noble organisation. I intend to invest even more, so more lives can change,” said Williams, a former head boy during his time at Calabar.

“We provide mentoring, college preparation and career development, and we also impart the importance of giving back to the community through service learning projects,” Da’Briel added. Students experience personal and academic transformation by participating in our programme. The annual, month-long Dream Jamaica Summer Camp takes place in July on university campuses across Jamaica.”

She said programmes are provided free to participants, which is made possible by donors and sponsors. She also noted that student retention is above 75 per cent, with three out of four students returning.

“The offerings include exploration, the introductory programme for students in first and second form, and provides tools to help them navigate and succeed in high school. ‘Career Discovery’ is offered for third- and fourth- form students and provides opportunities to learn about various careers and interact with professionals,” she said.

Further, college preparation assists grades 11 and 12 with applying to universities and securing scholarships.

“Internships are secured for students in their senior year of high school and target placement in the student’s career of choice. All this is provided free of charge in a safe and supportive environment where friendships abound, acceptance is the norm, and everyone is welcome. Dream Jamaica is open to any high school student in Jamaica who is ambitious, disciplined, driven and focused.”

Before the pandemic Dream Jamaica hosted an annual fund-raising gala to pay staff, cover costs to transport students, fund field trips and excursions, and to provide meals for the students during the camp.

“In response to the pandemic, we pivoted to a virtual camp and the funds were redirected to provide device and Internet connection for students, as well as a care package to boost their morale during the challenging times. We also partnered with teachers islandwide to create curriculum-aligned content to provide academic support during the pandemic, to fill the gap for the most vulnerable students.

“This year we will deliver the 14th-consecutive summer camp, which is a testament to our commitment to young people in Jamaica and also to the effectiveness of our programmes. We have partnerships with major universities in Jamaica including UWI Mona, UWI Montego Bay, Northern Caribbean University, and the College of Agriculture, Science and Education.”

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