WASHINGTON, D.C.—Traveling from Orlando, Fla., Donna Bozarth, a mother, grandmother and board member for the U.S. Dream Academy was one of approximately 500 people to attend the Academy’s annual “Power of a Dream” black-tie gala in Washington, D.C., Tuesday. While mingling with representatives from corporate sponsors such as Amway and Wells Fargo, as well as politicians and other members of Washington’s elite, Bozarth told Youth Today that she and her fellow board members work hard all year, and particularly for this event, to ensure the Academy’s 11 after school centers can remain open.
Since 2001, the event has raised more than $11 million to provide after school and mentorship opportunities for young people who are falling behind in school or have an incarcerated parent, according to the Academy. The program opened its first learning center in Washington, D.C., in 2000 and has since opened centers in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Houston, among cities.
“Dreams, hopes, aspiration…that’s what tonight is all about,” said actor Wayne Brady, who opened the event. Brady’s co-emcee, actress and singer Sheryl Lee Ralph, said the Academy’s priority “is to help children realize their potential by providing after school programs, ... giving them the help they need to succeed.”
According to the Academy, the need for after school enrichment and stability couldn’t be greater: one in 40 children have a parent in prison, and approximately 400,000 mothers and fathers finish prison terms and return home each year.
“You hear so much in the news. Some of these children don’t have two parents; some don’t even have one,” Bozarth said. But when they have structure and the boundaries the Academy’s programs offer, they thrive, she added.
Speaking to Youth Today before the dinner reception, 2013 Miss America pageant winner Mallory Hagan praised the Academy’s approach and its focus on teens at risk. Their programs, she explained, are helping young people “move past their parents’ mistakes ... and know that their pasts do not define their futures.”
Jori Hartwig, vice president of marketing at Amway, also spoke at the event, highlighting Amway’s partnership with the Academy in its “Safe Passages Home” initiative. The project “offers a safe walk to and from school for youth in high crime areas,” said Hartwig. It engages older Academy students, law enforcement and fire rescue professionals to help kids safely travel between school and home. In addition, local churches and businesses can sponsor a block or street to keep safe for kids, according to the initiative’s website.
Highlights of the evening were performances by members of the Academy’s Children’s Choir, all of whom attend Dream Academy Centers. Performing songs with Wayne Brady, the kids laughed, danced and sang while gala attendees clapped, got to their feet and took pictures. Brady praised the young people for their poise on stage and urged them to continue to work hard in school and dare to dream big. One of the children, 10-year-old Vanity from Baltimore, Md., gave a special thanks to gala honoree Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) for his support of the Baltimore Academy program and “believing that we can achieve our dreams,” she said.
Bozarth has been working with young people in various capacities since she was in her 20s. She believes in the work the Academy is doing to help at-risk children. Many of these young people, she explained, “are used to people letting them down, but [through the Academy’s programs] they get help with their school work and a connection with an adult who will not let them down,” she said.
Photo captions (top to bottom): Attendees arrive at the U.S. Dream Academy's Annual Gala in Washington, D.C.; Actress and singer Sheryl Lee Ralph poses with U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, 2013 Miss America Mallory Hagan and U.S. Dream Academy Founder Wintley Phipps.
Photo credit: Jessica Kendall