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It’s No Longer a Dream-Dreamers Graduate
Tuesday, May 24, 2022


It was nine years ago that Jamie Lee Curtis stood before a small gathering in an East Fork home and encouraged attendees to give money to a project that would guarantee college money for 46 third-graders at what was then Woodside Elementary.

This week parents and others involved with I Have a Dream Foundation-Idaho feted 45 of those youngsters with a mini-graduation celebration ahead of their formal graduation with the Wood River High School Class of 2022. 

“What is happening now is my dream come true. I’m so proud of these kids,” said founder Ken Lewis, who modeled the program after a national program started in 1981 by a New York businessman who was trying to reverse the 75 percent dropout rate at a Harlem school.

“I said years ago that these kids would go on to graduate,” said Manuel Tellez, whose son Cesar was among those taking part in the celebration.

Lewis told the youngsters that he was proud of all of them for sticking with the program for nine years:

“All of you but one will graduate—that’s an even better percentage than the overall high school graduation rate. We’re so proud to know you’re going on to some program after high school whether it be a culinary program, trade school, military or college.”

Alexia Del Rocio Vargas Rocha said some of her favorite moments were of riding a horse named Cricket in one of the enrichment activities provided the students. She plans to work at McDonald’s this summer. She will also work as a retinal technician at a new vision and hearing clinic the Senior Connection is opening before heading to the College of Southern Idaho where she wants to learn the nursing skills needed to work in maternity.

“I am very excited because she can be in college,” said her mother Joana Rocha. “This program gave her the tools to be successful to college. They gave her an emphasis to get good grades to finish.”

Edgar Hurtado-Villicana, who plans to study diesel mechanics and real estate at the College of Western Idaho in Boise, admitted that he and some of the other boys were hellraisers during middle school

“But they really helped us and didn’t give up on us, even though we were bad,” he said. “They kept talking about the future, and finally it clicked. I liked the trips they had—that they got us altogether. And I liked the community service projects—my favorite was working at Souper Supper because it’s something we could do together.”

“We were happy about the program,” said Edgar’s father Efrain Hurtado. “We tried to help him but I work construction and I was so busy.”

Pamela Donoso, who was working as a substitute teacher when she was asked to become the program’s program director, said she has come to know the kids’ hopes and their conflicts, having been with them since they were in sixth grade.

“Low-income students often don’t have the familial support that those in higher-income families might have because both parents are so busy working. So, this helps fill that gap,” she said.

She turned her attention to the students: “From the first time I met you guys, you guys got my heart. You were a different class in middle school—I remember one of you told me, ‘You’re going to leave us—nobody likes us.’ But you have matured so much. The future is not something that happens to us. It’s up to us to create it, and all of you have so much potential. And I believe that you will do the best.”

Leslie Silva was a constant presence, providing afterschool tutoring for the kids. There is much to like about the program, she said, including its emphasis on community service, which taught the students compassion and about giving back.

“I love the opportunity to support kids who don’t have the same advantages as others due to their life circumstances,” she said. “And I love that you can cultivate a long-term relationship with the kids so you can develop a friendship and trust with them and that you can be there for them. Even though they’re graduating, we plan on staying in their lives and we hope they invite us to their college graduations, their weddings…”

Even as families began filtering out of the door, Lewis kept exhorting the students.

 “When you go to school, you will meet others from different backgrounds and you may ask yourself: Am I as good as them? Remember:  Yes. You are,” he told Jason Cox, who plans to attend CSI to become an American sign language interpreter, and Nick Fehr who is going to study geography and theater at the University of Arizona.

“And, when you go to school, do your homework the same night you get it. Don’t put it off!”

This is not the end of the I Have a Dream Foundation-Idaho. A second chapter of the program launched this year with Wood River Valley first-graders.



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