In a grassy lot on 16th Street near Cecil B. Moore Avenue last Friday, Will Davis lobbed a ball at 8-year-old Tymir Morris. Grasping an oversized, foam baseball bat, Morris struck the pitch and raced across the grass, tapping different points on the ground with his foot before rushing back toward the sidewalk.
“Third base, fourth base, home run!” Tymir said.
Davis, a sophomore English major, is Morris’ mentor from DREAM Philadelphia, a branch of the Vermont-based nonprofit that provides recreational opportunities for children living in affordable housing. Since its creation by Dartmouth College students in 1999, the organization has expanded into Boston and Philadelphia.
The DREAM Program Temple University supplies volunteers for the three North Philadelphia sites. Each Temple student “mentor” is paired with a “mentee” to befriend and advise throughout the year.
Opened in November 2013, the Philadelphia staff office is located in the basement of Cecil B. Moore Village, a 34-unit affordable housing complex on 16th Street near Cecil B. Moore Avenue. DREAM hosts programming at three other sites in the city, including the Beckett Life Center near Jefferson on 16th Street and in West Philadelphia and Fairhill, a neighborhood northeast of Main Campus.
Tymir, along with eight other children ages 5 to 17 who live in Cecil B. Moore Village, gather at the apartments each Friday for different recreational activities — like basketball, craft-making and icebreaker games. They also go on monthly trips. This fall, the group plans to attend the Avenue of Treats, an annual trick-or-treating event held by businesses along Cecil B. Moore Avenue, and kayak at Nockamixon State Park in Bucks County.
Davis learned about the program from his older brother, who also volunteers at Cecil B. Moore Village. Once he met the children for the first time, Davis said he felt he had to stay.
“These kids, I swear they feel like little siblings,” Davis said. “Especially when we’re
all together, it’s like one big family.”
Beyond the weekly group meetings on Fridays, Davis said he often meets with Tymir in more personal settings. When Tymir is available over the weekend, Davis will bring him to his older brother’s apartment to play video games and talk about his goals. He said these one-on-one sessions allow for greater personal connection.
“Tymir first told us he was trying out for football,” Davis said. “He was really excited about that, that’s all he would talk about.”
“Also, he seems to be enjoying school as well,” he added.
For Davis, working with DREAM has taught him to remain patient while working with children. Jasmine Hassan, the Cecil B. Moore Village site co-chair and vice president of The DREAM Program Temple University, agrees they have to cater to children of varying ages and personalities, but said the children’s socioeconomic disadvantages do not translate to bad behavior.
“A lot of people will think that like the kids are violent or they’re like nasty,” said Hassan, a sophomore early childhood education major. “In my experience, the kids are great. It’s just the experiences that they’ve had, and the environments that they’re unfortunately put in, makes it seem like they’re going to be really aggressive.”
Hassan said DREAM offers the children otherwise impossible experiences given their lack of resources. Last spring, the group camped overnight in Nockamixon State Park for their High Adventure trip, an annual event that exposes the children to experiences outside of their “comfort zone,” according to DREAM’s website. During the trip, the children experienced boating for the very first time, Hassan said.
“They saw the lake and were like, ‘Whoa!’” Hassan added.
Hassan’s mentee, Anthony Jones, 17, said he had avoided previous nature trips but was ultimately convinced to attend by Hassan. In the end, camping became his favorite activity of the program.
“I’m not really an outdoor person,” said Jones, a junior at Samuel Fels High School in Northeast Philadelphia. “Well, now I am because of my mentor Jasmine.”
As a participant in DREAM for the last three years, Jones said the program has helped him deal with daily stress and more difficult issues, like the loss of his cousins. Although he’s sad to begin his last year in the program, Jones said he plans to become a mentor himself next year.
“It makes me wanna cry, but I’m happy at the same time ’cause I have so many memories,” Jones said.