Brian Fuller, originally from Atlanta, joined with DREAM Philadelphia just last year. As the Programs Director, he has had the opportunity to immerse himself within the Northeast Philadelphia community. As a mentorship and youth organization, DREAM works to provide guidance to young children within the area.
We are a youth development organization and [what we do is] we partner with affordable housing communities near college campuses and we recruit college student mentors to volunteer in the communities that we work in. We are a mentorship organization, also we are kind of an adventure play-based organization so we teach the kids social skills, leadership skills, as well as we’re a college access organization so we do most of our programming on the college campus.
What are some impacts you have seen in the Northeast Philadelphia community through this program?
We also work with teens, and we call them our mentors in training. They support the college student mentors in the day-to-day programming that we do with the younger kids. I think the biggest impact we have seen so far is with the teens because a lot of the teens are really, really trouble, have criminal pasts, all this stuff. Many of them never even thought that they wanted to go to college and now all of them want to go to college and they are trying to figure out how, what they need to do to get there and all that because they see like, ‘oh, college kids are cool!”
What do you hope to see happen within the community or DREAM in the future?
We just launched last spring so we’re very new to Philadelphia and we work in three communities, two here in Northeast Philly and one in West Philly. I would love to see DREAM expand more all across Philadelphia and also start to expand to more colleges as well to get more college students involved. Within the communities I would hope that it just brings the communities together to work towards something, a greater goal. There are a lot of different issues with poverty, violence, a lot of things going on within these communities.
What keeps you motivated and dedicated to the program and the community?
What keeps me motivated is just seeing how excited the kids are when we come there and especially with the older kids, because you know, older kids always try to act like they are so tough and all that but then when you are around you see their faces light up or you see that when you’re leaving they are like, ‘Oh, where are you going?’ They’re trying to still be cool with it but you know that it’s really making an impact and they miss you and really want you to be around and you can see just the little changes in their behavior. I was talking with one of the teens and he was asking me about my job and stuff like that and then he was like, “You know Brian when I get older I want to be like you.” And that just like the best thing because this teen comes from a criminal background and all this stuff and he’s looking to me, someone who hasn’t had those experiences, and saying like, ‘When I get your age I want to be like where you are.’
Anything else you feel is important for people to know about the Northeast Philadelphia community or DREAM?
One thing that I think is important to mention is that a lot of times we “otherize” someone else’s experience, like ‘that’s not affecting us. That’s them and they’re so different from what we are, who we are.’ And one thing that I’ve learned just in life, and especially with my work with DREAM, is everybody is a human, everyone is the same. Just because we might not look the same, or be in the same neighborhoods, we are still one in the same. If we go with that mentality I think that we can really make a difference in not only the Philadelphia community but all communities around the nation.
Pictures from the first fun Friday of the year, September 12, 2014.
– Text and images by Alisa Miller and Marissa Pina.