This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

The DREAM keeps growing

School of Social Work student Venus Wiggins calls bingo on a recent Thursday evening at the Lutheran Church Home. Photo: NANCY J. PARISI

  • “To have the opportunity to witness relationships develop and dreams to become realized for both those we serve and ourselves makes me want to keep getting up each day.”

    Susan Green
    Clinical Associate Professor of Social Work
Published: July 28, 2010

When it comes to that familiar UB epigram “reaching others,” no one does it better, in more immediate ways and with an eye to expanding at the limits of its capacity than the School of Social Work’s DREAM Program.

In a few short years, the DREAM program (short for Developing Relationships through Empowerment, Advocacy and Motivation) has gone from a single community-based program that makes a concrete, hands-on difference in people’s lives to three.

“Our first two years of volunteering was at Gerard Place in Buffalo,” which offers transitional housing for parents and children, says Susan A. Green, clinical associate professor in the School of Social Work who established the program in 2004 within the social work’s community concentration. “The UB DREAM Team held ‘DREAM Night’ every Saturday evening, sharing movies, games, food and warm conversation with residents.”

Phase 2 began in 2006. “Reaching others” became a bi-weekly education enrichment program at Gerard Place designed to assist residents with GED attainment and other educational goals. While the Gerard Place program is no longer active, the DREAM program continued moving forward in 2007 by developing a partnership with the Girls Sports Foundation, a community group based in the Edward Saunders Community Center on Buffalo’s East Side.

That collaboration is still going strong. The partnership began with School of Social Work students joining forces with the young women from the Girls Sports Foundation for a little basketball, but quickly moved on to model lessons on life and achieving your potential.

And true to form, the DREAM kept expanding. This fall marks the third consecutive semester the DREAM Program has sent students into the Lutheran Church Home at 217 East Delavan St., Buffalo, to raise the spirits and add to the services offered to the seniors who live there.

Bingo’s a favorite. As are card games. And rock painting for the garden located on the grounds of the home. One of the master’s degree candidates could play some piano, so the sing-alongs were especially popular during the Thursday DREAM nights. And without fail, every activity came with an essential ingredient: food.

Once again, the DREAM has grown, focused on its simple but ambitious mission to make that difference in the lives of people who might have gone without services and guidance from which others have benefitted.

This fall, the DREAM program will add another element to its “reaching others” catalogue. MSW students are spending every other Saturday evening with the women and children at Vive La Casa, an established and renowned shelter for refugees in Buffalo.

Common to all three projects is a simple DREAM program rule:  Everyone serving on the DREAM team is strictly a volunteer. No college credit. No college internship. Just the opportunity to give something back to people who need it, and the satisfaction that comes with it.

The DREAM Program’s mission: to “provide support for short-term success in the environment and long-term success in our greater community” while “providing support, friendship and advocacy to individuals of all ages.”

“To have the opportunity to witness relationships develop and dreams to become realized for both those we serve and ourselves makes me want to keep getting up each day,” says Green.

The students who have come forward to make a difference are just as clear about why they are there.

“Just to sit and have a simple conversation means so much to people,” says Bradley Loliger, 22, student leader at the Lutheran Church Home and a MSW student from Cheektowaga.

“It feels good to be there. It feels good to take a couple hours of my week and give back,” he says. “It’s very easy to get caught up in school and tests and the stress of academics. It’s fun to relax and give something back. They enjoy our company; they enjoy meeting young people and we enjoy them, so it works out great.”

The same common sense but still rare spirit prevails at the DREAM Program’s latest good will frontier.

Sister Beth Niederpruem, director of development for Vive La Casa, says it’s hard to imagine what the presence of UB students and staff can mean to the more than 100 residents of the center until you understand where they come from. These are not travelers, simple immigrants, Niederpruem says. These are people who fled their home countries because the feared for their lives.

“Refugees are people who have had to leave a country because they’ve been in danger; they’ve been through trauma,” says Niederpruem. “The DREAM Program people are coming to establish a space here. They will then be here to speak with the residents and engage them in whatever way that happens. It could be talking. It could be sharing their experiences.

“These people are on their way to getting their things together for a new life. The DREAM members can support them in helping them get through this time in their lives and answering whatever questions they have about the new culture they find themselves in, whatever those needs are. It’s especially important for women. Sixty percent of the people here are women. The guys have more freedom. The women often have children to deal with.

“Just having a friendly face, someone outside the system that will be honest about what they face in their new country is important,” she says. “Or they might want to share their story on how they became a refugee. The UB people are not there to judge them; just to be companions on the journey.”