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HeartShare St. Vincent’s Services’ American Dream Program provides education, emotional support and career advancement programming to empower older youth, who have experienced foster care, to overcome their personal challenges and excel as adults.
Established as the American Dream Fund in 1997, the program was designed to help young men and women in foster care attend college, an opportunity which otherwise may not have been possible given the lack of financial, social and emotional resources available to them. “Only 4 percent of kids who age out of foster care graduate from a college or university. In addition to college tuition, a supportive team helps them to secure internships and focus on a career path,” said HSVS Executive Director Dawn Saffayeh.
In New York State, youth age out of foster care at age 21, which becomes a time of uncertainty for them while confronting competing challenges of young adulthood. “You’re in this (foster care) system and then, you’re not! How can we help them transition?” asked Q104.3 Radio Host Shelli Sonstein, who recently interviewed Saffayeh and an American Dream Program scholar, Dylan.
Dylan, age 19, is a freshman student studying criminal justice at LaGuardia Community College in Queens, NY. Although she’s a high-achieving student and currently is working part-time for HeartShare’s Energy Assistance and Community Development Program, Dylan experienced an abrupt change to her family life. She was moved from home to home over the course of six years. Dylan also was separated from her siblings at the same time. “At 13 years old, when I was taken out of my home and away from my family, I felt that I was not going to beat the odds and live a ‘normal life.’ ADP has enabled me to not only dream big, but also help me achieve those goals. They’ve instilled in me that success is inevitable. HSVS is like home—the home I never had,” she explained.
Due to her determination to focus on her school work and nurturing support she’s received through the American Dream Program, Dylan looks forward to her continued academic career at LaGuardia with her future goal of becoming a defense attorney. While attending the High School for Civil Rights, Dylan discovered her desire to pursue that career after joining and participating in the law team at the High School for Civil Rights in Brooklyn, NY. “I fell in love with the law. I just want to help people,” said Dylan.
Despite all that she’s been through, Dylan looks back on her time in foster care as a blessing in disguise. “I wouldn’t be the strong-minded, striving, independent and optimistic person that I am today,” she noted.
The American Dream Program runs entirely on private donations. HSVS currently has 45 young people participating in the program and enrolled in college. To date, the program has changed the lives of 100 young men and women who earned degrees from prestigious schools, such as Harvard, Polytechnic University and Amherst.
“Thank you for the support because this is beyond what I envisioned. When I was going through a storm, ADP gave me that light and faith in myself,” Dylan described of her experiences with HSVS. “You’re an absolute inspiration,” concluded Sonstein.
Photo Caption: HeartShare St. Vincent’s Executive Director Dawn Saffayeh, Q104.3 Radio Host Shelli Sonstein and HSVS American Dream Program scholar, Dylan.
Photo Caption: Jim Kerr, Q104.3 Rock and Roll in the Morning Host, is a HeartShare Board Member, frequent Master of Ceremonies at events and overall ardent supporter of HeartShare. Jim kindly took Dylan on a tour of the iHeartRadio studios after her radio interview with his morning show “sidekick,” Shelli Sonstein.