Students at the University of Arkansas are encouraging young girls in the local school districts to dream B.I.G. — Dream Believing In Girls, that is.
Part of the Alternative Service Break program and Volunteer Action Center at the university, Dream B.I.G. started in 2010 after the request from the community of Elaine, Ark.
“It [started as] a day camp and it addressed goal setting, self-esteem and making healthy decisions. We brought 10 students to the community to facilitate the camp,” said Amanda Finch, program coordinator for the university’s Center for Community Engagement. Originally set up to be a camp for girls 9-13 years old, Finch said it quickly expanded.
“We opened camp on the first today and we had 50 kids show up from babies to 18-year-olds, boys and girls because they were just looking for something to do” as there is very little for the kids in the community, Finch said. “The community center where we were placed was a trailer with no running water and a non-functioning bathroom.”
The last day of Dream B.I.G.’s 2012 camp. — Photo courtesy of Dream B.I.G.
This pilot version of what would become Fayetteville, Ark.,’s Dream B.I.G. program sought to inspire the children to make healthy choices and set career goals.
“We played games with them and we listened to them. We learned that they don’t have a very helpful outlook on life,” Finch said. “Some of the things we tried to do was goal settings — thinking about where you wanted to live when you grow up, what you want to be. A lot of the kids could not … conceptualize any place farther than Little Rock, which is about three hours from the Delta.”
Three years later, Dream B.I.G. has just wrapped up its third overnight camp from March 16-20, this year with 44 girls in grades 6-12, including 16 girls who are returning from last spring’s program.
This year’s theme was the Dream B.I.G. Galaxy, which centered around “reflecting on your past, living in the present and planning for your future.” Girls are divided into Dream Teams named after planets and lead by trained student mentors.
University of Arkansas students can get involved via four paid part-time positions, as well as through volunteer mentor positions. These student coordinators organize all aspects of the camp, including planning guest speakers (Dream B.I.G. holds an Oprah-inspired “Legends Lunch” and invited women in the community who came from similar situations as the girls in the program and now work as professors, lawyers, poets and business leaders, including the C.E.O. of Sam’s Club and the local pastor), assigning roommates, sorting out travel, creating breakout sessions, social media marketing and recruitment and training other student mentors.
In addition to the program’s focus on goal setting and building healthy relationships and lifestyles (with Zumba and yoga classes), the girls at camp this year took the Clifton strength assessment, which is a personality test that identifies the girl’s top five (or top three for the girls in eighth grade or under) things they’re “uniquely good at,” Finch said. She adds that the student mentors will use these qualities in all of the Dream Team activities to help build the girls’ self-esteem and awareness.
The Dream B.I.G. caught the attention of Chicago-based bloggers Six Brown Chicks who reached out to the program and asked if they could participate in the March camp.
“It’s really exciting because these women are professional relationship experts. They’ve experienced many different things in their lives that are very similar to what the girls have experienced,” Finch said. “They’re going to help facilitate a healthy relationship seminar and a conflict and bullying resolution seminar.”
The writers of Six Brown Chicks promote the positive motto of “Being Responsible Obedient Willingly Now. Choosing Honesty Integrity Commitment Kindness and Self-worth,” making them a perfect fit for the Dream B.I.G. program.
“It’s not only an opportunity for our girls who are coming to receive that mentorship, but it’s also a unique opportunity for our students to be able to interact with these women, and I think there’s a possibility for internships and jobs and professional networks and just seeing where they can go after college.”
This is part of USA TODAY College’s Spotlight Series, which features student bands, campus organizations, student entrepreneurs and start-ups, student-run media, student artists and any other students doing cool, admirable and proactive things. If you’d like to nominate a student or an organization, please submit here.