INDIANAPOLIS — As the City of Indianapolis continues to deal with violence, a program working to reach youth starting in middle school and develop them into leaders is expanding.
Dream Alive exposes children to different careers in order to help them reach their dreams.
"We got to see different businesses even for me in middle school, we got to go to Regions Bank and American Structurepoint and see different businesses and realize there is more just to graduating high school. Even though that's the first step you know, you have that, what's next?" Keegan Jones said.
Jones grew up on the east side of Indianapolis. In middle school he was recruited to join Dream Alive. He stayed in the program until he graduated. Now, he's a junior at IUPUI on a full ride scholarship majoring in marketing at the Kelley School of Business.
"If it wasn't for Dream Alive, me staying in the program and me seeing that there's different opportunities and me earning those networks they gave me, none of that stuff would happen if it wasn't for Dream Alive," he said.
The program was founded by retired Indianapolis Colts player Tarik Glenn in 2001. Dream Alive focuses on areas of Indianapolis where the most youth are living at or below poverty level.
"They are so used to having people come in and out of their lives and what really sticks out is consistency," Program Director Stephen Smith said.
Smith started volunteering in 2012 in order to make an impact on the next generation.
"A lot of the students that we serve have a lot of traumatic experiences that I can't even relate to, but that doesn't stop me. I'm able to really hear what they are saying and ask them the questions about how they feel [and] what they think try to cast hope and vision for their lives," Smith said.
"We have 58 companies as of last week that partner with us. It's really great to introduce them to somebody like Keegan when he finishes school and get to interview and have connections that he probably would eventually have but we can short cut them that way, we can help him out," Executive Director Eric Muller said.
Within the last year, Dream Alive served over 600 youth. Since 2010, they have had a 100% graduation rate. Until now though, their funding and reach has been limited.
Dream Alive is now getting support from a more than $631,000 grant through Enhancing Opportunity in Indianapolis. The Lilly Endowment initiative aims to improve the lives of families and individuals facing challenges associated with poverty.
With the grant, Dream Alive is now able to add staff members to help coordinate volunteers and overall efforts, with the goal to help 1,000 more students over the next three years.
"It's a two-step process. We want to do a better job with the students we serve now because we have so many of them involved and by the end of year three of this grant, we are wanting to serve more schools and school districts," Muller said.
As for Jones, he's giving back to the organization that helped him get where he is today. Not only is he a Dream Alive intern, he's also the president of the alumni board.
"For me to be able to speak to them and give them advice and let them know everybody has the struggles, everybody has different ideas and opportunities they may have and you just take that and you work with what you've got and you keep it moving," Jones said.