Dream Chasers of Northwest Indiana, like millions of other organizations, had to quickly adjust how they work during the recent pandemic so they could continue to meet their mission. What they found was a brand new way of inspiring children to go after and deliver on their dreams.
The cornerstone of the organization, whose mission is to empower kids to overcome their obstacles and chase their dreams, is the after-school enrichment program, offering a six-week activity-based character development session each in the spring and the fall for students in 3rd-5th grades.
“As a result of the pandemic, we quickly recognized that our after-school program was vulnerable to outlying circumstances of reaching kids. When schools came to a halt, we quickly realized that we too heavily relied on things we could not control in reaching and impacting kids,” said Stephen Vaughn, Founder and Executive Director of Dream Chasers.
The team thought through how they could continue to serve their mission without relying on schools being open. This motivated Dream Chasers to initiate a free 8-week online program for kids so they could continue to stay engaged – or even discover Dream Chasers for the first time – even though they weren’t in school.
The goal of this free online programming was simple – assist kids, parents, and teachers alike by offering free resources and support.
“This was our shining moment to showcase what we are all about – serving others with excellence and living our mission ourselves,” said Barbara Gederian Muckel, Executive Director of the Northwest Indiana Chapter.
It ended up being a testing ground for a new program called Spark that Dream Chasers is putting the final touches on and expects to launch this summer.
“Before the pandemic, we were slowly trying to figure out what we could provide beyond an afterschool opportunity,” Vaughn said. “Knowing we had to figure out a model that would help sustain a long-term impact, we gathered feedback on the free lesson and recognized it was a powerful opportunity to directly reach the parents and kids at home to serve them well.”
Another benefit of the virtually based change is Dream Chaser’s ability to carry out their mission farther than they have before.
“We offered this to every child, every household, coaches, parents – it wasn’t just our participants. I love that we are able to reach a much wider audience nationwide, and even worldwide. I even have friends in Germany that I was sending this to!” Gederian Muckel said.
“We are in a position where we can help kids gain confidence where they have potential to do something great and they have greatness in them to ignite – we’re just the seed planters,” Vaughn said.
Dream Chaser’s ability to make students feel confident in their own work in such a unique way was particularly evident in one young boy who thrived by participating it the after-school program.
“His teacher was blown away by the work he showed and his perseverance to get through a difficult math assessment,” Vaughn said. “The student explained that he wanted to show himself that he could get through it, and a big contribution of that was being part of Dream Chasers.”
This team-based approach is a large part of how they ensure success in their endeavors. The Dream Chasers team continually gathers feedback to recognize what works, while recognizing that this message is relevant, regardless of the child’s age.
“It’s cool because we’re not saying that dreams don’t change, we’re teaching kids how to reach their dreams regardless of what those dreams are or how they change. We’re creating an opportunity and the tools that allow kids to reach for that dream, now and throughout their life,” Vaughn said.
The database of resources offered by Dream Chasers is ever-evolving, now more than ever.
“We are 110 miles an hour and we’re putting all our efforts into developing and finishing-up the content around all of these programs,” Vaughn said.
While the pandemic may have been the catalyst for a quick pivot on what Dream Chasers offers young students, their mission-centric goal has driven the team to be creative. In addition to the after school classroom program, the Spark program they intend to launch this summer, and a summer camp experience, Dream Chasers has every intention of changing lives for the better in Northwest Indiana.
“That’s where our mission comes into play of reaching every kid in every setting,” Vaughn said.
To learn more about the programs Dream Chasers offer, please visit www.dreamchasers.org/nwindiana.