Youth-led organization opens a safe haven for young people in Baltimore

Young people across the nation can find inspiration in peer-led organizations making a difference in their communities today. One particularly impactful group, the Youth Dreamers, Inc., is a youth-led organization in Baltimore, Md. that recently opened a designated Promise Place. Called The Dream House, the facility is located in Baltimore and provides the Five Promises as part of delivering much needed services to local young people.

“Today it seems as though our youth are to blame or being blamed for the ills of the world,” said Regina T. Boyce, community outreach liaison for Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young. “I am pleased to see a place and a space that is all their own, a place to call home, a place to create and a place to be nothing more than themselves.”

The Youth Dreamers, Inc. started in 2001 as an elective course of nine students. The class discussed issues in the community and what needed to change in order to solve ongoing problems. By creating a youth-run youth center proved, Youth Dreamers believed they could better engage their peers in positive activities after school. After many years of planning, this nine-year dream came to fruition in May 2010 when they opened the Dream House.

Designed as a unique safe haven with opportunities for youth to accomplish personal goals, develop leadership potential, and participate in improving the community, the Dream House idea was supported by a group of committed adult allies, dedicated community members and other throughout Baltimore. Getting the project off the ground involved a concerted effort among supporters to obtain grants, create a board of directors comprised of youth and adults, file the papers to make Dream House a nonprofit, purchase the property, work with an architect to design a vacant house, raise funds for renovations and implement the programming.

The Dream House has been open to all young people in the community and offers an array of programs including:

  • Homework Club – a program where middle school students help elementary students with homework, and high school students supervise;
  • Community Arts – a program during which two high school students work with a local artist to lead a group of middle school students in creating art that will benefit the youth center and community;
  • Dramagination – a drama workshop where an adult volunteer is paired with a high school program leader teaching drama workshops to students as they dress up and act as different characters;
  • Poetry Slam Workshops – workshops facilitated by a teacher director, a member of the Wide Angle Youth Media staff and two youth program leaders to put on a Poetry Slam held at the Dream House in the spring as part of the Wide Angle Youth Media Festival; and,
  • Leaders in Training – a program that helps youth analyze and become more engaged in their communities.

There are always opportunities for the youth to implement and run their own programs – some occur once, monthly, seasonal, or yearly. Although Youth Dreamers has been successful in raising money for programming, the organization has struggled to raise funds for operational costs which puts the program at risk for closure.

Through the Dream House, Youth Dreamers, Inc. provides a supportive environment for youth to express themselves creatively, define and accomplish their goals and be themselves, embracing everybody’s individuality. The Dream House provides youth with leadership and management skills by employing youth to mentor peers and run programs. It also engages youth to serve in the community, and ensures that young people serve on the board of directors to help build the organization.

Chris L. Lawson is a founder and youth leadership development specialist at The Youth Dreamers, Inc.