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Foundation has a dream


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The Des Moines “I Have a Dream” Foundation is in the business of making sure children graduate from high school – and go to college.

The nonprofit organization, which is based on Drake University’s campus, adopts whole classes of children who live in at-risk environments at area elementary schools. The organization, along with mentoring and tutoring the classes through to high school graduation, also provides tuition assistance so the students can afford higher education.

According to Executive Director Stacy Kluesner, the organization has two active classes: 42 children in the Oakridge Neighborhood Project who were adopted when they were in first and second grade during the 1996-97 school year and 45 children in the M.L. King Project who were adopted in first grade during the 2006-07 school year.

Kluesner said each class has a project leader, who has an office at the school and interacts with the children every day. In addition, the organization has a program in which volunteers visit individual children in the class and provide one-on-one time while acting as a role model and providing a positive influence. It takes a one-year commitment on the part of the volunteers and three visits per month.

Financially, the organization seeks to raise $2 million for the M.L. King Project. If the organization reaches that goal – it is currently halfway to the sum and hopes to reach it by the end of the children’s fifth-grade year – it will have raised an average of $20,000 per student, which will help provide students with college tuition assistance.

Kluesner, who oversees operations and fund raising, said all the funding for the organization comes from private donors, and listed a recent $3,000 donation from the RBC Wealth Management Foundation as an example of one of the program’s donors.

Though the rates of graduation are yet to be determined for the two active classes, the program’s first class, the 1990 Moulton School Project, which was funded by Grinnell College, had 81 percent of the students graduate from high school or receive a general equivalency diploma (GED). Across the country, there are approximately 180 “I Have a Dream” projects in 64 cities. Nationally the program has proved to be successful, with classes in Chicago registering a 75 percent graduation or GED mark, in comparison to control groups in the district that had a dropout rate of 60 percent, according to a study by Arete Corp.

With the Oakridge Neighborhood Project students nearing graduation, Kluesner said the “I Have a Dream” Foundation has set a 2013 target date for adopting a new class.

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