When 19-year-old East End resident Doris H. learned she won the top-prize scholarship for a local nonprofit organization called Dream Foundation last year, she said she felt how doors that had once been closed, suddenly opened wide for her, and her dreams of becoming someone with a professional degree in the United States were finally within reach, something that had been impossible until then.
“It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life, it changed my life forever,” Doris said.
Dream Foundation, founded in 2012 by Riverhead immigration attorney David Sperling, was established to raise awareness about the then newly launched DACA program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival) and to help young immigrants achieve their full potential. The goal, said its founder, is to provide scholarships for students of all nationalities who are otherwise not eligible to receive any kind of financial assistance from the government.
“Every year, around 4,500 students who meet this criteria, including DACA recipients, graduate from New York State high schools,” Dream Foundation president Gloria Robles said. “But only 5 to 10 percent continue to pursue a degree in higher education.”
The goal of the foundation, said Robles, “is to help these students pursue their dreams.”
In addition to not qualifying for any government grant or scholarship Robles said applicants have to be full-time students with high grades and demonstrate they have been involved in their communities by engaging in neighborhood, school, religious, social, professional, or other volunteer groups, said Robles.
“We want to help these young people who have such an enormous potential, but due to their circumstances they often have to give up many things. However education should not be one of them,” said Robles.
So far, the organization has awarded thousands of dollars in scholarships for students. This year a total of $50,000 will be distributed, said Robles. The funds to finance the scholarships come from diverse donations from individuals and companies and organizations like the Long Island Latino Teachers Association, the Long Island Hispanic Bar Association, and the American Jewish Committee Long Island, among others, that every year participate to raise funds and awareness, according to Robles.
“All the money goes to the students, because that’s our priority,” said Robles.
The administrative expenses of the foundation are paid by Sperling himself, according to the organization website.
A dream come true for young local student
For Doris — who graduated from Southampton High School with honors in June of 2017 — hard work and dedication are something that have been a constant in her life, and not even the obstacles she has faced have made her stop pursuing her goals.
“Not being elegible for certain things has taught me to work harder and to show I can do it,” she said.
“That’s why I’m so grateful to the Dream Foundation because they gave me the opportunities that I needed,” she said. “This kind of help gives students like me, hope.”
When she arrived in the United States with her family at the age of 12, without knowing any English or how the system worked, Doris said that she took it as a challenge, and in less than six years, she not only had learned English, but also became one of the best students in her class, exceeding all expectations.
“My parents instilled in me [the notion] that to achieve something, you have to work hard,” said Doris. “I have been able to get ahead thanks to their support and the support of my teachers.”
Inspired by her two grandmothers, who in El Salvador were midwives, Doris always wanted to major in something that would allow her to help and contribute to the wellbeing and health of women.
“This is a very broad and beautiful field, you can help women in all stages of their lives,” she said. “I used to love watching my grandmothers help others and witnessing the beauty of their work,” she said.
Her goal, she said is to become an ob/gyn, and to connect the past and her grandmothers’ work with the future and her desire to contribute to the world.
“I see myself finishing my degree and then helping other women in different communities where they do not have enough help,” she said.
Doris, who has also taught literacy classes in the Basilica of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, located in Southampton, says that all scholarships, no matter how small or large, make a difference and urged local students to apply for the Dream Foundation scholarship.
“I know that out there, there are many people like me who want to continue with their studies and contribute to society, and now it is possible thanks to the Dream Foundation,” she said.
The deadline to apply for scholarships is April 30. Click here for more information and to apply.