Thursday, November 1, 2012

Dream Big.

When I was a little girl, I considered what I wanted to be when I grew up. The answer had a tendency to fluctuate depending on my age, my friends or whatever I found to be particularly inspirational that week. At one point I wanted to be a fighter pilot (right around when Top Gun was released). Then there was the year that I wanted to be the Queen of England (no doubt encouraged by Princess Diana.)

Yet the career path that stuck with me for a number of years was my dream of becoming a Denver Broncos wide receiver. My close childhood friend Beth and I would often discuss our strategy for dominating the National Football League. The plan was for Beth to play quarterback while I ran passing routes down the field and scored key touchdowns. Inspired by John Elway and his “Three Amigos” (Vance Johnson, Mark Jackson and Ricky Nattiel), we talked at length about how we would be the first female professional football players – and of course about the fame and fortune that would come given our obvious athletic talent as fifth and sixth grade girls. At the time, we saw no barriers to our dream and there was certainly no one in our lives who told us that it was impossible.


This week my colleague Maggie McEntee and I posed a question to the staff at SE2: “As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?” As you might expect, the answers we received were all over the map. Besides “wide receiver,” we heard everything from an archaeologist to an ice cream tester to an “acting, singing and dancing star who also dabbled in orthodontics.”

SE2 has spent the last 18 months and a sizable chunk of in-kind staff time on an integrated communications project for the Colorado I Have a Dream Foundation – an organization for which SE2 Chairman Eric Sondermann is a long-time board member. It focuses on helping local disadvantaged kids – known as “Dreamers” – get the education and guidance they need to graduate from high school, go on to college and succeed in life.

“Dreamers” are like most kids. They come in all shapes and sizes and from a variety of backgrounds. They are silly and rambunctious, they like to learn new things, have hopes and plans for the future, and think anything is possible. In many ways, they are just like Beth and I were back in the day. Yet, without the help of Colorado I Have a Dream, they might not otherwise have the resources or support to have that bright future. Big, fat issues like homelessness, hunger, teen pregnancy, deportation, gang violence and drug use nip at the heels of their dreams.

The kids walk a very thin line between living their dreams and falling prey to the pits of poverty. From this insight, SE2 launched “The Edge Initiative” as a way to bring clarity to the Colorado I Have a Dream brand, to illustrate the challenges “Dreamers” face day in and day out, and to explain why the organization matters as much as it does.

SE2 prides itself on telling good stories but we figured that no one could tell these kids’ stories better than themselves. So our team first helped a fifth-grade class of “Dreamers” from Valdez Elementary in Denver to develop content. Twelve kids worked through the summer of 2011 to tell their personal stories via video, artwork and essays. We supported this process by supplying the class with flip cameras, laptops and insight into what makes a compelling story. (Many thanks to our project partners, Comcast and Best Buy, for donating the equipment, as well as SE2 intern – and former “Dreamer” – Aman Adumer for his institutional knowledge and hard work.)

Our goal was to give the “Dreamers” a creative outlet to express themselves, talk about their dreams for the future and learn technical skills. Collectively, their work offered a good look at where these kids come from and how the organization truly is making a difference in their lives. But there was no doubt that the content came from the hearts and minds of 10-year-old kids. In order to truly illustrate “The Edge,” we needed to also offer a series of interviews from the perspectives of adults who know and understand the “Dreamers” and can explain the other side of the story.

The next phase of our project was the development of an exciting video starring local slam poet Bobby LeFebre. “Livin’ the Dream” illustrates the unique challenges faced by needy children and presents education as the solution to their problems. LeFebre, who is a social worker by day, offers a special understanding of these kids and how education is the springboard they need to escape the bounds of poverty. (Thanks due here to local photographer Chris Shinn who donated a ton of his time and helped make our video a reality.)


The new and improved Colorado I Have a Dream home page




















Our last deliverable and the piece that pulls everything together was the creation of a compelling and up-to-date website. We worked with art director Joel Hill and interactive firm DATA, Inc., to create a new and interactive website that offers a glimpse of life on “The Edge” and the important role Colorado I Have a Dream plays at leading “Dreamers” on to a brighter future. Our “Edge Initiative” page features the videos plus the other content created by the class from Valdez.

At the end of every project, I like to think back on what I learned. In this particular case, I could talk for days about the insights I got into the lives of needy children. And I’ve obviously considered how fortunate kids like Beth and I were growing up. But what stands out more is the good work the people of Colorado I Have a Dream are doing to make positive changes in Denver. There are many organizations working in the educational trenches and striving to make a difference. Yet I applaud Colorado I Have a Dream for taking a different approach both in its organizational philosophy (“An inch wide and a mile deep”) and in the gritty, authentic way it has chosen to position itself. Anyone can throw a stock art graduation cap on a website and talk about reaching for the stars. I think it takes guts to give your audience a realistic look at how tenuous the dreams of children can be and how they often teeter on the brink of both success and failure.

*Tonight is CIHAD’s 2012 gala where Bobby LeFebre will perform live on stage and supporters will get a first look at the new website. Best of luck to Mary Hannewall, Linda Garrison, Stephanie Dreiling and Rachael Gazdick on a successful event!

Special thanks to the following businesses and individuals for their support of The Edge Initiative. We couldn’t have done it without you: Comcast, Best Buy, Piton Foundation, Wandel Press, Business Networking Consulting, rabble+rouser, Citizen Pictures, Joel Hill, Chris Shinn, Bruce Abels, DATA, Inc., Louder Than 11.

Posted by Amy Guttmann

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