Ricardo Ramos had heard about DREAM Alive from teachers, but one day, after school, hearing his friends talk about the program for at-risk students in Indianapolis proved to be a game changer.

“They talked about how they were learning life skills, and I wanted to learn more.”

Now an eighth grader at Harshman Middle School, Ramos’ experience as a DREAM Alive scholar taught him something else.

“I’ve learned about empathy,” he said. “I’ve learned what it means to help others.”

During the holiday season, DREAM Alive held a budget workshop program at Regions’ Indianapolis headquarters that featured a branch tour for more than 60 DREAM Alive scholars.

Even the budget workshop had a specific focus.

“The scholars adopt a school, then shop for Christmas presents for kids that have less than they have,” explained Schiela Peña, a Community Relations Officer at Regions. “Each student is given $75 to shop, but first, they go through a mock shopping experience.”

Students are taught the value of focusing on needs, not wants, with bankers explaining how items like hats, coats, socks and gloves make more of an impact than candy and games.

“We said, ‘Let’s get creative, and let’s be practical. Let’s teach kids about budgeting. Everyone wins,’” explained Eric Müller, Executive Director of DREAM Alive. “And by teaching kids to utilize the skills and talents of Regions, we’re giving them something they can take forward that will have a positive affect the rest of their lives.”

DREAM Alive meets at-risk students in the seventh grade and follows them to graduation.

By focusing mentoring on developing career paths and life skills, DREAM alive boasts a 100 percent high school graduation record, with 89 percent heading on to college or beginning careers.

Regions has been involved with DREAM Alive for eight years, but the budget workshop and shopping spree idea took hold four Christmases ago. With feedback from students and ideas from Regions associates, each workshop builds on those that came before.

“We showed them what money would do, and we show them what money really means,” said A.D. Lindsey, Regions’ Eagle Creek Branch Manager. “The students learn about needs. Yes, it may be cool to have toys, but needs – like having hats and gloves to go to school in cold weather – means more.”

Once those lessons are absorbed, the DREAM Alive scholars return for a real shopping trip to Meijer, where each student has $75 to fill the holidays needs for their student on the list.

Each DREAM Alive scholar receives a binder on their assigned child that details the youth’s interests. When shopping, scholars can buy several gifts, but the focus is on a “signature gift.” For instance, a child who said she loved arts and crafts got an outfit, but also sketch pads and colored pencils – presents she will remember vividly because of the magic created by a thoughtful, personalized gift.

With gifts secured, DREAM Alive’s Christmas celebration for children in need is hosted at the popular Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Children experience arts and crafts stations, ornament decorating and a pizza party; a DJ keeps the gathering energetic. Then, children receive their signature gifts – wrapped in special paper to set them apart. Remaining gifts are sent home to open during gatherings with family.

“What made it fun was to see how the students reacted,” Lindsey said. “Here you are, getting a gift for someone else. I’m a parent first, so that resonates. I try to provide experiences for my kids, and that’s what DREAM Alive is doing. They’re providing new experiences.

I want our kids to be better leaders, to have better futures.
A.D. Lindsey, Regions’ Eagle Creek Branch Manager

“I want our kids to be better leaders, to have better futures,” Lindsey added. “By mentoring and volunteering my time, I can show them possibilities for little African American kids who look like I did at that age.”

That’s exactly what DREAM Alive founder Tarik Glenn intended. An All-Pro offensive tackle for the Indianapolis Colts, Glenn wanted to create a mentoring program like the one he experienced growing up in Oakland, California. He founded DREAM Alive in 2001, and the scholars program has grown by leaps and bounds in the years since.

And Regions associates have played a key role.

Kim Borges, an Indianapolis-based Market PR Specialist, serves on the board and helped create the budget workshop and shopping spree concept.

She also created the final (and perhaps most fun) stage of the process: a gift-wrapping session featuring the DREAM Alive scholars and members of the Mortgage Operations team from Regions.

“When Kim asked me to be a part of this, I jumped at the chance,” Peña said. “What I like most is that the students learn to be selfless. When you hear their stories, and how they’ve been affected by this, you realize the impact DREAM Alive makes. These students want to be changed through these new experiences, and that’s what’s happening here.”