Vanessa Lee – Operations Director of Supplies for Dreams, Inc.

Northwestern University, Evanston, IL

I draw my inspiration and motivation to be a student leader from two main sources: Passion about a social issue I identify with and people who also believe in and work towards alleviating that issue.

Who are you?

A senior at Northwestern University, I discovered my passion for volunteer work fairly early on while in high school.  Ever since then my area of focus has become more clearly defined; the majority of my work in the past few years in college has involved youth and education.  Basically anything that involves working with children is what I’m about.  I’ve been on the front lines as a tutor and mentor for inner-city Chicago students for all ages and as a camp counselor for kids whose parents have had or currently have cancer.  I’ve also been on the logistical side of things, developing a curriculum for field trips, creating a mentoring program, and organizing volunteers to serve as tutors.  I’m interested in using both ways to help teach youth of all ages that education is an important and necessary component to achieving their life and academic goals.  Basically, I believe in working at the grassroots level to create change.

Tell us about your organization / project, your role, and its impact?

I’ve been working with the student-run non-profit Supplies for Dreams for the past two years.  Started by two high school students who are now also Northwestern students, Supplies for Dreams helps disadvantaged children from the Chicago Public School system by providing basic school supplies, mentors, and learning opportunities such as field trips to museums.  The Executive Director brought me on board when he was a freshman, and through me he was able to establish Supplies for Dreams at Northwestern.  Since then I’ve served as the Public Relations Director, the Dream Mentors Director to develop that branch of the organization, and since January as the Operations Director to oversee all staff in the organization.

In the past two years, Supplies for Dreams has become a full-service non-profit with revenues exceeding $43,000 in the first half of 2010 alone.  Its programs and events have benefited over 1,200 Chicago Public School (CPS) students mainly from low-income communities of all different races and ethnicities.  It has also involved over 20 members of staff, 160 volunteers, and countless donors.  The impact that Supplies for Dreams has made on CPS students in the past two years has exceeded my wildest dreams and will continue to do so.

Where do you find your inspiration and motivation as a student leader?

I think I may be stereotypical in saying so, but I draw my inspiration and motivation to be a student leader from two main sources: Passion about a social issue I identify with and people who also believe in and work towards alleviating that issue.  Just looking at statistics confirms for that there is a serious problem with the Chicago Public School system.  Only 6% of CPS students are expected to graduate from college.  Most people went to high schools that had 90-95% graduation rates from high school and the majority of that percentage continued onto college and definitely more than 6% graduated from college.  I find those numbers infuriating and depressing at the same time.  The fact that there are students out there who would succeed if only they were given the resources that I had had access to while growing up, but who won’t succeed and will never reach their true potential because they are low-income drives me and my work within Supplies for Dreams to make a difference.  Not only that, but the people that we have drawn to our team are also passionate about the issue of education and have dedicated much of their time to the organization.  Seeing their continuous dedication reminds me again and again that no matter how frustrating the programs we develop may be or how overwhelming what we are trying to tackle is, that we need to continue doing what we do because we can and have accomplished some great things.

What is your vision for the organization / project and the role that it may play in the broader community?

My vision for the organization is fairly similar to others within our team in that we hope to see the student-run non-profit Supplies for Dreams continue to grow and support more students in the Chicago Public Schools.  Last year we donated 100 backpacks full of a years worth of school supplies CPS students, but this year we were able to donate 1,000 backpacks.  Maybe years down the line the organization can be providing 10,000 backpacks.  Not only that but our mentoring programs have been fairly small-scale so far, so hopefully in the future they can be further developed and begin to work with entire schools.  Ultimately, the goal of the organization, as with any other non-profit is to have a positive impact on communities.

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