By Lauren Sable Freiman | Photo by John Goldy
When, several years down the road, Conway inherited a large sum of money from her parents, she chose to invest $500,000 of that money into something extraordinary, something that would promise a brighter future for a group of kids from Cleveland’s South Collinwood neighborhood.
In 2008 Conway launched The Dream On Foundation and earmarked the foundation’s funds to benefit a group of 25 first-grade students at Hannah Gibbons-Nottingham Elementary School in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.
“We went down to Nottingham and met with the parents and kids of the first grade and explained what the foundation was, that the money was invested for the kids to attend college or vocational school if they graduated with their class in 2020,” Conway says.
Her “dream on kids,” as Conway affectionately refers to them, are entering ninth grade this year. Conway says that her dream was that none of the 25 kids would attend Collinwood High School or Glenville High School because the graduation rates at those schools are too low. Armed with a list of graduation rates for schools around Cleveland, Conway has spent countless hours helping her kids research and apply to high schools that promise better chances of attending the college or vocational program of their choice. As the students enter ninth grade this fall, all will attend high schools with higher graduation rates.
“I have three kids who are straight-A students who are going to very good high schools,” Conway says. “They could go to Harvard. I think they’ll have their choice.”
For the past eight years, Conway and The Dream On Foundation have done more than promise a college or post-secondary education upon graduation. They’ve sent the kids to summer camp. They’ve formed a partnership with the Music Settlement that allows the Dream On Kids to borrow musical instruments for four years while studying music and playing in a jazz band. They’ve offered leadership training to both the students and their guardians.
As the kids enter high school, Conway is continuing to work with her Dream On students and their families as she always has, discussing ideas for how to help the students maximize their potential. They’ve discussed becoming involved with Junior Achievement, participating in a program to learn about how to successfully transition to high school and scheduling educational workshops around financial management concepts, such as bank accounts, car loans, mortgages, and investments.
“I’m not working with 25 kids, I’m working with 25 families,” Conway says. “I love working with these families and we’ve grown close. Some parents look at me as a parent figure to them, and some kids see me as a grandparent figure or a godmother. With many of these families, I have become part of the family.”
Out of the 25 kids in the program, Conway says 23 are very active participants in all that The Dream On Kids Foundation has to offer. Four of the students have moved away to Tennessee, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Sandusky, Ohio, but remain part of the program.
“In 2020 we will hopefully have 25 kids who will have graduated and will have a plan, whether it is to attend Harvard or barber school, and the total of that plan will be distributed evenly,” Conway says. “Hopefully each kid will get 100 percent of the cost of their plan, but it is hard to tell what the formula will be.”
When the Dream On Kids graduate from college in 2024, the foundation will fold while dispersing any unused funds to other charities.
According to Conway, she is likely in the top 1 percent of people who inherit the amount of money she did, which is notable because both her father and mother were raised during the Depression and managed to become the first in their families to earn college degrees.
“When I was a kid, they expected that I would go to college,” Conway says. “My parents were poor as kids and took their family out of poverty and into the upper middle class. My father and mother did for me what I’m trying to do for these kids.”
Conway says her parents, who were always generous with nonprofits, taught her the importance of giving back. She remembers when her parents very humbly served as the primary donors for Conway Field, a track and athletic field at Beaumont School, her alma mater. Conway says that without a doubt her parents were the primary influences behind The Dream On Foundation. “It’s my joy. I love my job, I love my families, and we’ve become really tight,” she says. “The gift is in the giving. If more people realized how great it is, then maybe more people would do it.”
For more information: dreamonkids.com
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