Back when Paula and I first met Rachael Gazdick during our college days at Syracuse University, she was already moving mountains on campus and in the surrounding community. Now, as Executive Director of the Colorado "I Have a Dream" Foundation (CIHAD), she is building bridges to brighter todays and tomorrows through leadership and mentoring. The ripple effect of her work with children and young adults is undeniable and inspirational. We hope you enjoy reading about this remarkable foundation and Rachael Gazdick's commitment to making a difference. Thank you, Rachael - for all that you do!
Can you tell us a little about the work you do at the Colorado “I Have a Dream” Foundation (CIHAD)?
The Colorado "I Have a Dream"® Foundation (CIHAD), founded in 1988, is a long-term academic and social mentorship program for youth who live in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods and/or attend underperforming schools in Metro Denver. Over the last 26 years, CIHAD has developed and fine-tuned a 10-year “hands-on cohort model” for our participants who we affectionately call Dreamers. The CIHAD foundation has impacted the lives of 630 Dreamers through; mentoring, academic enrichment services, social-emotional supports, global cultural exploration activities, experiential learning, community service projects, internship and corporate networking experiences, collegiate coaching and tuition assistance for higher education. Dreamers are currently selected and adopted in the 3rd grade and are provided these services up and through post-secondary pursuits.
At CIHAD, you refer to students as ‘Dreamers’ - what special qualities make someone a Dreamer?
To be a Dreamer is to be provided the opportunity to become your true authentic self. We want our students to envision themselves being able to accomplish anything they set their minds to. Our role at CIHAD is to facilitate that process, ignite our students’ intellectual curiosity, and expose them to the world around them.
How would you describe the ripple effect that takes place at CIHAD?
Empowering Dreamers has a positive impact in their homes and communities. On average, our Dreamers graduate at a rate that is double the rate of their peers who grow up in the same neighborhoods and the college going rate is triple that of their peers. High school and college graduation increases economic stability and breaks generational poverty cycles.
If you could put your experience at CIHAD into one word, like the titles of The Weird Series, what would that word be and why?
Relentless - The CIHAD family is relentless in its pursuit of Dreamer success. We do whatever it takes to ensure that they are reaching their full potential.
Did you always envision yourself giving back to your community and helping others? Looking back, did someone influence you in this regard? Who had a ripple effect on you?
Giving back has always been a part of my fabric. Its organic and innate, a quality that my family helped to foster. In our family, it was important for us to always remember where we came from, what our struggles were and to be thankful for a strong family foundation and nurturing community.
I have always felt that it is important to create and/or co-exist in communities that are supportive, diverse and proactive. In these communities, there are many influential people who provide the group with wisdom, resources and guidance. I have learned greatly from these teachers and have made it my life mission to carry forward our collective wisdom.
What is your favorite quote about kindness?
“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ― Maya Angelou
What advice would you give to a child who is involved in bullying?
Both the bully and the recipient need to be supported and understood. It is important to get to the root cause of the conflict and develop an intervention strategy.
I would tell the bully that his/her behavior is equally hurtful and harmful to his/herself and to the person being bullied. You only have one reputation and our world is so interconnected that your reputation will follow you for a lifetime. If you want to be respected you must show respect.
If a child were being bullied I would encourage them to express their emotions around the experience and encourage them to share their experience with a caring adult. I would also remind them that no one has the right to take away their dignity and self worth.
What do you want people to know about The Colorado “I Have a Dream” Foundation?
I want people to know, that what we do at CIHAD Foundation, works because it is a long-term commitment, which enables us to build deep meaningful relationships with our Dreamers and their families. There are no quick fixes for systemic problems, we understand that, and we tackle it head-on.