Our COVID Response

At DREAM, we’ve always believed that our toughest challenges make us stronger. During 2020 and 2021, we leaned on each other, we reinvented how we served our families, and we made sure our community’s needs were met.

In a year like no other, our community’s needs didn’t go away—in fact, they were amplified. But no child’s dreams were put on hold. To help families impacted financially by the pandemic, DREAM distributed:


in direct financial aid for families to use for rent, groceries, bills, medicine, and other household needs


bags of fresh produce and nonperishable goods as part of our free, weekly food distributions


Chromebooks and WiFi hotspots to support remote and hybrid learning

Our Guiding Principles

Although the school year looked different, the highest objectives of our work never changed—​to ensure our students get an excellent education, and to ensure that they feel known, seen, and loved. We approached the COVID-19 crisis with three core principles in mind:

  • The health and safety of everyone in our learning community – youth, staff, and families – is the main priority.
  • DREAM will provide students with an excellent education that ensures they are college and career ready.
  • DREAM will continue to invest in our Grow the Whole Child model.

Our Model In Action

DREAM’s education model is all about the promises we make to our families – the things we’ll never compromise on. Here’s how we stayed true to our Whole Child Model even in the toughest of times.

Rigorous Academics

School looked a little different in 2020—but our high expectations for our scholars never wavered. We know what they’re capable of, and they know that what might feel like failure can be just another opportunity to persist. A robust network of support helped sustain our commitment to academic excellence, from getting free hotspots and Chromebooks into our families’ homes, to round-the-clock outreach to scholars struggling with logging on.

It took a village full of people like DREAM Senior Operations Coordinator Judy, who, at the height of the pandemic, met up with her high school students for socially distanced dog walks to ensure they stayed engaged.

Social-Emotional Learning

When our scholars grapple with current events that are scary or confusing—from our littlest ones to our high school seniors—our mandate as educators is to honor and address their feelings and to hold space for their voices. In 2020, teachers didn’t just keep our scholars informed; they guided them through moments that no one could face alone. And it makes a difference.

Take Christopher, one of our kindergarteners. After his first day back to in-person school, his mom told us, “Christopher came home and said ‘I love school’ and we both cried. Never at the two other schools he attended did he once say he loved school.”

Athletics, Health, & Wellness

The meaning of summer—of freedom, joy, and infinite possibilities—has always been core to DREAM’s foundation. In summer 2020, we had to get creative to bring that spirit to life, pivoting to mostly virtual programming and opt-in, small-group play on our Field of Dreams. Over 600 youth logged on each day for workouts and games, reading activities, virtual field trips, and more. That includes the 150+ high school scholars who took on internships and summer jobs as coaches and mentors, leading remote activities for our little ones—for many of them, representing their first paid work-based experience.

“DREAM made my summer special,” said one of those high schoolers. “I didn’t think it would be as fun as it was.”

Family Engagement

In addition to distributing groceries and technology to DREAM families, this year we launched the DREAM is Family Fund to provide direct financial assistance to households impacted by COVID-19. One of our teammates shared the story of a DREAM mom who called her on a break during her shift working at the laundromat. She was having trouble making ends meet, and her scholars had to do their schoolwork in the hallways of their apartment building because that was where the WiFi was strongest. That week, she had seen an email about the DREAM is Family Fund and immediately felt a sense of relief knowing she wouldn’t have to tackle everything alone.

And “DREAM is Family” is more than just a campaign name – it’s something we all put into practice daily, however we can. Just take the DREAM staff member who donated her household’s entire stimulus check to the fund, which, thanks to her and so many others, distributed approximately $250,000 of assistance by early 2021.

Our Resilient Legends

Our post-secondary success team made sure that our DREAM Legends had everything they needed to be successful throughout the pandemic. Sometimes that looked as simple as sending surprise care packages to college; often it looked like helping them plan their next move in a time of real uncertainty.

Meet DREAM Legend Darlene De La Cruz, for example, whose story encompasses the strength and drive that we saw in each of our students. Darlene will attend and play softball at Wesleyan University next fall, but her path to college wasn’t easy. After originally being denied from Wesleyan, her top choice, this future pre-med student took to the front lines during her gap year and worked at CityMD as a patient care representative during the height of the pandemic.

ARP-ESSER Reopening Plan

DREAM utilized ARP-ESSER funding to fill funding gaps in its private donations caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. These funds have been utilized to ensure the continuation of all core teaching and administrative staff across our network of schools.

You can view our East Harlem FS10 and budget narrative and our Mott Haven FS10 and budget narrative for ARP-ESSER. These are also available via non-electronic means and for Spanish language speakers by reaching out to grants@wearedream.org.

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