Jason Vallery recalls his mom joking throughout his childhood that she was smarter than his dad because she made it to 10th grade and his father dropped out in the 9th. As a boy, Jason didn’t know what he wanted to be when he grew up, but he knew he didn’t want to end up like his parents – without a high school diploma.
Fortunately, help came when Jason was 9. He was in the fourth grade when he and others in his class were adopted by the “I Have a Dream” Foundation. The students, chosen based on family income, were assigned a support group, including mentors and tutors, to work with them all the way through high school graduation.
Jason speaks beside a Dreamer at the “I Have a Dream” luncheon.
The nonprofit foundation provides this long-term support with the goal of breaking the cycle of poverty, illiteracy and unemployment. It provides students mentorship, role models and guidance throughout the 10 years and upon graduation, the children, known as Dreamers, are eligible to receive tuition assistance for college.
“The biggest indicator for dropping out of school is being low income so we try to level the playing field for these kids so they have equal opportunities,” says Lori Canova, CEO of the “I Have a Dream” Foundation of Boulder County. “We help them find things they are passionate about and interested in doing. The goal is self-sufficiency, to enable them to rise out of poverty through education.”
Jason credits the organization’s Boulder County chapter with providing him opportunities he would have gone without, and he credits his mentors with not only assuring he made it through high school, but providing the connections he needed to land a good job.
Now 31 with his own young son, Jason works as a field engineer for Microsoft. He has remained connected to the organization and transitioned from being a Dreamer to making dreams happen for other young people. He recently shared his story at the 16th annual “I Have a Dream” luncheon and fundraiser and this fall, he and his wife were able to donate $2,000 to sponsor a child in the program.
“This is one way I’m attempting to pay back a small fraction of the debt I feel towards this organization,” Jason says. “I hope in the years to come I can find further ways to pay it forward and help kids in the same way I was helped.”
Our Employee Giving Program will match Jason’s donation dollar for dollar, allowing two Dreamers to be sponsored. The matching program is part of the yearlong campaign which offers up to $15,000 per employee in cash or volunteer hour donations. Now in its 31st year, the campaign has donated more than $1 billion to more than 31,000 unique organizations.
And, to further extend our support for Jason and the “I Have a Dream Foundation,” we’re featuring his story among 30 Microsoft employee “Giving Heroes” who are helping young people overcome a number of challenges and capture new opportunities. As part of Microsoft’s global YouthSpark initiative, the youth-serving nonprofits supported by our employee Giving Heroes will each receive an additional $1,000 cash grant and a chance to raise even more money through the upcoming #GivingTuesday campaign.
“Without having the sense of accountability, I could have very well taken the same path my parents did and dropped out of school early,” says Jason. “I didn't though, I stuck through it, and I graduated on time. Without ‘I Have a Dream’, I wouldn't be where I am today. I wouldn't have the drive, the knowledge, or the experiences that were required to propel me into the successes I've enjoyed. I want to do everything I can to make that happen for the next generation.”
Jason and his family celebrate a graduating “I Have a Dream” class.