One of the core missions of the Denver Dream Lab is to help children whose opportunities are limited due to circumstance. Kids who can’t be kids at home because they live with a dying or chronically ill parent, a parent with substance abuse problems, parents who are incarcerated, or work multiple jobs. These kids live a dark life, with heavy baggage to carry. While they often receive counseling, many do not find that a relief. The Dream Lab will provide time for these kids to be kids, if only for an hour or two or a day. Whether that be rafting trips, a hike, or just tinkering in the Dream Lab, kids will have a chance to be around other kids going through the same journey. Kids can see that they are not alone and they will have the chance to spend time playing, laughing and learning — something they can’t always do at home.
The Denver Dream Lab will provide children with the opportunity to explore their interests. That might be in the form of a new hobby or a skill that changes their lives. Children may want to explore machinery, build a robot out of cardboard, or simply escape into a book. They can do all that at the Dream Lab.
Last year, Maria, a very quiet and introverted girl, joined my class. After getting to know her, I found out that her mother was dying. Her mother is in her 20s and is wheelchair-bound, with oxygen hooked up to her at all times. Throughout the year, I would see Maria retreat, sometimes doing little to no work, often distant in thought. She was, of course, frightened and sad. Her mom was in and out of the hospital for days at a time. She would often say that she didn’t know if her mom was coming home again. Her dad was gone and her elderly grandfather would take her back and forth to school.
Around the same time, a friend of my family — a 90-something grandmother with lots of time and a penchant for crocheting while she watched her “stories” on tv — began making sweaters for the students in my class. The student population was 95% free or reduced free lunch, so for many kids a warm sweater is a treat, and a handmade sweater from a grandma is an amazing gift. All year, Grandma made sweaters and scarves and all year I brought them in for each and every student in my class, some for many of their brothers and sisters as well. It was a simple act that really took nothing from me except buying yarn and collecting sizes. Grandma would do the hard work. One day Maria came in and gave me a gift she had worked on all Thanskgiving break. It was a one row “scarf.” At some point, she had gone home and talked about the sweaters and a family member showed her how to crochet. She found it to be a very soothing hobby, something she could do while she spent quiet time with her mom, a way to find a small bit of peace. She made this fantastic little scarf just for me, as a thank you for the sweater and for helping her through the year. I was without words and wore this 6 foot long, fluorescent, skinny scarf all day long, like a badge of honor.
That year, many of my girls begged to have Grandma come in and teach them how to crochet but, due to the constraints of teaching and time and testing, it wasn’t possible. But what if? What if it was possible? What if crocheting — or a different hobby — gave another girl the gift of relaxation and calmness that it gave to Maria? What if this hobby became a business? What if she became a fashion designer because she could make what her mind could create? What if?
The Dream Lab will seek to answer the question of “What if?” for children who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to explore their interests. We may not discover or create the next Project Runway star, Award-winning photographer, or computer engineer, but we will give the gift of time and opportunity to kids who deserve it.