Dream Weaver tries to make a difference for at-risk youth

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Selma Times-Journal

Hope is a very powerful word.

The fact that it often hinges on the unseen opens up opportunities in a myriad of avenues.

Email newsletter signup

Since hope is frequently synonymous with dreams, any time a child’s dream is granted, he is given a chance to do something far surpassing his or anyone else’s expectations.

That is the belief of Mike Irwin, and he’s using that belief to help at-risk children in Dallas County.

Irwin, with the help of several others, has created Dream Weaver Foundation, a non-profit organization that is in its early stages of operation.

Irwin owns Four Seams Baseball and Softball Training Center and is also a juvenile probation officer.

He noticed a lot of similarities between kids trying to correct their swings and kids trying to correct their lives.

“I see a lot of kids at Four Seams that lack self-confidence,” Irwin said. “I was riding down the road one day and asked why I can’t I apply the concepts I use to help them to help kids in the juvenile court system. You get to know them on a personal level and find out what they want and what they’re about. Then you ask why they never learned to play the piano or something like that, and it’s because they never had a chance to. Maybe because they never felt they could or because they just couldn’t afford it.

“Dream Weaver is kind of like Make a Wish Foundation, except they grant wishes to terminally ill children. We grant wishes for children that are dying socially and emotionally.”

Dream Weaver is in the process of creating a Founder’s Team. This team will consist of charter supporters that will help raise the initial $10,000 for operation costs. Members can pledge a tax-deductible donation of between $250 to $1,000.

Children are referred to the organization by Juvenile Court, Juvenile Probation, DHR, Mental Health, the Juvenile Conference Committee and Teen Court.

Once they become a part of Dream Weavers, children are given the opportunity to do one thing they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do.

Irwin said there are a variety of areas that covers. It could be music lessons, some type of athletic endeavor or they could be helped to start a career in a vocational field.

It is Irwin’s estimate that 95 percent of the children in the court system have no extracurricular interests, leading them to get into trouble.

Because of that, even the smallest amount of effort and caring can go a long way.

“It doesn’t take much, it really doesn’t,” said District Judge Robert E. Armstrong III, chairman of the Children’s Policy Council. “That’s the incredible thing about it. I used to tutor at Knox Elementary School for an hour a week. In just that little amount of time, I saw an improvement in grades and in attitude. A saying I read recently goes, ‘Never underestimate the power or potential of a seed.’ These big oak trees around here started out as seeds.

“Well, we’re planting seeds of hope, and hope is a powerful thing.”

The follow-up process is as important as the initial dream coming true is.

Expectations about future behavior and scholastic performance are made clear to the children, therefore care is taken to make sure they stay out of trouble and make the most of their experience.

It also gives them a positive role model that will be available to them for a long time.

“The primary people we seek to involve in the follow-up processes are the people that are part of the granting of the dreams,” said Dream Weaver vice president Richard Reynolds, Ph.D. “We want to build mentor relationships.

How effective this will be depends on the particular situation and the particular child. It’s the kind of program that can really be sufficient to have an impact. Of course, there are some situations where this kind of program can just be a drop in the bucket.

“But I still think it’s worth the effort.”

Armstrong agreed that despite a child’s past, it is possible he or she can be steered in a positive direction. The primary focus of Dream Weaver is to help children before they get deep into trouble.

And even if they have spent years in the court system, hope is not totally lost.

“A lot of what we do is preventive action,” Armstrong said. “We try to catch them before they get into the court system. Most of these kids will be entry-level. But others that have been in the system for a while, our staff will recommend. We don’t give up on any child.”

In any society, the youth is where the process of change starts.

Irwin says children have been on his mind every since he was 21-years-old, and it’s his mission to make their lives better.

“These kids are children a lot of people disregard,” Irwin said. “They have a dream, too. They need someone to motivate them and help them in order to break the cycles.”