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" I Have a Dream" Scholarship Banquet:‎ More Than a Scholarship, I Have A Dream Means "Forever a Family”

Lamar University recently hosted a Scholarship Dinner for 30 Ben Rogers / Lamar University / BISD “I Have A Dream” Program scholarship recipients currently attending Lamar (26) and  LIT (4) . Lamar University Director of Public Affairs Shelly Vitanza, who served as emcee, welcomed guests and provided a brief history of the program, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.

A highlight was the introduction by founder Regina Rogers of eight alumni “dreamers,” six of whom were there to share their personal experiences and success stories. Even more than the promise of a college scholarship, they expressed their appreciation for the continuing support they received from mentoring and being part of the IHAD family.

History of “I Have A Dream” in Southeast Texas

“I Have A Dream”  was implemented in Southeast Texas in 1988 by the family of the late Ben and Julie Rogers in honor of Ben’s 75th birthday with the establishment of 75 scholarships at Lamar University for 75 – 6th grade students attending schools throughout the Beaumont ISD. Since its inception, the program has helped nurture more than 450 “dreamers” by providing them with individual mentors and academic and personal opportunities; nearly 300 “dreamers”  have achieved an associate, bachelors or advanced degree. The many alumni “dreamers,” who have reached their goals of receiving a higher education and entering the workforce, are now giving back to their communities as committed, caring and responsible young people exemplifying the values learned during their years in the program.

 Vitanza acknowledged IHAD board members Tom Abbage, Marilyn Adams, Nancy Beaulieu, Joanne Brown, Dr. Carolyn Crawford, Paula O’Neal, Elizabeth Petit, Regina Rogers, Boyd Wells and Dorothy Yentzen. Rogers gave special recognition to IHAD's only staff member, Student Affairs Director Margueritte Humphrey, who has been completely dedicated to the “dreamers," advising and mentoring them for more than 25 years; Bonnie Madden and Dr. Carolyn Crawford, who helped implement IHAD at BISD; the late Dr. Sallye Sheppeard, who coordinated efforts at Lamar University; and board president Abbage for his continuing service for the past 23 years. During his invocation before the meal, Abbage exhorted all “dreamers” to “stay committed through the peaks and valleys of your college careers, to face every challenge with courage and to rise to every occasion.”

Special touches during the evening included a photo montage video of current and former dreamers, the I have a dreasinging of “There’s A Hero” by vocalist Christine Jackson and the performance of a Lamar cheer by board member O’Neal, who typically recited it at the conclusion of dozens of IHAD activities throughout the years.

“I Have A Dream” Memorial Scholarships

Rogers also announced the presentation of scholarships named in loving memory of “dreamers” Anthony Wilson, (class of 1998), who tragically lost his life at 36 years of age earlier this year, and Nicholas “Nico” Pearson (class of 2006), who passed away in 2010 at the age of 21 following a battle with testicular cancer.

The Anthony Wilson Memorial Scholarship was awarded to business major Larry Greenlee, III.  Wilson, a Lamar University graduate who had a successful lawn care business, entrepreneurial spirit and a beautiful, growing family, was represented by his widow Glenda, son Bryce, and mother Geraldine.

“Dreamer” Charles Wagner was presented the Nicholas Pearson Criminal Justice Memorial Scholarship. Pearson, son of Stephanie Pearson, was a very talented Westbrook basketball player and committed criminal justice major at Lamar University,

Alumni “Dreamer” Testimonials

As a highlight, Rogers proudly introduced alumni “dreamers” who shared their experiences and resulting success stories since graduation.

Marcus Jackson, member of the first IHAD Class of 1989, now living in St. Louis, graduated from West Point and Columbia Business school. By email, he credited Ben Rogers and his mentor William Taft with helping transform him from a shy young boy to a man of character who aspired to greatness. “I really took full advantage of all IHAD had to offer when I married my mentor’s granddaughter!”

Gloria Martinez, principal of Fletcher Elementary School, stated,  “As one of three children of parents who immigrated here from Mexico when I was three, I worked hard to realize my dream of becoming a college graduate. IHAD’s love and support throughout the years has meant so much more than you can imagine.”

Kayla Nguyen, raised by a single mom, credits IHAD with mentoring her spiritually, emotionally, financially and being a blessing, “paving the way for me to become a physician’s assistant (PA), with my master’s degree, married, with two children. I wouldn’t be where I am today without your constant support. ‎

Denise Alex, an attorney in Lake Charles, explained, “Even more than the scholarship, the mentoring, which began for me in sixth grade, changed my life. I was exposed to opportunities and expectations that I otherwise would have missed. Our mentors really poured themselves into our lives in a way that still impacts us today.”

Chase Patton (Class of 2006), engineer with Exxon Mobil, added, “When I became a dreamer, I become part of a tapestry of people who will follow me forever.”

D’Juana Davillier “Dee” Fowler (Class of 1999), employed by the SETRPC, said, “Thanks to the support of IHAD and a mentor, I earned my undergrad in social work, then graduated with a masters in accounting and business. IHAD has always been there for me, placing me in the spotlight. Even more than the scholarship, I have benefited from my IHAD family and the love I’ve received, especially during difficult times and the loss of my sister and father. For love and support, I know I can always turn to my IHAD family because their love never dies.”

Jeremy Gordon (Class of 1992), assistant band director at Marshall Middle School, earned his education degree and masters in business administration with the help of the program. “When I think of IHAD, the word that comes to mind is family that wants the best for each other and has motivated us to achieve our goals. The best experiences were the connections I made with fellow dreamers and mentors, lifelong friends I never would have known if not for IHAD. My message to current dreamers is never stop dreaming. Set goals and when you reach them, set more and keep on pushing. Thank you, Regina, for keeping the dream alive.”

Charisma Popillion, Ed.D. (Class of 1998), principal of Beaumont United High School, obtained her BS in Interdisciplinary Studies and Masters in Educational Leadership from Lamar and her Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from Texas Southern.  “More than anything, IHAD is family,” Popillion said. “Thank you for staying with me throughout my educational career and for continuing to support me. 'Dreamers,' don’t stop when you get tired.  Only stop when you get done!”

One by one, current “dreamers” were asked to stand and be recognized. Juan Zabala, Vice President for University Advancement and Executive Director of the Lamar University Foundation, shared his vision and reminder of ongoing support. “At Lamar we care about your success,” he encouraged them. “How fortunate you are to have IHAD supporting your dream. We know that education’s not easy, but we also know that, with our help, you can accomplish your goals and change your world.”

Abbage concluded the evening with an exhortation for everyone. “Always follow your dream. Never let someone’s negative perception of you become your reality. Always remember that God did not have time to make a nobody. No matter how many times you fall, as long as you get back up, you will become the somebody you are supposed to be. So continue to dream big and keep the dream alive.”