Over ten years ago Irish American millionaire Tom Kelly made a deal with some first graders in rural Georgia. Thanks to his ‘I Have A Dream’ program the students, who have just graduated from high school, will head to college with their tuition fully covered.
‘I worked very hard to get where I am,’ said Tyesha Dalton, a graduate student from Green County High Schoolwork
Dalton now see her future carry her beyond Greensboro, Georgia where nearly 20 percent live in poverty.
‘In this community some might have been in foster care and not really have a home or a room they can call their own,’ Dalton noted, underlining the challenges that face many of her peers.
Dalton was one of 54 first graders to chosen to be part of Greensboro’s ‘I Have a Dream’ program back in 2000.
Kelly cited his Celtic roots for inspiring him to set up the program: ‘My mom came from Ireland and if she had a nickel she gave it to someone. And she always told us, ‘You better give back. You have to give back.’
With his Irish mother in mind Kelly made a personal commitment to the lucky first graders 12 years ago.
‘The promise was that we will help you get into college and we pay last dollar so you can definitely not have finances be a problem in going to college,’ he explained.
In addition to full scholarships Kelly also raised $2 million to pay student expenses for the program participants. Dalton explained that to ensure her place on the Dream program she and each of her fellow Dreamers committed themselves to staying late at school on weekday nights, attending weekend study halls and taking summer classes.
‘We have never had a summer as a regular kid,’ Dalton said. But all that hard work has paid off and when she graduates from college she wants to be a pediatrician, she confessed.
In order to inspire them to accomplish their aims Kelly took the Dreamers on 80 field trips, including to space camp.
‘The thinking is that you cannot dream about what you want to be unless you know what’s out there,’ Kelly said.
Last week, all the Dreamers who started at Green County High in 2000 graduated and 85 percent are already headed to college or to a trade school. It’s the kind of happy ending that has gone from being a dream to a reality.