Ijana Nathaniel started her youth organization, Dare 2 Dream Leaders (D2D), in two East Flatbush schools last June. The non-profit venture was so successful, Nathaniel said, she now has her sights set on expanding the community-building program to schools across the city as well.
I.S. 240 and Erasmus High School adopted the program last year. It connects young people between the ages of 11 and 18 with volunteer, internship and career building opportunities.
Nathaniel, a 30-year-old coordinator at the YWCA of Brooklyn and City Tech graduate, said she was inspired to give back after losing her older brother to street violence in 2003.
“I felt that the street raised him [and] I wanted to be a part of the solution,” she said. “I wanted to show teens that there is something more out there.”
But it wasn't until after she graduated from college that Nathaniel started planning for the organization during lunch breaks, after work and on weekends. D2D was finally launched last year, and quickly gained traction with students and parents in East Flatbush.
Nathaniel's biggest success was the Career Day she sponsored at I.S. 240, where students mapped out their dreams on “vision boards” and explored ways to realize their goals.
With one year under her belt, Nathaniel said she's focused on finding funding in order to expand her services. When donors are scarce and she gets disheartened, Nathaniel said she thinks of her late mother, who taught her never to lose hope.
“My mom was a very strong, independent woman who always told me I could do and be whatever I wanted to be,” she said. “She also taught me that if I wanted something I had to earn it.”
So far, she's done just that. And if D2D spreads to other boroughs, Nathaniel said she'll follow her ultimate goal of opening a charter school called Dare 2 Dream Leadership Academy. Given her drive, that could happen sooner rather than later.