The hallways of Wando High School are strangely silent in the weeks right after summer begins, but anyone who is accustomed to being inside the building during the academic year knows how busy it can be. As the largest school in the Charleston County district, Wando serves students of all types and from all walks of life.
“There is a notion that all students who attend Wando are from affluent families,” remarked Lucy Beckham, the school’s principal. “But this simply is not true. Because of our size, Wando has a greater number of students who are struggling financially than some of the schools in the district that are noted for high poverty rates. We get plenty of kids who aren’t from a traditional, stable home and need a little help.”
Fortunately for these students, help is available from Dreamweavers, a privately-funded, heartfelt organization in its third year of existence at Wando. The effort is headed by Beckham, Cheryl Swinton, Carzenia Brown, Mary Whitman and other staff and faculty. Together, these caring adults have brought a new source of hope to many Wando students who otherwise would have none.
“It began with the intention of giving some of the struggling students a ‘holiday treat,’” explained Swinton, one of Wando’s assistant principals. “We had ‘Santa’s elves’ deliver gift cards, a tradition we still practice.”
“We could not, of course, give gift cards to all of the students we wanted to,” Beckham admitted. “But a few came recommended by the staff.”
Once it became clear that these students, and others, needed not only Christmas gifts but practical items for school such as classroom supplies, appropriate clothing and glasses to help them see, Dreamweavers became the more well-rounded effort it is today. And while Charleston County has a district fund for such things, Dreamweavers is paid for by Mount Pleasant families and business owners and Wando staff.
“It is all donations either from local businesses or individuals,” affirmed Beckham. “Also, several of our staff members make contributions at Christmas instead of buying gifts for their departments.”
The Dreamweavers team can’t help but feel strongly about the worth of the cause – the students who receive help are more than gracious. One student, a young lady who graduated this year, spoke about how Dreamweavers changed her total high school experience.
“It was the biggest surprise of my life,” she said. “I’d been to three different high schools at that point, and Wando was the first place where people cared enough to help me purchase clothing for school. They also gave me a $50 gift card during the holidays, which I used to get presents for my cousins.”
The student also mentioned that other schools in the area would, naturally, benefit from this type of program and that she hopes Wando is leading by example.
“It would help so many people if other schools did this,” she said. “For example, Wando doesn’t require uni- forms but a lot of schools do. That can get expensive.”
When it comes to what Dreamweavers provides for kids, the ideal answer is whatever it takes to help them be successful. The participating staff members I spoke with all agreed that they’ve helped students with everything from transportation to interview attire.
“One student, a very sweet young lady, wanted to become a member of DECA, our marketing and business club,” explained Brown, an administrative assistant at Wando. “But she had no professional clothing. She needed a suit, so I found her a suit and blouse. We also made sure she had the right shoes, jewelry, makeup, even cab fare – and she ended up placing in one of the competitions hosted by the organization.”
Many kids who are recipients of the Dreamweavers fund are struggling with attending school in the first place, never mind the extracurricular activities.
“We have a few students who live in hotels and cars,” admitted Whitman, a career counselor. “In the case of one boy I met, his parents had disappeared. The fact that someone in that predicament even comes to school makes me proud.”
Though Dreamweavers is already three years along, Beck- ham and the other team members look forward to garnish- ing more attention and support from the community.
“We want to put information up on the Wando website and let people know how they can help,” said Beckham. “We’ve got to help these kids get through high school and not give up on them – or let them give up on themselves.”
Story by Denise K. James. Photos by Brian Sherman.