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Dream Academy travels to Italy this spring

Citlali Cardona and Lisseth Mora help during the car wash fundraiser for their trip to Italy.

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Dream Academy travels to Italy this spring

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The beauty of high school is it brings so many opportunities that are just waiting for you to discover them. The Salinas Valley Dream Academy happens to be one of those opportunities for those who are curious enough to travel.

The Dream Academy is a non-profit organization of 100 (and on the rise) students around the Salinas Valley to fundraise for their yearly trip meanwhile helping their community. “In 2008-2009 it was just to travel, as well as 2011. All we did was go to the Presidential and the Inauguration. It was only Alisal High School kids and that was fantastic, but we thought ‘You know what, there is so much more we can do with the students,’ so we turned it into a full fledged youth leadership organization. We’ve been adding things like attending meetings, visiting colleges locally, doing community service, bringing in guest speakers so all of what we have today, we’ve been adding on little by little,” explains Ruben Pizarro, Founder, and Executive Director of the Dream Academy. In the past, they went to New York, Boston, and Washington D.C., for their East Coast Trips. But Pizarro decided it was time to make a change.

This is the first year that they would be going out of the country, to Italy, instead of the East Coast. “The team got together and we said ‘do we go somewhere domestic again like we’ve always done, or should we look somewhere else?’ We were really unsure if people would sign up or not because it was $1,000 dollars more than they had ever paid before, so we were really not sure, but we thought, ‘you know what, maybe it’s time to try something different.’ We’re always trying to grow so we decided to give it a shot and we ended up with a ton of students that signed up,” said Pizarro.

This unexpected change brought excitement from members. “It’s great that they are giving us the opportunity to explore places out of the country, since maybe we would like to study or live there in the future,” says Maria Aguirre, a returning student.

While a trip to Italy sounds like a dream, it takes work and perseverance to raise enough money to go. Not every student can pay the amount out of pocket, so they fundraise  all year –  selling chocolates, candy apples, bbq tickets, and car washes -but there are other ways to make money as well. “One could write letters to local businesses or big businesses like Taylor Farms, and ask if they would like to donate money for your trip,” says Aguirre.

Although Pizarro does a lot for the Dream Academy,  he still needs a helping hand. The Vice President of the Dream Academy, Ernesto Vela, is considered his right-hand man. “He will run the meetings if I’m not available. We’ll create an itinerary together and agenda about what we’re going to do,” says Pizarro. Money takes time to sort out. So, the academy’s treasurer, Ms. Cervantes, takes lead on managing money. “She collects all the money, puts all the spreadsheets online, deposits the money and sends the money to the travel agency.”

Having a team helps with the challenge of taking a big group. Those who support and give a helping hand throughout the year usually take on being chaperones for the trip as well. “So we’re going to take probably around 105 students and about 15 chaperones, so 120 people in total,” says Pizarro.

Passports are the main difficulty for the students. “That has been a challenge for students because they have to make time to go and pay, apply, all that stuff,” expresses Pizarro. “Arranging international flights, which hopefully nothing will happen, but delays and problems with flights are more typical in international flights so we’re just trying to plan as much as we can ahead of time to make sure that it doesn’t happen because we only have ten days there so we want to make sure we spend all ten days on the trip.” For most, it seems like torture for a person to do this every year, but to Pizarro, it seems like another year to do better and inspire students.

In Italy, they will travel to Venice, Florence, and Rome where they will visit places like St. Mark’s Cathedral, the famous David statue, the University of Florence, and canals. Most of it is just taking in the culture of a completely different country from our own. “Rome is the place with the most to see because there’s the colosseum, the forum, it’s just full of history everywhere walking down the street in Rome,” explains Pizarro.

Pizarro always likes to think of the future and what they can do to grow. That’s why he and his team are already thinking about other places to travel as well. If this trip is successful first, of course. “We’re thinking about possibly, if it works out, to do a switch between domestic and international, doing it every other year. But the next time we go international, a lot of the team leaders are talking about going to Madrid, Spain,” says Pizarro.

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Dream Academy travels to Italy this spring