(FORT BEND ISD) – Dozens of guests celebrated Fort Bend ISD’s Shared Dreams’ 35th anniversary Wednesday and got a firsthand look at its expanded facility that allows the program to better serve FBISD families.
FBISD Board members Angie Hanan and Kristen Davison Malone, district leaders, volunteers, interfaith leaders and community members attended the celebration of Shared Dreams’ decades-long history of giving in Fort Bend ISD, and heard remarks from Superintendent Dr. Christie Whitbeck, Collaborative Communities Executive Director Payal Pandit Talati, and Program Supervisor Bobbie Anderson.
The evening’s program also included entertainment by the Willowridge High School Drumline, and the presentation of colors by members of the Willowridge Marine JROTC, led by Gunnery Sgt. Luc Cadet.
Whitbeck expressed gratitude for all the work done by the Department of Collaborative Communities, which operates Shared Dreams, and those who donate, give and volunteer their time.
“Our theme is ‘Choose to Care’ as we build a ‘culture of kindness’,” Whitbeck said. “I don’t think there’s a better example of that in all of Fort Bend ISD than Shared Dreams.”
The district’s Shared Dreams program began in 1988 when Dulles and Palmer elementary schools started a clothing exchange for its students in need. Each sent their collected items to the other school to eliminate the chance of a student spotting a classmate wearing his or her donated clothing. Now, the program assists students and their families across the district.
“We don’t believe that something is better than nothing because we want better,” program supervisor and Collaborative Communities Assistant Director Bobbie Anderson said. She has led Shared Dreams for 25 years.
The program takes a pass on donated items that are too worn or stained to be repaired.
“Sometimes it’s the hardest thing parents can do to come here, and we want them to have dignity,” Anderson said. “I want to make sure that when they leave, this has been a positive experience for them.”
Fifty-two percent of the district’s 80,000 students are classified as economically disadvantaged and the need is growing.
In the past year, the Shared Dreams facility located next to FBISD’s Progressive High School at 1555 Independence Blvd in Missouri City, has expanded from one large room to four times as much space.
“Boxes of donated items would be stacked up so high in the room that it would be like walking through a maze,” Collaborative Communities Executive Director Payal Pandit Talati said. “If it were not for our leaders -past and present- and their support, we would not be here.”
The added space comes just in time for Shared Dreams’ annual Holiday Cheer campaign when volunteers, faith-based organizations, community donors, parents, students and staff pitch in to fulfill wish lists submitted by FBISD students.
Donors assemble gift baskets that adhere to a theme. There are movie gift baskets, toiletry baskets, food baskets, cleaning supplies baskets and game baskets. Donors also supply everything from books to bicycles to make holiday dreams come true for FBISD students and their families.
The program is currently accepting Holiday Cheer donations plus donations to meet regular needs. Also, volunteers are needed to help assemble holiday gift bundles. Pandit Talati volunteers with her children and said the benefits of family involvement and group team building are extremely rewarding.
Anderson’s background uniquely qualifies her to run the Shared Dreams’ program. She recalled as a child being told by classmates that there was no way she would be familiar with a popular brand of jeans they were discussing because she was too poor.
“I went home and asked my dad -who had a sixth-grade education- if we were poor. He said, ‘do you have a roof over your head?’ I said, ‘yes sir.’ He said, ‘do you have food, a clean bed, someone who loves you? Then, you’re not poor.’ I said, ‘I knew those girls were wrong’ but as I grew up, I realized what they saw.”
Anderson was an only child being raised by a single dad. Her father died when she was 14 and she was raised by a “community” of relatives after that, most notably her grandmother who Anderson refers to as “the smartest woman I’ve ever known,” despite having no formal education.
The example her grandmother set is key to how Anderson, a former high school dropout, went on to earn her GED, then entered college and earned her bachelor’s degree, then a master’s, and presently she is working toward her Ph.D. After earning it, she said she will remain at Shared Dreams as “Dr. Bobbie.”
“I understood what it meant to not have what other students had and I don’t ever want that for our students,” Anderson said. “I want them to feel just like any other students sitting next to them.”