Student Committee Awards Berkowitz Grant to the Dreamcatcher Foundation

By Julia Auerbach ’21, Zoey Blickstein ’21, Julia Marks ’21, Scarlett Pencak ’21 and Leila Sheridan ’21

The Susan F. Berkowitz Award for Outstanding Service to Children is an annual $10,000 award that was established to honor the life and work of Dr. Susan F. Berkowitz. Dr. Berkowitz had a deep commitment to building hope and optimism in children by strengthening the bonds between family, school and community life. The intent of this award is to foster a wider appreciation for people who, on a day-to-day basis, show imagination and dedication towards youth. The grant aims to reward organizations that provide children with the strength, self-confidence and resources they need to sustain healthy learning and development—leading to future success.

Dr. Berkowitz was a clinical psychologist, parent and active member of the Parker community. She made many important and pivotal contributions to our school and to the lives of many children, teachers and parents. This award recognizes other individuals who build hope and optimism in adolescents and citizens in the Chicago area similar to the way Dr. Berkowitz positively impacted our community. Such work demonstrates the necessary commitment and imagination to ensure conditions that support positive growth, development and education.

Each year, Parker gives the award to an organization or program that embodies a particular theme or issue chosen by the Berkowitz Committee, which consists of Parker Upper School students from different grades. Membership is optional, and they all chose to be a part of this amazing process. At the beginning of the year, students generate a list of prominent youth-related issues in Chicago, and from this list they determine the theme. After reading through the grant proposals, the committee chooses the ones we are most drawn to and invite each organization’s leaders to Parker so students can meet and talk to the people who work and contribute to the mission of the programs. Once these visits are all completed, the committee reconvenes. After discussing what we’ve heard, comparing the strengths of the organizations and considering how they fit with the chosen theme, we vote to pick a winner of the grant. 

This fall, the Berkowitz Committee worked hard to find a theme we thought was an active issue affecting Chicago youth today. The committee decided on an issue that we thought needed to be addressed: sex trafficking in the city of Chicago and its victims. Chicago is one of the biggest hubs for sex trafficking in America, with the majority of victims being young women.

This year’s recipient of the Berkowitz Award is the Dreamcatcher Foundation, a survivor-founded nonprofit organization that works to end human trafficking of children in Chicago. The Dreamcatcher Foundation was founded in 2008 by Ms. Brenda Myers-Powell and Ms. Stephanie Daniels-Wilson.

After personally observing several acts of sexual exploitation on the South Side of Chicago, Ms. Daniels-Wilson knew that she needed to do something to work against the issue of sexual exploitation. So she decided to begin working toward making the Dreamcatcher Foundation become a reality.

Ms. Myers-Powell escaped an abusive home life and learned to navigate the streets of Chicago. She faced human trafficking at the young age of 14. As explained on the Dreamcatcher Foundation website, “living through physical, mental, and sexual abuse not only made her numb to the adversities she faced, they also equipped her to survive as a testament for the young women she was to mentor out of the life.”

According to its mission statement, the Dreamcatcher Foundation “works to prevent the sexual exploitation of at-risk youth and helps them find confidence and stability through education, empowerment, and active prevention.” The Dreamcatcher Foundation has a variety of programs that work toward prevention, intervention and outreach, including “Reach for the Stars Outreach Program,” a rescue mission program to save girls from dangerous situations of sexual exploitation. Additionally, Dreamcatcher provides a “Community Awareness Training/Consultation” program, which offers training to people in schools, churches and corporations about the reality and severity of sex trafficking. The “Bright Stars Prevention Program,” which aims to educate youth and is run by youth, works to connect vulnerable youth with positive role models in various neighborhoods, homes and schools. In this program, the Dreamcatcher Foundation works to teach important life skills as well as coping skills, healthy relationship building and more to support a safe and bright future. In addition, the foundation has the “My Life, My Choice” program to motivate and encourage young girls and women to become confident, strong and self-respecting while avoiding sexual exploitation.

Through constant dedication to educating about sexual exploitation and help those who have been victims, Dreamcatcher Foundation embodies the goal of the Berkowitz Award, which is to better the lives of youth in the Chicago area. We are honored to have the Dreamcatcher Foundation as the recipient of the Berkowitz grant this year.

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Francis W. Parker School educates students to think and act with empathy, courage and clarity as responsible citizens and leaders in a diverse democratic society and global community.