Inquiry Magazine Northwestern School of Education and Social Policy

FALL 2012

Senior Aria Fiat co-founded the nonprofit Supplies for Dreams to expand horizons for urban students. The organization provides school supplies, field trips, mentoring and tutoring.

Aria Fiat: Arming Schoolchildren with Supplies for Dreams

By Marilyn Sherman
Aria Fiat with students

When she was still in high school, SESP senior Aria Fiat dreamed of expanding opportunities for low-income students. She translated her dream into action by co-founding the nonprofit organization Supplies for Dreams, which provides school supplies and educational enrichment to Chicago elementary school students in need.

In August, volunteers flocked to the Norris Center lawn to stuff backpacks for 1,700 students. As its signature project, the organization donates backpacks filled with school supplies to students at partner schools. In addition, the organization provides field trips, mentoring and tutoring.

Four years ago Supplies for Dreams began as a summer project for Fiat and Hiro Kawashima, both former New Trier High School students who are passionate about education. “When we founded Supplies for Dreams, we felt we had a responsibility because we both had been very lucky to receive the education we did. It felt like an obligation,” she says.

“People were skeptical at first because we were just a couple of high school kids,” Fiat notes. However, today the nonprofit is thriving and has earned the respect of any skeptics. More importantly, 3,366 Chicago students have benefited.

Each year the organization has grown in offerings and resources. In addition to supplying backpacks, currently Supplies for Dreams also offers field trips for every third- through eighth-grade class at partner schools. Support often comes from fraternities, sororities, dorms and young alumni of Northwestern. These volunteers not only donate the funds but also chaperone the field trips.

A new project for Supplies for Dreams is a Skype-based mentoring program. Through this program students search a database of young professionals to find a volunteer who matches their needs — whether it’s for learning guitar or picking up karate. “It’s all about learning but learning in a way that’s exciting for students,” says Fiat. “There’s so much potential in bringing in young professionals — they have a lot to offer.”

With that pilot program underway, now at the top of Fiat’s list of goals is developing additional school partnerships. “We want schools that are going to work with us and partner in all of our programs,” she says. Current partners are Perez and Belmont-Cragin elementary schools, along with Chicago Youth Centers.

Stacy Stewart, principal of Belmont-Cragin, says, “I can honestly say that Supplies for Dreams is a true partner in every sense of the word. They work strategically with school leaders to identity issues of concern and work diligently to address them. My children strongly believe that they are now on the path to attending college, pursuing careers and beyond.”

Fiat’s long-term goal is to keep Supplies for Dreams growing and sustainable. Her vision is to maintain the nonprofit as a student-run organization, and after graduation she intends to serve in an advisory role.

The road to starting a nonprofit has had its bumps and barriers, according to Fiat. “Believing in the possibilities is sometimes hard,” she says. “One of our core principles is that we want to dream big.”

Fiat acknowledges the many donors and supporters who help to keep the dream growing. At SESP, she has received plenty of support. “Everyone’s encouraging,” she notes. In addition, her SESP classes have provided important skills and knowledge for developing curriculum and organizations.

One class that she found especially helpful was Program Development and Implementation, taught by Danny Cohen. Also, her concentration in human development and psychological services was right on track. “The human development side is incredibly important because ultimately the goal is to develop these students and support them,” Fiat says.

The Northwestern students who help to run Supplies for Dreams share a dedication to that goal. In addition, an associates board of Northwestern graduates also helps to steer the organization. “I’ve been lucky to work with a team of extremely talented individuals,” says Fiat.

She is quick to credit the resources she draws on for Supplies for Dreams. “I’m fortunate that I not only have the education that supports it but also the people to fuel it.”