Dream Volunteers Pivots International Exchange Program To Digital Format

Dream Volunteers is a non-profit organization that provides international student scholarships, operates youth and community development programs, and offers global service and education trips to developing countries. 

Since it was founded in 2007, one of the organization’s most popular offerings was its international service and exchange programs, where students of all ages would have the opportunity to travel abroad and immerse themselves in the culture of other countries. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has entirely disrupted their international exchange program. All of the scheduled trips from March 2020 up to Winter 2021 have been cancelled or postponed. 

Rather than shutting down its operations, Dream Volunteers took the opportunity to evolve to a digital format with the goal of keeping students from all over the world connected. 

The organization launched an online exchange program where youth around the world connect via Zoom to practice foreign languages, share their culture, and brainstorm strategies for improving their communities. 

The program has been a success. More importantly, it has allowed young people to remain connected to others that are going through the same situation that they are. 

“Our online language and cultural exchange programs have met two needs. The first, connecting people, which has allowed them to learn and understand what is happening in the rest of the world and to have access to peers that are going through similar thought processes. The second is that it helped meet the need of substituting what would’ve been a live, in-person cultural exchange program.” Brian Buntz, Dream Volunteers

Both of these programs are free. 

Which left Dream Volunteers with another challenge: generating enough revenue to continue operating

Pre-pandemic, the international exchange program helped fund the organization. With travel out of the question for the foreseeable future, Dream Volunteers had to get creative in order to adapt to current circumstances. 

“We have always worked with young people in the Bay Area,” Brian Buntz commented. “We came up with the idea to turn one of our programs into a summer camp. 

“We developed a 2 week, intensive summer camp that focused on empowering young people to think and act as transformative leaders. We had 100 students sign up and participate in it.”

This helped lessen the financial burden in part, but more importantly it established a new method for empowering young changemakers.” 

The other part was covered by the generosity of donors and the families that had signed up for the Summer trips.

“Many of the families that had signed up for these trips decided to forgo the refund and leave the deposit with us. Because of that and the generosity of our donors, we generated enough funds that filled the gaps that were missing from cancelled trips, which enabled us to support all of our students and families abroad.”

As the pandemic evolved, Buntz and his team realized that travel will likely be limited well into 2021. Which is why the organization decided to develop a Fall program to continue supporting and engaging with students. 

The Fall program is hybrid, meaning that there’s an online and an in-person part to it. It takes place twice a week after school. 

The online part consists of a leadership and service learning curriculum, while the in-person part encourages students to engage in local service work in the Bay Area. Currently, that service work can take the form of grocery packing, hygiene kit assembly for the homeless, working in organic gardens that serve as food pantries, etc. 

Dream Volunteers joined the All Good Work program in the summer of 2019 at Techcode.

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