By Aaron Maassen
MU Homecoming Queen Kam Phillips’ Dream Outside the Box project placed sixth in the White House’s Champions of Change Challenge last month. In making the top 15, Phillips earned the opportunity to present the program at the White House and meet President Barack Obama on Saturday, April 14, 2012.
This was the first year the competition took place. The challenge focuses on shining a light on the positive contributions of young people to inspire others to do the same, according to a statement from President Barack Obama on the program’s website.
Phillips started Dream Outside the Box in 2009 to show Columbia youth something new as a part of a project in the chancellor’s leadership class. The goal of the program is “to expose youth with lower resources to new and exciting endeavors in order to show them the world that lies beyond rap and stereotypical sports,” according to the organization’s website.
“I grew up in a non-stereotypical background, so I did horseback riding and rodeo, so I had all these kinds of experiences that these kids don’t have access to. I wanted to bring this idea that you can really truly do anything,” Phillips, a Fort Worth, Texas native said.
Dream Outside the Box has always been staffed by college student volunteers.
“[The program works] because it is run by college students. We are still dreaming and realizing what we want to be and we can relate this to the younger kids because we were once in their spots,” volunteer Christopher Atkinson said.
“It’s volunteers who really care about the kids and kids [that] really care about the volunteers in return,” Phillips said.
The program is unique because it shows a different perspective on career options to the youth. Columbia’s youth participate in improvisation shows, theater, archery, farming activities, and lacrosse.
“The kids got to the field, thought we were going to play football and then their whole mindset shifted when they realized we were going to do lacrosse,” Phillips said. “Literally, they did not want to leave the field once we got going.”
Getting the kids involved in different programs exposed volunteers to new experiences as well.
“We went to a cow farm, an alpaca farm. I have never been to one of those so it was a great experience. [I got] to the milk the cows and see how the farm works on a day-to-day basis,” Atkinson said.
The kids try different and new activities every Wednesday. One day, the kids used art supplies in an “Invention Convention.” The winning inventions included a robot dog and a television/microwave combo, for the lazy American.
The program has expanded since its 2009 start, adding Dance Outside the Box at the Missouri Contemporary Ballet and Bigger Dreams, Brighter Futures for teens.
Bigger Dreams, Brighter Futures began in September 2011. It is aimed at exposing teens to their real options in college, with SAT Prep and additional counseling. Dance Outside the Box, launched a month earlier in August, aimed at exposing under privileged youth to “long-term development in the fine arts,” according to Phillips.
Volunteers put countless hours into helping with the program. However, the director, Kam Phillips is its heart, according to Atkinson.
“She is very enthusiastic,” Atkinson said. “[Kam] is really, really willing to work with the kids, and help them, and seeing their goals, and helping them achieve.”
“The children really truly drive me,” Phillips said. “When I have a kid come up to me and say ‘Ms. Kam, I really do think I want to be an engineer now.’ I could never stop.”