Grace: Following his own dream, he'll help kids follow theirs -
Published Sunday, July 14, 2013 at 1:30 am / Updated at 11:08 pm
Grace: Following his own dream, he'll help kids follow theirs

Lamarr Womble had a dream, and he set a deadline.

His dream was to be a full-time motivational speaker. His deadline was by age 30. And about a year ago, he realized he wanted to do all of this in New York City.

He already had a good thing going as a recruiter for the University of Nebraska at Omaha and a good life in the city. He had even already developed motivational speaking into a part-time job. But he wanted to leave what was safe to try something new.

In April, five months before Lamarr's self-imposed deadline, the 29-year-old began looking for jobs. He started intensely tracking his Google alert that flagged articles containing the word “passion.”

That led him to a blog posting about an education nonprofit called the Future Project. The organization places “dream directors” in public high schools. The dream directors act as counselors and life coaches.

Their job is to help students identify their passions and follow their dreams through tangible projects. And it's based in New York.

The two-year-old Future Project wants to engage students without carrots, like grades, athletics and school leadership, and without sticks, like detention, suspension and other punishment.

The Future Project wants students to listen to their innermost desires and follow those calls.

Founded by a pair of former Obama administration speechwriters, what Future Project is really after is developing a corps of dreamers who go on to do big things in life.

While it is a bit of a head-in-the-clouds concept, the dream directors' job is to actually get students' heads out of the clouds. They want students to work on real-life projects that will teach the high schoolers that dreams stay dreams unless you map them out and make them happen.

Which is why someone like Lamarr fits so perfectly into this model.

Here he is in Omaha, dreaming of a new direction for his life. The Bellevue West and UNO graduate reads about the Future Project. He goes online and sees that the project had been hiring but has stopped. He can't even submit his application to explain how perfect a fit he would be.

But he reads the staff bios and thinks he knows someone who knows someone who works for the project. He contacts his acquaintance, who contacts the Future Project staffer, who puts Lamarr in touch with a woman named Sallomé Hralima.

Sallomé is the chief dream director. She tells Lamarr that hiring is still underway. The applicant pool has been whittled to 200. But she invites him to enter the final selection process.

He's told the first interview would be in a group setting and include staffers and other applicants competing for one of six spots. The interview would be conducted online via video conference and would last an hour.

Technical difficulties would cause Lamarr to miss the first 40 minutes. When he finally joined, he faced weird, ethereal questions and exercises, like draw a picture of your online self and what is the one thing you purposefully neglect?

The next step was a questionnaire with more strange questions, such as “If you could name a personal board of fictional characters, who would they be?” Lamarr fielded all the curve balls.

Finally he was asked to go to New York for a face-to-face interview. But he had to get himself there — in a week. The plane ticket was $560.

Once there, Lamarr pitched a student-engagement project he had started in Omaha: a gently used back-to-school clothing drive to give needy students a fashionable outfit for the first day of school. He spoke one-on-one with the Future Project's president. Then he returned to his UNO job and his motivational speaking gig and waited.

He got the call June 9. Three days later, he gave UNO his resignation.

On Friday, Lamarr boarded a plane to New York for a three-week training boot camp with other dream director staff.

The Future Project will pay the salaries of dream directors in 14 schools in typically high-poverty neighborhoods in four cities: New York; Washington, D.C.; New Haven, Conn.; and Newark, N.J. Dream directors act as support staff to teachers and principals. Each director is assigned about 16 students, who will work on personal goals, like writing poetry, and group goals, like filling school walls with artwork.

Lamarr will work at College Academy, which sits in a largely Dominican neighborhood of upper Manhattan called Washington Heights. Most of the students are low-income native Spanish speakers.

Principal Peter Sloman said two students asked him to bring the Future Project to College Academy. Sloman researched it and was impressed.

“What motivates our kids? What drives them?” Sloman asked. “Unless you can conquer stuff like that, the math, the social studies, the English and science, it can all get lost.”

Sallomé said Lamarr's own example should be compelling.

“That he took that risk and that leap for his dream was extremely powerful for us to see,” she said. “When he walked into our office, we started nudging each other. Dream director? Dream director. He definitely walked the walk.”

Lamarr said he's ready. He said he's excited. He said he didn't know until recently this kind of job even existed.

The job of his dreams.

Contact the writer: Erin Grace    |   402-444-1136    |  

Erin is a columnist who tries to find interesting stories and get them into the paper. She's drawn to the idea that everyday life offers something extraordinary.

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