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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

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Go Forth: Grinnell Alums Impress! Emily Hamilton ’02 follows her dream in Des Moines

Having spent four years planning pride weeks, protesting the Strategic Plan, playing capture the flag in academic buildings, organizing parties as a Hall Social Coordinator (HSC) and never pulling a single all-nighter, Emily Hamilton graduated from Grinnell in 2002.

Emily Hamilton '02, left, works with a-risk children in Des Moines as Executive Director of the I Have a Dream Foundation in Des Moines. Photograph contributed.

An independent major in International Development, Hamilton went on to spend a year in Namibia through the Grinnell Corps program. It was during her time there that she discovered her passion for fundraising, something she still pursues today as the Executive Director of the Des Moines chapter of the I Have a Dream Foundation.

“I did the Grinnell Corps fellowship after college with the Desert Research Foundation in Namibia and that’s when I learned that I really enjoyed advocating for and working for non-profits,” Hamilton said. “I have been in fundraising ever since.”

The I Have a Dream Foundation was started by businessman Eugene Lang in New York in 1981 in an attempt to encourage at-risk students to finish high school and pursue higher education. It has since grown to include 29 affiliates in 17 U.S. states, Washington D.C. and New Zealand.

The Foundation caters to students’ academic and personal needs. Aside from after-school activities and summer school, it also works to provide social and emotional support to the children.

“We have a certified teacher on staff who works to identify where each of the kids is struggling and puts together something for each individual. [We also] have a project coordinator … and because of her great relationships with families, she can provide the background that influences how decisions get made,” said Hamilton.

After previous work in fundraising, Hamilton decided to join the I Have a Dream foundation because she found its model appealing. It wasn’t until after she took her new job that she learned of the Foundation’s rich history with Grinnell College.

“The mission was something that sounded really interesting to me … it was after I got here that I learned about all of its Grinnell connections,” she said, “the Des Moines affiliate has a unique relationship with the College … some of the trustees helped bring I Have a Dream to Iowa, the first class of Dreamers in Iowa was adopted in 1990 and a number of Grinnell trustees and staff were very involved with that class.”

Hamilton hopes to further the relationship of Grinnell College with I Have a Dream by engaging in talks with the administration regarding outreach to at-risk students in the Des Moines area, whether through Admissions or other support.

“I started talks with the [administration] about how we can strengthen education for at-risk kids in Des Moines and that’s where I see the real partnership lying,” Hamilton said. “I think Grinnell has a great interest in encouraging at-risk kids in Des Moines to consider Grinnell.”

Looking back on her time at Grinnell, Hamilton focuses on the many opportunities that she had which prepared her for her current career path and helped nurture her passion for social justice. Hamilton developed strong leadership skills through her positions as an HSC for Loose and as president of the Stonewall Coalition.

“Throughout my career at Grinnell, the idea of social justice was focused upon a lot,” she said. “[It] was a key theme in a lot of different things I did. The leadership that I experienced at StoneCo. has definitely been something that I think of appreciatively.”

Hamilton has maintained a close relationship with the College since her graduation. She is currently on the Social Justice Prize Committee and is the Volunteer Fund Director for her class at Grinnell.

“I feel very lucky that I got into Grinnell, because that’s the only school I applied to,” she said. “I loved my time there. Utilizing my Grinnell relationships has been very helpful, I can’t tell you how many connections have come from just on the [GrinnellPlans] community, I would encourage students to get in touch with alums.”

In addition to wanting to see students capitalize on the resources offered by the Grinnell community as a whole, Hamilton adds that she would specifically like to see Grinnellians get involved with I Have a Dream. Najma Osman ’12 interned at the Foundation this summer, and there are always more opportunities for students.

“We have Saturday morning breakfast where we need people to come in and read with students [and] there’re after school activities on Fridays,” she said. “We’d love to work with any groups of volunteers that are interested.”

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