Mary Jo Dyre
Murphy, North Carolina
Founder and director of the Learning Center!, 31

Her dream:
"I want to change the way kids think about nutrition," says Dyre, the founder and director of a primary school called the Learning Center!, which opened in 1983. Dyre describes lunches at the school as unappealing, full of preservatives and high in cholesterol. "The caterers do the best they can on a small budget. But pizza and French fries in one meal?" Her dream is to start a garden and kitchen where students can grow and prepare healthy, delicious food while they're learning about nature and nutrition. She'd also like to create a bakery at the school and use the profits to support the program. Dyre has a site for the garden and kitchen; all she needs is some expert advice.

How we made the connection:
Brother Rick Curry runs a bakery school for the handicapped in Belfast, Maine. He's offered Dyre bakery and marketing internships and an introduction to the head baker of the Culinary Institute of America. We also connected Dyre with Nancy G. Creamer, Ph.D., director of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems at North Carolina State University, who will help set up the garden. And chef Alice Waters has invited Dyre to visit the Edible Schoolyard, her organic garden in Berkeley, and her restaurant Chez Panisse.

Ella Porter
Atascadero, California
Founder of a preschool and infant center

Her dream:
By mortgaging her house and applying for government funding, Porter, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, has already managed to build a preschool and infant center for children with and without disabilities. STARS (Successful Transition and Resource Services), opens this month—but she needed our help to find a playground designer.

How we made the connection:
Amy Barzach is the cofounder and director of Boundless Playgrounds, a nonprofit organization that helps develop universally accessible playgrounds. She has agreed to donate her company's services to Porter's project. We thought that Porter should also meet Mary Palmer Smith, founder and executive director of Babyland Family Services, a nonprofit company that helps provide more than 1,500 low income and special-needs children with child care and other services. The company now has a $17.5 million budget but started out small.

"Ella sounds just like me 40 years ago," said Smith, who has offered to be her mentor.

Erica Mathews
Dennis, Massachusetts
Founder of a writing program for children

Her dream:
After successfully running a children's writing program on a shoestring last summer, Mathews knew she had to make it permanent.

"It's really important that these kids, who are not necessarily super-achievers, athletic or popular, be given an outlet like writing," said Mathews. She asked for help with creating a business plan and inspiring young writers.

How we made the connection:
We put Mathews in touch with Gary De Francesco, of the Funding Connection, who promised to guide her through fund-raising and writing a business plan. De Francesco has also agreed to introduce her to Lucy Calkins, a professor of education at Teachers College of Columbia University who has developed a children's writing program. And we enlisted the help of Susan Carlisle, M.F.A., a preceptor in expository writing at Harvard University, who will mentor Mathews.

"I see writing change peoples' lives again and again," Carlisle says.


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