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Truman Scholar Kam Phillips Teaches Columbia Youth to Dream Outside The Box

By the ripe old age of 20, Kam Phillips had done something most college students never have: She started her own organization to help underprivileged children in the Columbia community. Kam came to Mizzou from Fort Worth, Texas, to study journalism in the fall of 2008. She was sure she was destined for the Today Show, but her plans changed in 2009 when she founded Dream Outside the Box. Kam is now an incoming senior in the school of social work and works as hard as ever with DOTB. Due to her leadership and dedication to public service, Kam was recently named a 2011 Truman Scholar. What started as an idea is now a campus wide organization that helps up to 80 children a week. This collegiette™’s story is truly a message of following your heart.

Her Campus Mizzou: Can you explain Dream Outside the Box?
Kam Phillips:
Dream Outside the Box is a program that goes to the Boys and Girls Club weekly and exposes the children there to new and exciting things, such as fencing and engineering, so that they realize they don’t have to be rappers or football players to succeed. We bring in Mizzou organizations and also give the children opportunities to do community service throughout the year.

HCM: How did you come up with that idea?
After meeting the kids (at the Boys and Girls Club) freshman year, I realized the scope of their ambitions, and for the most part, it was limited. I grew up a black rodeo cowgirl whose parents took her skiing and supported all kinds of activities: ballet, folklorico dance, 4-H, public speaking and so much more. I wanted the Boy and Girls Club kids to have these kinds of experiences and live in a world where anything is possible – because it is!

HCM: What’s your favorite thing about DOTB?
Seeing the kids’ excitement blossom after a little resistance. The children often turn their noses up to activities, but once they begin participating, they absolutely light up. And that’s a huge victory for me.

HCM: How many volunteers are involved?
While we have about 120 members on our list serve, we have a core group of about 30 members who attend meetings, volunteer and help plan programming.

HCM: What is a typical day like for a DOTB volunteer?
DOTB volunteers arrive at the Boys and Girls Club between 5:15 and 5:30 p.m. Many times we arrive earlier and help with homework and get caught up with the kids, ask about their day, etc. Around 5:30, the BGC staff and I work to transition the kids from their homework time to DOTB time. Once that starts, I introduce the kids to the presenters or activity for the day, and we get started. Volunteers help in many different ways, primarily to keep the kids focused while the presenters interact with them. All programming should be interactive, so the kids and volunteers are up and moving and having fun. Everything typically concludes at 6:30 p.m. There is very little cleanup, and then the volunteers are free to go!

HCM: How many kids does DOTB help?
There are about 150 students at the BGC that go through our programming at any given time. However, on average we work with about 35 kids each programming day – up to 80 children with direct DOTB contact each week.

HCM: You mentioned that kids participate in activities such as fencing and engineering. How do you find new programs that keep the kids interested?
We accept programs that fit into the mission of DOTB: to broaden horizons and provide exciting new endeavors for the kids. When you ask the kids what DOTB is, they will often say simply, “When you get to have fun.” There are programs that I just know instinctively that I want to bring to the kids, such as horses and fencing. And we’re very persistent in our efforts to make these things happen for the kids. We put our minds together to make dreams a reality!

HCM: Why is this program so important to you?
I put in work knowing that I am changing lives. It seems really bold to say that, but when children tell me that with the help of DOTB, they realize they can be engineers or entrepreneurs or they come up to me speaking French rather than Ebonics, the tremendous progress they show is real, and a piece of it will be with them forever.

HCM: While DOTB is obviously rewarding, I’m sure it’s demanding as well. How has being the founder and director of such a program affected you?
It is extremely rewarding, and I have learned so much. I sometimes forget about self-care, which is so important for any college student, let alone one that is super active. If I were to give a bit of advice, it’d definitely be to take care of yourself: emotionally, spiritually, physically and mentally. Whenever I can, I go grab a hot-rock massage at Salon Nefisa, a facial or mani-pedi. I also rely a lot on going to church, which helps me find my foundation. I do feel like I’ve neglected my fabulous friends a little bit, and my social life has been slightly affected. It’s important to remember why you’re on campus first and foremost. I’m a student first, director second!

HCM: Do you ever find yourself overwhelmed with school, activities, friends, etc.?
Absolutely! It’s difficult to balance everything and stay healthy and happy, but everything always works out in the end.

HCM: Were you ever hesitant in switching your major and starting your own organization?
Not really. I was never hesitant about starting DOTB. I was excited! When it came to switching my major, there was minor hesitation. I came to Mizzou, 13 hours away from home, as a 17-year-old freshman because [I wanted to attend] the No. 1 journalism school in the nation. So I had to decide whether I could abandon what got me here, or if I needed to transfer closer to home and work on DOTB there. But I decided I loved Mizzou and that journalism may have been what got me here, but DOTB and the school of social work would keep me here.

HCM: Do you hope to continue this program after graduation? Is someone going to continue it here in Columbia?
Yes. We believe in having freshmen and sophomores on our executive board and in leadership positions so that they continue the program once the leaders have graduated.

HCM: Have you thought about expanding DOTB to other campuses or cities?
Sure. There have been discussions about everywhere from Illinois to Texas. But Dream Outside the Box is learning and growing and developing into a program that can have long-standing development and sustainability. We’re at the point where I can be absent, and it can still run. Soon, we’ll be in a place where it can run all over the country.

HCM: Where do you see yourself in five years?
Career-wise, I don’t know where I will be precisely … maybe a nonprofit director or a recent graduate of Harvard Law School. But I do know that I’ll be in the nonprofit sector working to have an impact on social change.

HCM: When you’re not busy with DOTB, what do you do?
I watch a lot of Hulu (it’s my escape!), attend church twice a week and teach Sunday School. And when I can, I fly home, ride horses and have a great time with my family. I don’t go out a lot, that’s rare, but I do attempt to scrounge up scraps of a social life so as not to neglect my fabulous friends!

HCM: If you could give one piece of advice to our collegiettes™, what would it be?
Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! It costs nothing to dream but everything not to.

For more information on Dream Outside the Box, visit the DOTB website or email Kam directly at: kamphillips@dreamoutsidethebox.org

I am a University of Missouri student, majoring in photojournalism, minoring in Textile and Apparel Management and Business. I love fashion and magazines and hope to someday pursue my dream of living in New York City working in the fashion industry.
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