Salinas Valley Dream Academy

Image courtesy of Salinas Dream Academy.

Image courtesy of Salinas Dream Academy.

by Teresa Caseras

The Silicon Valley Latino Leadership Summit was a Saturday morning filled with numerous success stories from Latinos throughout Silicon Valley. Being a Latina, I felt particularly proud of all the accomplishments from these amazing people, and lucky to have the chance to listen to inspiring stories that push me to do more. There was an especially proud moment when I looked at a group of young women sitting nearby. Reminding me of myself at that age, they sat there on a crisp Saturday morning eager to learn and absorb everything.

Then I thought, “wow!” they’re lucky to have such an amazing opportunity. If I’m inspired as a mid-career Latina, I can only imagine what they were feeling. As I made my way to their table, I saw so many beautiful smiles. Each girl was such a delight to speak to, well poised and eager to talk.


When I was a teenager, I yearned to understand what was out there in the world for me. How did I get there? Who did I talk to? Where did I go? The questions were endless. I had yet to meet the person who is helping these girls navigate through and answer all of these questions. This turned out to be Ruben Pizarro, J.D., Founder and Executive Director of Salinas Valley Dream Academy (‘Dream Academy’). Mr. Pizarro has since shared his story with me on the organization’s roots and mission.

Back in 2008, Pizarro taught an AP Government class at Alisal High School in East Salinas. His goal was to make sure that his students were exposed to civic engagement outside of the classroom. He asked them for ways to do this. The top of their wish list was to attend the Presidential Inauguration.

“The students were inspired by the fact that they could witness the inauguration of our country’s first black president. They wanted to be a part of history,” said Pizarro.

That first year, 33 low-income students (including a current team leader who graduated from UC Davis) took up the challenge and together raised over $60,000 in 4-5 months to fund the trip.

Little did Pizarro know that this event would lay the groundwork for something that would impact hundreds of students in the community; that it would help kids realize the many opportunities available to them. And, ultimately create the Dream Academy.

The Salinas Valley Dream Academy is a non-profit, youth leadership academy. Its mission is to inspire young students to dream, empower them to act on those dreams, and to become confident servant leaders in their communities. The academy is comprised of 100 underserved high school students. Each is hand-selected by a team of local educators. As part of the Academy, students participate in numerous community service activities, engaged in team building activities, college visits, a dynamic speaker series and fundraising for a year-end educational trip to the East Coast.

One memorable event included meeting Antonio Tijerino, the President/CEO of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation. This initial meeting eventually led to Tijerino partnering with the Dream Academy to organize a briefing at the White House with six of President Obama’s staffers in June, 2015. The kids have also been to Washington D.C., New York City and Boston, visited with United States Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta inside the Pentagon, and had first-class tours at Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Georgetown, UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz and Stanford. Civic giving is also key to the Academy curriculum. The students proudly organized and distributed over 500 toys to low income K-4th grade students in east Salinas last year.

“Since so many of the students come from families whose parents are low wage workers who work in the fields or packing sheds, are recent immigrants, speak English as a second language, live in a high crime/density areas and have very little formal schooling, they start life with several challenges ahead of them. They have limited exposure to opportunities that can inspire them to dream big. Helping them see all the possibilities in life is what the Dream Academy is all about,” said Pizarro.

Next year, the organization is traveling to Washington D.C. to experience the 2017 Presidential Inauguration. The price of the 8-day, 7-night trip is $1,849 and it includes everything except luggage fees, lunches and spending money.

High school students throughout the Salinas Valley are eligible to apply and participate. High school students interested in participating in the Dream Academy can call or text the Academy Director, Mr. Pizarro at 831-229-7969 or email him at  if they have any questions.

Interested in finding our more about the Dream Academy, visit their website at

Teresa Caseras had a passion for Journalism since high school leading her to earning a B.S. degree in Public Relations with a minor in Marketing from San Jose State University. As her career progressed, Teresa found a quick enthusiasm for the field of Marketing. Over the past 15 years, Teresa has provided her expertise in Marketing and Public Relations to various industries from Healthcare, technology and the financial industry. As a daughter of a foster child, Teresa found a special interest in mentoring those less fortunate so on her off time Teresa volunteers as a mentor to college students encouraging and motivating them to pursue their own career goals. Teresa is currently seeking opportunities to serve on a non-profit board that fits her passion as a mentor to less fortunate children.