ENTERTAINMENT

Oprah helps local organization help kids

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The Oprah Winfrey Show is nearing its final original episode, but Oprah's influence extends well beyond the show -- and we're not talking about her massive media company here.

A locally based organization called U.S. Dream Academy is working to serve some of the city's most at-risk children. As it turns out, the organization's biggest patron is Oprah Winfrey.

Students at Ferebee Hope Elementary School in Southeast Washington spend their afternoons working with some of the latest computer programs, thanks to after-school activities offered by the U.S. Dream Academy. Five days a week, tutors and activities help the students stay focused and engaged.

Tanya Callender, dream academy center director, said the academy provides a safe haven from the community, where poverty and crime are rampant.
"They sometimes walk through crime scenes on their way to school," said Ferebee Hope Elementary Principal Sharron Stroman.

Inside, the academy aims to nurture, encourage and inspire children. Oprah spoke at the academy's annual gala in D.C. in 2005, then surprised everyone with a gift to its founder, Wintley Phipps.

"I was thinking it was one thing to go but what else can I do?" Oprah said at the gala. "I'm going to write a check for $1 million... because I believe in the dream," she said, handing a check to Phipps.

To date, Oprah has given the program $5 million.

"Words really cant even describe the impact she's had on our organization and the thousands of kids we have reached," said Diane Wallace Booker, the Dream Academy's executive director. "She's just been a wonderful blessing to us and to the kids around the country and we thank her for her incredible support."

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