Changing Lives for Chicago Public School Students

Brad and Angelina, Bill and Melinda, Barack and Michelle. All power couples known for their philanthropy.

And while Northwestern students Hiro Kawashima and Aria Fiat might not yet be household names, they are changing the world for high-need students in Chicago. They co-founded Supplies for Dreams, a student-run nonprofit that provides CPS students with school supplies and mentoring.

It started as a summer project for these New Trier alums, just six months into their relationship, as Fiat reconsidered an upcoming trip to France and Kawashima looked back on his Habitat for Humanity build in New Orleans.

“It was great to build a house with the team, but in the end I was just donating my time as a volunteer to hammer in one nail at a time,” he says.  “I realized that if there’s going to be a larger change that happens, it’s got to be on a larger level.”

Meanwhile, Fiat was becoming disillusioned with her summer plans. “Hiro was talking about doing this project, and I thought, that’s exactly what I need to do,” she says. “I don’t need to take a month of vacation. I need to find a way to give back.”

So, Supplies for Dreams was born. While Brangelina may have adopted children from all over the world, Kawashima and Fiat have taken more than a thousand children under their wings through their programs. After three years of rapid growth, the group is now based at Northwestern and encompasses more than 100 volunteers and four core programs. This upcoming school year, they will support 1,500 students with backpacks, supplies and mentoring programs, a 50 percent increase from 2010.

Supplies for Dreams works with partner schools to identify the students who have the greatest need. For instance, at Manuel Perez Elementary School, about 90 percent of the students are at or below the poverty line. Supplies for Dreams donated 400 backpacks to Perez last year, and they also hosted several workshops and field trips for those students.

While Kawashima and Fiat never expected their high school summer project to become a fully functioning nonprofit three years later, they are dedicated to helping the group become a permanent fixture for Northwestern and the North Shore community.

“It’s always nice when two people share something they’re really passionate about, beyond one another,” Fiat says. “We both made a commitment to our organization to keep it afloat no matter what, and the fact that we’ve done this and accomplished it together has strengthened our relationship all the more.”

For more information about Supplies for Dreams, visit

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