Kerry-Ann Malcolm, Joseph's mother and a city educator, recalled her daughter coming home covered in dirt and paint from working at the house, where she would later spend the majority of her free time and sometimes even sleep over.

"It went from a project to a passion to 'I can't live without this house,' " Malcolm said. "They all just felt such a sense of ownership of everything around them."

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke recalled the stir the Youth Dreamers caused when they came to her district and how they easily joined the community.

Clarke, who attended the grand opening of the Dream House, said she sees the funding woes as an "interruption," not an end.

"When the youth are in their Dream House, they are pursuing all kinds of academic and other opportunities," Clarke said. "We talk about the whole child and holistic education, but when an opportunity like this comes along, it doesn't fit the mold, and the molds don't adjust to make it happen."

Clarke said she believes the Youth Dreamers will occupy the house once again.

"We are all devastated that they are pushing the pause button," Clarke said. "It's a loss for the community, for the youth, and the youth who would have benefited, who in the next year and half won't have the opportunity. But there has to be a way to pull this back together."

The Dreamers are writing a book to document their nine-year journey. They still get calls from across the country from youth groups — they're heading to Maine this month — to share how they did it.

"I feel like even with the house gone, we achieved the dream," said Iman Cuffie, a Youth Dreamer since seventh grade and a senior at Western High School. "People invite us places, and they actually want to hear what we have to say."

The group is raising money to publish the book, titled "I Am Not A Test Score: Lessons Learned from Dreaming," through Otter Bay Books in January. The writing is a collaboration of six young authors and two adults, including Berdan.

"We were looking for a sense of closure because we learned more from the process than the success of the house," Berdan said. "And we felt that no matter what happened, we needed to make sure people knew that."

Youth Dreamer Keyani Kenny got a series of denial letters from colleges because of her SAT scores.

Before she got a letter from Salem College in North Carolina, she called an admissions counselor there and pleaded her case — something she couldn't have imagined doing if she hadn't started public speaking and writing grants when she joined the Youth Dreamers in seventh grade.

"Since I've been in Youth Dreamers, I've been speaking up about things I'm passionate about, and I'm passionate about my education," said Kenny. "I just let her know that I know my test scores weren't where they should have been, but I needed to be in school, that I was determined and I was going to make it."

Now a sophomore at Salem, Kenny said she is "heartbroken" that the group lost the house but believes that perhaps it was meant to be, to give the Dreamers time to spread their message farther and wider.

"We don't want it to be about bashing the school system; that's not our goal," she said. "It's more to bring to light these numbers affect too many people's lives, and are why we're in this situation."

Berdan said that though the future is uncertain, the Youth Dreamers stand for determination and self-sufficiency.

"We are not looking to be saved," she said. "We're looking to be sustainable."

erica.green@baltsun.com

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