This article originally appeared in We Are Notre Dame on June 23, 2020

Dreaming to Uplift Underserved Students

Dorene Dominguez ’85 has a full plate.

As the CEO of the Vanir Group of Companies, Inc. and its subsidiaries, Dominguez heads one of the leading Hispanic and woman-owned program, project, and construction management firms in the United States. That would be enough to keep anyone busy.

But Dominguez doesn’t leave her work at her day job. Her pursuits are extensive. Dominguez currently serves on two public boards, kb Home and CIT Bank. Additionally, she is a Governor of an NBA team, the Sacramento Kings — and a member of the Notre Dame Board of Trustees. That’s not including her work as founder and chairwoman of The Dominguez Dream in Memory of H. Frank Dominguez, a public 501(c)3 non-profit organization that serves elementary schools in underserved communities and empowers students through literacy and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math), enrichment activities, and parent engagement.

The origins of The Dominguez Dream, which Dominguez founded in 2004 in memory of her late father, tie directly to her family’s connection to Notre Dame. Dorene graduated in 1985 with an undergraduate degree in finance, while her brother, Richard, earned his Notre Dame law degree in 1989. It was at Richard’s law school commencement — where former chairman of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee and sixth Commissioner of MLB Peter Uebberoth delivered the commencement address — that the seeds of The Dominguez Dream were planted.

“He challenged the graduates to adopt their high school or elementary school in order to give back to their community,” Dominguez explained. “Well, that certainly didn’t fall on deaf ears. My father (Frank), who had never attended college, immediately came home and adopted his elementary school (Burbank Elementary School in San Bernardino, California). My father set out to address the immediate needs of the school. He provided them with building maintenance such as exterior painting, refinished the blacktop for the playground and other fixes throughout the campus. He also provided food baskets for the families and encouraged parent participation in their child’s education. My father saw there was a need to inspire the parents and students at the school so he took the time to talk with them about his success with Vanir Group of Companies, Inc. and how they could achieve the same success by staying in school and working hard. He had died unexpectedly in 2004, and when he passed away, I formalized The Dominguez Dream in memory of him and to follow his legacy.”

Since 2004, The Dominguez Dream has touched over 300,000 students and families in public and parochial schools across California and Arizona, providing after-school programs that aim to stoke interest in education and reinforce the belief that they can achieve success.

In addition to programs for the students, the organization also provides basic needs in the form of food gift cards; school uniforms; Chromebooks and iPads in order to address the digital divide crisis; parental engagement activities; and an annual principal’s retreat, which allows for the sharing of best practices.

The emphasis on STEAM — rather than STEM — is important to Dominguez, as the arts are just as valuable to a well-rounded education as the other disciplines represented in the acronym.

In working with third, fourth, and fifth graders, Dominguez finds the program can reach children at a critical age where they are most open to believing they can pursue anything. By high school, they often begin to feel intimidated or afraid of failure, particularly in under-resourced areas.

Apart from her work with The Dominguez Dream, however, Dominguez has partnered with Associate Vice President for Undergraduate Enrollment Don Bishop ’77 to organize an annual “Notre Dame Night” for underserved high school students. There, the students are introduced to Notre Dame, its culture, and its academic profile. Underclassmen are encouraged to attend the ND summer program; upperclassmen meet with Bishop to learn the ins and outs of the admissions process.

“They learn about Notre Dame and its culture,” Dominguez said. “If you’re all about yourself, then Notre Dame’s probably is not the right place for you. However, if you’re motivated to help others, then Notre Dame might be the right place for you. That really resonates with a lot of these students because they come from a background that’s very challenging, and they want to give back to their community. It’s so beautiful to see.”

It’s a message Dominguez can deliver sincerely, given her own Notre Dame experience.

“I feel so fortunate and blessed to have attended Notre Dame,” she said. “Notre Dame embraces community and encourages helping one another. And that’s aligned with my values and my upbringing. Notre Dame taught me that success is not only measured by my own success but the ones around me. It’s nurtured my faith and strengthened my purpose in so many ways.”

Many years after that 1989 commencement address, Dominguez had an opportunity to meet with Ueberroth and she recalled to him how his words that day had resonated.

“I said, ‘This is the seed of your speech,’ and he was so touched by that.

“Full circle, right?”