Za’Nia Stinson spent the first five years of her life struggling with homelessness. At times, she lived in a women and children’s shelter in Charlotte with her grandmother. That’s until her “forever family” came into the picture.
Stinson said that although she began living with them at 5 years old, she wasn’t officially adopted until 2019. She quickly adjusted to her new surroundings, parents and sister — almost forgetting the previous struggles she experienced as a young child.
That was until a grocery trip to their local Food Lion. “I kind of forgot about being in the shelter until that moment — I saw kids that didn’t have food, so I really wanted to help more and give back to the community because I used to be in that situation,” Stinson recalled.
Stinson and her mother decided to start an organization called Z Feeds Angel Food Project. They create “Go-Go Bags” full of food and toiletries and deliver them to the women & children’s shelter where Stinson used to live. She also gives them to homeless people she sees, as well as a hotel near her church that houses some homeless people.
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“I know how it felt to not have food or be able to go get food. So I really have empathy for those people,” Stinson said.
Her passion for helping people made her stand out in her application to the Disney Dreamers Academy (DDA). “When I found out I got in, it was a really exciting day. I ran upstairs to call my sister. She was also in DDA back in 2009, so I was excited to be like her,” Stinson said.
The Disney Dreamers Academy brings 100 students to Walt Disney World in Orlando each spring. DDA describes these students as intellectually curious, compassionate, courageous, optimistic and generously spirited.
The students come from all across the country, with interests in STEM, entertainment, entrepreneurship and more. Over four days, the dreamers hear from speakers in their desired field, learn from immersive experiences, and connect with one another all with the goal of fostering their dreams.
So what’s the weekend of a Disney Dreamer like?
The first day started with a welcome celebration where dreamers got to hear from and meet actress, and Disney princess, Halle Bailey. She spoke about her dreams coming true when she was cast as Ariel in the Little Mermaid, as well as the struggles she faced when she received hate from people who disliked a Black woman playing the character. Her overall message to the Dreamers was to never listen to nay-sayers and to pursue your dreams no matter what.
After marching in the parade in Magic Kingdom, the Dreamers got busy at their career deep dives. Each Dreamer spent close to four hours doing hands-on activities related to their career aspirations. R&B artist, H.E.R. joined the music entertainment session and gave some of the students new guitars.
In the animal science deep dive “I first learned how they fix turtle shells, and we did ultrasounds to learn how to fix a broken arm on animals…seeing all the technology they use to fix animals was really cool,” said Za’Nia, whose career goal is to be a dermatologist.
The dreamers also got to meet and chat with experts in their career field, like pilots from Delta Airlines, representatives from the Disney on the Yard program that focuses on HBCU outreach, and a creative director at Hallmark Mahogany.
The Image Makeover session — where designers helped a few students find their personal brand via their attire — was a crowd favorite. Students got to shop with designers and then show off their new outfits on the runway.
The 100 Disney Dreamers also got to have some fun exploring the theme parks in between all of the weekend’s events. To end the four day weekend, the dreamers and their parents attend the commencement ceremony. After showing some highlights from the weekend, parents get to present their child with a “class ring” — and there’s usually no dry eyes.
Applications for next year’s Disney Dreamer’s Academy aren’t yet open, but interested students can learn more about the academy at disneydreamersacademy.com.