Exclusive: 'DREAMer of the Year' Dascha Polanco Talks Giving Back to Her Community

Exclusive: 'DREAMer of the Year' Dascha Polanco Talks Giving Back to Her Community

Giving back to your community can be very fulfilling, something Dascha Polanco understands very well. It was a huge week for her as she was honored at both the K.I.D.S/Fashion Delivers annual gala and The DREAM Project (Dominican Republic Education and Mentoring Project) for her activist contributions. Polanco was one of many who helped The K.I.D.S./Fashion Delivers annual gala rise over $1.7 million to help children and families challenged by poverty and natural disaster Wednesday night.

On Thursday, The DREAM Project (Dominican Republic Education and Mentoring Project) honored the Orange is the New Black star as its "DREAMer of the Year." She was recognized for her philanthropic work, including a new theater and arts program she is developing for youth in the Dominican Republic in collaboration with DREAM.

MORE: Dascha Polanco Joins New Body Positive Fitness Initiative 

Being a Dominican woman who came to the U.S. as a young immigrant, Polanco had a dream – one she's living as a famed actress. Now she can empower her people to do the same. "One of the things that was instilled in me since I was in kindergarten was education. Because no one can take away my degrees, no one can take away my educational experience. I know how to act in different social environments. I know how to research. I enjoy learning and it's great as a person to cultivate your mind," Polanco said. 

We caught up with Polanco about the The DREAM Project's 5th Annual NYC Benefit, what the recognition means to her and why she gives back to her community.

What does tonight mean to you?

I do these things not for the publicity. if you look at the pictures, I don't care whose watching. This work enriches my soul. Some people think money and status are everything. Not me. Anything that's obtainable to me means nothing. Because you die tomorrow and you leave everything behind.

How can you relate to this organization?

To me, the DREAM Project and I can relate because I had a dream. I remember coming here as an immigrant and the stars aligning: God and this was my journey. I have to do something for my country, the Dominican Republic. And the fact that this organization helps kids, no matter their circumstance, I admire that. 

Tell me about your theater and arts program.

I'm excited. I'm giving them an outlet to be creative, and it's a way of changing our media in DR. Because we've had years of movies where it's like damn, we gotta work on that. (Laughs) There's a lot of stories that need to be heard.

Will you be teaching the students? 

There will be teachers, but I will be there sometimes showing them exercises. It's going to be hands-on, and I am still learning myself. I feel like they can relate because I am Dominican, so why not?

As a young girl, were your parents big on education?

One of the things that was instilled in me since I was in kindergarten was education. Because no matter what you do, get your education. I have my degrees, no one can take away my education experience. I know how to act in different social environments. I know how to research. I enjoy learning, and it's great as a person to cultivate your mind. 

PLUS: Dascha Polanco Goes Pantless, Embraces Her Curves At NYFW Show

What's your message to some people who don't want to go to school sometimes? 

Here's the thing: to each it's own. Nowadays, things are different. Everyone has their own path and journey. But when I was applying to a job, they always required a bachelor's a or a master's degree, and I wanted to make money. Because I just didn't want to be a tech; I wanted to be a supervisor, then manager and continue to go higher. If it makes you happy and you feel you don't need an education to obtain your goals, then go for it. However, I will say you don't need to go to school to get an education, because now millennials have the power to get an education everywhere. Some need to be validated, but it's everywhere. And reading is one of them.