History of Warm Dorm

In June 2005, an article appeared in The San Diego Union Tribune about a student who was graduating from a local high school and heading to a university on the East Coast with a full scholarship. San Diego resident, Mary Johnson, read the article and was touched to learn all the student overcame to pursue her dream of being the first member of her family to go to college. The student openly shared that she suffered abuse at the hands of a trusted family friend and in order to get the best possible education, she spent hours each day commuting on public transportation back and forth from San Diego to Tijuana.  

While reading the article, Mary reflected on her own path that included sending her two sons off to college and all the things the student would need that would not be covered by her scholarship. From sheets to towels and shower caddies, the list was long and costly. Mary had a friend who worked at the school that the student was attending and thought they could help her facilitate a small donation.  

This thought stuck with Mary when she received a call from the San Diego Alumnae Panhellenic Association asking if she could represent the members at a scholarship event the following night. The ceremony happened to be held at the same school the student was attending. Mary accepted and planned to bring an additional check for the said student.  

She arrived at the awards Ceremony and was seated next to a young woman who was also presenting an award that night. Mary asked if she had read the amazing article about one of the graduates and she beamed and responded, “Yes, she is one of my girls!”  She explained that she worked at an after-school program called Barrio Logan College Institute (BLCI) whose mission was to help minority students become the first in their family to go to college.  All eight of “her girls” she worked with were preparing to head off to college. When Mary asked how they were going to handle buying dorm supplies, she said that was a huge worry, as their families did not have the capacity to cover the additional costs.  She shared that one family didn’t even have a spare towel to send. Mary said she tucked her small check back in her purse and replied, “I don’t how I’m going to do it, but I’m going to make sure all those girls have their dorm rooms taken care of!  I will call you tomorrow!”   

That night, Mary contacted a small group of friends and neighbors and asked them to either purchase an item for a student’s dorm or make a monetary donation. Within a few days, the group had amassed a collection of dorm room supplies and over $1,435 in cash. Warm Dorm was born, and with it an annual tradition had begun. Every year since, this dedicated group of anonymous supporters secretly deliver the items to BLCI, and the team plans a surprise “Reveal Party” for the students and families. Not all the graduates go away to a dorm room and the group calls them their “Stay-at-Homers.” Not to be forgotten, these students are also provided with a variety of items to help them transition into the college world. 

Warm Dorm is celebrating its 20th year of giving back and thanks to their generosity, the group has Warmed up the Dorms of 276 students, raising a total of $135,000 and counting. The list of donated items has grown over the years and includes a sweatshirt with the name of the student’s intended university. To emphasize a college going culture, the group also donates t-shirts for the incoming BLCI Class of 3rd graders to wear on field trips and to help introduce them to the wide range of schools they can choose from. Mary’s wish is that one day a BLCI student will be persuaded to attend her alma mater, Kansas State, because of a shirt they wore in 3rd grade.  

BLCI has grown over the past 20 years to include 4 additional programs outside of the home location of Barrio Logan. Mary and the Warm Dormers are encouraging others to join their efforts and help warm up the dorms of all 79 of the Class of 2024 Seniors, “A dream of mine is to encourage other women to start their own chapter of Warm Dorm.  I would love to see women across the nation join together with friends and start their own Warm Dorm.  This is such a fun and rewarding thing to do – and its impact is huge!” 

Thank you to Mary and all the Warm Dormers for supporting BLCI seniors during such an important time of life. To learn more about how you can become involved, contact Erin@BLCI.  

To make an immediate impact, donate in support of the Class of 2024 or select an item to be shipped directly to BLCI from our Amazon Wish list

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