Credit: Horizons National

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In EW’s column Act With Me, stars share their personal stories about giving back. This week, Girls star Allison Williamsspeaks about Horizons, which provides educational resources for low-income families through yearly summer programs and ongoing classroom support.

Williams has known about the program since childhood – the organization began at her elementary school in the 1970s and her mom served on the board. So, she grew up watching its impact first-hand. “I’m an idealist in a sense,” she says. “Contributing factors to someone’s inability to make their dreams come true are not in their control. Often, it’s a generational cycle. And the notion of breaking that cycle and redirecting it to start creating a legacy of increased education, increased opportunity, increased achievement in a demographic that is so often ignored is so appealing to me.”

“By working with kids, ideally from a young age, Horizons basically redirects them from the path statistics and history would show they are likely to follow, to a path of their own choosing. And that is the product of their dreams,” Williams explains. A mixture of summer school and camp, Horizons was first devised to help low-income students avoid the “summer slide.” With an expanding network of programs that stretch from pre-Kindergarten to high school, Horizons provides resources and support for low-income students to help them excel in their education. Students attend a yearly six-week summer camp where they engage in academic classes with a focus on literacy and STEM, as well as an emphasis on recreational activities like arts, swimming, and sports. With students returning year after year and receiving additional support during the school year, they are placed on a path to success.

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“Basically, it’s this added dose of confidence and self-worth,” says Williams. Children in the program first learn this lesson through mandatory swim lessons. “They realize subconsciously that just because no one they know can do something doesn’t mean they can’t. Over the course of their life and their education, it just trains them to ignore the naysayers.” The actress believes that many of the issues our country faces boil down to education and says Horizons offers an option for structural change without government involvement. She spends much of her free time working to open new branches of the program around the country.

Williams talks animatedly about the graduates she’s met from the program, including a kid who received a competitive diving scholarship to college after learning to swim in the program who is now running a pilot program to extend Horizons into high school. Other graduates she’s met include a student working on their doctorate and a freshman at Harvard. “All of them say without Horizons, their would be completely different. It’s that black and white,” Williams says. “Due to no fault of their own or their parents, they just weren’t born with the same deck of cards that other kids were born with. Horizons basically says, we’re going to make that variable irrelevant and actually realize this idea of the American dream, which in practicality, is so unevenly distributed among the citizens of our country.”

During the annual “10 Days of Giving” (July 18-27), which Williams created, follow her Instagram (@aw) and Facebook page for news on products and experiences you can win in exchange for donations. Contact Horizons if you believe there’s a need for a branch in your community. “The formula works and it’s easy to replicate,” she says.