Jason Vallery became a "dreamer" while at Lafayette's Pioneer Elementary in one of the earliest classes sponsored by the "I Have a Dream" Foundation of Boulder County.

His childhood was difficult after his parents, who both had dropped out of high school, divorced. He changed schools often and eventually was removed from his mom's custody. He lived in a group home and then moved in with his dad. With his dad, he lived in Longmont all four years of high school and graduated from Longmont High.

Though he attended seven different schools before graduating, he said, the "I Have a Dream" staff made sure he continued to feel like a part of the Pioneer class and benefit from the program's services.

"The project coordinators would check on me and drive me to meetings," he said. "When my mom forgot to pay the phone bill, they would show up and knock on my door to make sure I was OK."

Now with a 7-year-old son himself, Vallery works for Microsoft and is sponsoring a new Longmont "dreamer."

"'I Have a Dream' helped break the cycle of poverty," he said.

Vallery spoke Thursday at Boulder County's 16th annual "I Have a Dream" luncheon. About 675 people -- a record -- attended the Broomfield event, a fundraiser for a new class of "dreamers" in Longmont.

Each class starts with 50 third-graders chosen based on family income and residency in low-income housing. Students are guaranteed four-year tuition-assistance scholarships after graduating high school. A project coordinator, mentors and tutors also work with the students through their high school graduation and into college or vocational school.

Traditionally, a single person or foundation has sponsored each class. But the organization has begun asking a group to serve as sponsors, making the prospect more affordable. The commitment to sponsor one student is $2,000 a year for 10 years.

By the end of Thursday's event, attendees had pledged to sponsor most of the students in the next class.

Beatrice Lombrera, a single mother who has a third-grader and fourth-grader in the dreamer class at Lafayette's Pioneer Elementary and a preschooler, spoke about the benefits of the program. Her children's reading has improved, she said, and they're "coming out of their shells" thanks to activities such as soccer and tennis.

She said she recently earned her GED, but wants her children to graduate and go on to college.

"Education is very important," she said.

The event also honored Gabriela Hernandez, who graduated from Niwot High School and is a senior at New Mexico Highlands University majoring in media arts and Spanish.

She received the Dakota Solomon Memorial Scholarship to pay for books, room and board and other college expenses. The scholarship was created by local couple Kristen and Ariel Solomon in memory of their son Dakota, who died at age 7 in an accident.

Hernandez said she discovered a love of activism while in college and has participated in grassroots organizing for immigrants -- something she plans to continue in the future. The best part of the "I Have a Dream" program, she said, was the relationships she developed with the program coordinator and volunteer AmeriCorps members.

"I struggled in high school with grades," she said. "I didn't believe in myself or that I could go to college. They never gave up on me."