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The Dream Center of Pickens County Holds Fashion Show Fundraiser
Models Include Residents of The Dream Center's Opportunity Village
By Karen Brewer

"I don’t think that I can put into words how The Dream Center has changed my life,” said Robert, one of the seven residents of The Dream Center of Pickens County’s Opportunity Village, as he spoke with The Christian View magazine. “They give people purpose and hope for tomorrow. When I came here, I didn’t know where to find that hope. When you don’t have hope for tomorrow, it makes it really hard to live for today. They gave me hope. These people work around the clock to make sure that people’s needs are met, but they won’t just give you a hand out; they’ll give you a hand up. They empower people to help themselves. By their motto, helping with a hand up and not a hand out, they’re empowering people to be able to do for themselves. And I think the only way that we’re going to change a community is by helping people to do for themselves. And they do that here at The Dream Center. It’s a beautiful place.”

Robert was one of five residents of Opportunity Village who, along with several community leaders, participated as models in The Dream Center’s first fashion show, modeling clothes available at The Dream Center’s resale stores in Easley and Pickens, which help fund The Dream Center. “It was an amazing experience,” Robert said of the fashion show. “It was fun. It was memorable.”

Angela, another Opportunity Village resident, also modeled in the fashion show. “Angie was the first resident of Opportunity Village,” said Robert.
“I was near starvation, and I’m fighting non-alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver,” Angela told The Christian View. “When I was praying for God to put something in my path, this was it. And they opened their arms up to me and helped me so much. I’m blessed. I’m alive. I wouldn’t be alive if it wasn’t for the Center. God comes first. He works through them. You don’t do anything with Christ. I want to be the light of Jesus. I want to be that light from a mile away.”

“Sheila was in it (the fashion show), too,” said Robert. “She’s a sweet woman, and she loves Jesus Christ. She is our Bible encyclopedia. If you ask her any question about the Bible, she’ll be able to tell you. I love her. She’s sweet. They’re all like mothers to me. I’m the ‘baby’ of the program. They kind of take me under their wing, and they love on me, and they pray with me.”

“I’m thankful for The Dream Center helping me, and I’m thankful for the sanctuary here,” Sheila told The Christian View. “They have helped me to try to get closer to God here. The Bible studies I just love.”

“It’s one of the best programs I’ve been through,” said Randy, another Opportunity Village resident who modeled in the fashion show. “It’s a great faculty and staff and nice people who come and volunteer.”

“This is amazing,” said Reneé, the fifth resident of Opportunity Village who modeled in the fashion show. “I don’t know where I would be if it wasn’t for The Dream Center,” she told The Christian View. “It’s like a second chance at life.”

Jason and his wife, Deanna, new residents of Opportunity Village, weren’t in the fashion show, but spoke well of The Dream Center. “If anybody has any kind of problem whatsoever in their life, this is a great place to come, because it is faith-based, and they brought Jesus Christ in my life,” Jason told The Christian View magazine. He thanked the staff, whom he called amazing, as well as “all of the volunteers and all of the people who come in and donate to make sure that people like us get a hand up and not a hand out.”

 “They put God first,” said Deanna. “Everything is seeking the kingdom of heaven first. They’re changing lives. And just meeting the people who live here and see how much it’s changed their lives, it’s amazing. God led us to this. Everybody here has shown us so much love. We love it here.”

“We do,” Jason agreed, “but we’re going to move forward to get out. It’s a moving-forward process. Bad decisions got us here, and, through this, we’re able to correct our lives.” He spoke of how many of the tiny homes in Opportunity Village are completely built on the outside but not yet finished on the inside and said that there is a waiting list of applicants wanting to come. He added that, once he is financially able, he wants to give back to The Dream Center and help others, just as he has been helped. “When I come back out of it, making my money, I’m going to give mine right here,” he said. “That’s what I’m going to do. I’ll make sure some people come through who don’t have a place to stay, because I know how it feels. It’s horrible, and you feel lost.”

              Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

              Libby Dalton (center), who chaired The Dream Center's fashion show fundraiser, is pictured with Ashley
              Cox (left), Manager of The Dream Center's Resale Store in Easley, and Amanda Taylor (right), Manager of
              The Dream Center's Resale Store in Pickens.

Chris Wilson, who serves as Executive Director of The Dream Center, welcomed the crowd to the fashion show, which was held in the auditorium of The Dream Center and raised funds for the Center and its programs, and she thanked the attendees for coming to discover what The Dream Center is about. “You’re going to have a really awesome fashion show to see and amazing food to eat,” she added. “We’re grateful that you would spend your time with us this morning, and we’re going to make it worth your ticket.”

She then introduced Julie Caldwell, one of the members of The Dream Center’s founding group and a longtime volunteer, who opened the event with prayer. “Let’s pray together," said Caldwell. "Father, we praise you for all that you do, Lord, and that you let us be a part of it. I thank you for this place. Father, I thank you for the power that you show in the lives of your people, Lord, that you are a God who takes what’s dead and makes it alive. Lord, you take the hurting and you heal. Lord, you take what’s broken, and you make it whole. I praise you, Lord. We praise you here today for what you are doing here among us and that you let us be a part of it. We offer this time to you. We give our thanks and our gratefulness to you, Father, for this place and for what you’re doing. And it is in your wonderful Son’s name, Jesus, we pray, Amen.”

Caldwell then sang “Surely the Presence of the Lord is in this Place.”

Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Julie Caldwell and Alison Roller at The Dream Center's fashion show fundraiser.

Wilson then introduced the managers of The Dream Center’s resale shops in Pickens and Easley. “I want to introduce a couple of people who are very, very special. Amanda Taylor has been a part of The Dream Center since the beginning. She was on our original Board. She was also one of the members of the founding group that started the Dream Center. Today, she serves as the Manager of our Resale Store in Pickens. She’s one of my favorite people in the whole world. We are honored that she is part of our team. Ashley Cox served with The Dream Center as a volunteer, originally,” she said, adding that she has a servant’s heart with a great work ethic and wants to help others. “It is a blessing and an honor that she is going to be able to be a part of our team. She now serves as the Manager of the Easley Resale Store, which officially has been open for two years this month.”

Wilson also thanked the committee, chaired by Libby Dalton, who organized the fashion show. “We had a committee that put this fashion show together, and they were the most hard working group of ladies and have put a lot of time into this. Not only are you going to see an amazing fashion show, you’re going to hear stories of life transformation today, because many of our models are residents of the Opportunity Village, and you’re going to hear their stories. You’re going to have amazing food. You’re going to go shopping. You’re going to take a tour of our tiny houses, if you want one. So, there’s so much going on, and I basically did nothing. This committee did everything. I want to introduce them and thank them publicly, because they have done this out of the goodness of their heart, and I am forever grateful: Ashley Cox, John Cox (who is our store delivery driver and also much more than that, Ashley’s husband and just a wonderful ambassador for The Dream Center), Amanda Taylor, Anne Byers, Venetta Berenz, Libby Dalton, Kathy Webb, Diane Porter, and Betty Mullikin.”

Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Libby Dalton and Helen Dodgens

Wilson then explained to the audience about The Dream Center. “I want to share why we’re here,” she said. “I want to give you a little insight into The Dream Center, because, more important than what we’re doing here today is the why we’re doing what we’re doing here today. It’s important to The Dream Center for our volunteers and everybody that comes in our doors, that they understand the why. If it weren’t for the why, I wouldn’t come here every day. So, why is the reason you’re all here today. I’m just excited, because I know you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t understand that.

“We are a non-profit 501(c)(3). We’re faith-based. We help people in need with a hand up instead of a hand out. And we believe the way to really help someone change their life is to educate, encourage, and empower them. We know that it works, because that’s what we’ve been doing for the last four years, and it’s been a success with this model.

“One interesting thing that we like to say is that we offer a hand up instead of a hand out. Well, many times people want to know, it’s easy to say that, but how do you literally offer a hand up instead of a hand out? And one of the primary ways we do that is we have free classes here. So, we have between 50 and 70 free classes every month here. They range from Bible study, budgeting, money management, nutrition, job readiness, anger management, many, many classes that are relevant in today’s world in trying to better our lives. And so, when people come to our classes, they receive Dream Dollars. So, every time you come to a one-hour class, you get eight Dream Dollars. So, what you might not know is our Resale Stores accept Dream Dollars just like cash money. So, when we have people come in our doors that need clothes for their child to go back to school or they need a washer and dryer…. we say, ‘Great. Take some classes. Take a parenting class. Take a budgeting class. Earn these Dream Dollars and go spend them in our Resale Stores just like cash money.

“Since we opened that store, the one in Easley, two years ago, over $50,000 worth of merchandise has been purchased with Dream Dollars. So, when you donate to those resale stores, not only are you allowing that financial impact that helps the Dream Center, 100 percent from those stores goes to support the Dream Center. As an organization that receives no state or federal funding whatsoever, we decided that we needed to open a resale store in order to achieve the financial sustainability that we are going to need. So, not only are you allowing us to financially sustain the program, you’re allowing people to come in and shop alongside you in our resale stores and earn the things they need and buy the things they need and receive a hand up instead of a hand out. So, I wanted to be sure to share that with you, because it’s much more than just a resale store.

“Many of you might be aware that, in March of this year, we opened the Opportunity Village. The Opportunity Village is a one-of-a-kind homeless shelter program. We know it’s one of a kind, because we developed it. We have built a village of tiny houses. When it is completely finished, there will be 23 tiny houses and a resident manager house. Currently, there are 21 tiny houses built. Seven of them are completely finished and occupied. Others are finished on the outside but not the inside. So, now that we have these seven built, we are now fundraising and trying to raise money to start finishing the inside of the rest of the houses.

Slideshow photographs by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Wow. A year ago today, what you see out there, where the tiny houses are now, was just grass. One year ago, we had not even started yet. We started last year on October 22. So, the entire village has basically been built, opened, and operating in that short period of time.”

Wilson said that representatives from 22 organizations from around the United States and even from Canada have come and toured the Opportunity Village, because they were interested in duplicating the program due to The Dream Center’s success. “And, of course, success has nothing to do with the tiny houses,” she said. “The success has everything to do with the program.” She added that the residents from Opportunity Village have been achieving success and changing their lives.

“After the fashion show, we are going to have a time to go into the gym, and there are amazing shopping opportunities in the gym,” she said. “We’ve had to hold ourselves back for today, because they’ve been saving up all these amazing purses, furniture, jewelry. You’re going to have an opportunity to shop for amazing deals. And then, we’ll have a table set up in the gym for the Dream Center, and you can go on a tour. You might not want to go on a tour. You don’t have to. You can just shop and eat. There’s a wonderful brunch in there.”

Wilson then introduced Libby Dalton, who chaired the committee for the fashion show fundraiser. “I want to introduce you to another very special person to me. This lady was also part of the original group that founded The Dream Center. What I love is that the people that were part of the original group of nine people are still involved with The Dream Center in so many ways, and it’s just because they believe it, and they believed in it from day one. And there is nobody who, I think, believes in it more than Libby Dalton. She organized this entire fashion show today, with the help of her committee. She has been so committed to this mission, and I just can’t thank her enough.”

Dalton then introduced Carol Goldsmith, an anchor for WYFF Channel 4, who emceed the fashion show and introduced each model. For the five Dream Center clients who modeled, Goldsmith shared a little about their background and how they came to be residents of Opportunity Village.

“The story behind those homes is really amazing,” Goldsmith said, adding that students at the Pickens County Career and Technology Center helped with construction and put “care and attention and love” into the buildings. “So, I hope, if you haven’t seen them,” she told the audience, “that you take the opportunity today and take a tour, because they really are amazing homes.”

Wilson thanked Goldsmith as well as all of the models, especially the Dream Center clients, who, she said, were nervous about participating but wanted to do it to help others. “My heart was full, because they are amazing individuals,” she said. “I’m very grateful for all of the models today, but especially for the clients that were willing to put their fears aside and do that for us.”

Wilson also thanked Sherri Dunlap, an instructor at Upstate College of Cosmetology, and Qweshanda ‘Q’ Mauney, owner of Q & A Cosmetology, for doing the hair and makeup for the models.

She again thanked Betty Mulliken, who, along with her husband, Jim, made and served the brunch.

Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Stephen Estrada, Program Director for The Dream Center's Opportunity Village, led visitors on tours of Opportunity Village's tiny homes and The Dream Center, following The Dream Center's fashion show fundraiser.

Stephen Estrada, Program Director of Opportunity Village, led visitors on tours of Opportunity Village and The Dream Center.

“These are what we used to call Step 1 houses,” he said of the smallest tiny houses. “They’re 190 square feet, and we have 15 of them. We have five, almost six, that are complete. All of these houses are built to code. These houses can house up to four people.”

Estrada noted that Jason had just moved in and was willing for visitors to see inside his house. His wife, Deanna, had moved in to a house next door.

“Thank y’all so much for your donations,” Jason told the visitors. “It sure does help us out a lot.”

“The SHINE soup kitchen is a non-profit that operates inside of our building,” said Estrada, “and they have agreed to provide all of the food for the residents. They have a light breakfast at 6:45. Then, at lunch time, they can have leftovers from the night before, or they can have a sandwich. Then, at dinner, Monday through Fridays, we serve anywhere from 50 to 80 people through the SHINE soup kitchen. Jason has a degree in culinary arts. He’s a chef. So, one of his responsibilities is going to be helping provide meals for the other residents.

“These houses were sponsored by organizations and individuals. When they donate, they can choose what they want on the top of the house, as well as a Bible verse or quote on the inside.”

He showed visitors to a larger, step two house, donated by Libby and Charles Dalton.

“Randy is in a step 1, and he started a job, and he’ll be in a step two soon. They’re a little longer, and they have a tub and a bigger bathroom. We have 21 currently. The plan is to add one more on this row and one more on that row.

“It’s all under camera. These locks are digital. All of the residents have their own identification cards, and this is how they get in or out of the building. So, if we ever have a problem, we can deactivate it immediately. And throughout the day, we can see when they go in or out of their house as well as have cameras to track that, as well. That was important for us in making this program have families, men and women, because we visited many places before we developed this, to try to find what it is we felt we could do. And every place we went to said, ‘You can either have a program for men or one for women. You can’t have both in the same place. It simply won’t work.’ And we were like, ‘Well, we believe that God wanted us to do that.’ And so far, it’s been great.”

The Dream Center has a vision for what will be called Opportunity Park. “We’re looking for funding for that,” said Estrada, “because our goal is to have a place for kids to play, for some of the adults to hang out, like a little park where they can be able to spend time.”

He then pointed to a donor wall. “It’s going to have a flag pole,” he said. “This is where the bricks for the brick campaign are going to go. We’re selling bricks where people can sponsor for $100. You can put a phrase or your name on the brick for a legacy. It’s going to be all around the flag pole. And, on the back wall, we’re going to have some of our legacy sponsors. And, from the beginning, we’ve called it a gated community. So, we have plans to have a big gate at the front, for it to look like a housing subdivision.”

Estrada then led visitors inside for a tour of The Dream Center, including what is called ‘the quiet room.’ “We have two tv’s in here,” he said. “If a resident wants to watch tv with headphones on or watch their own movie, they can do that. They can do Bible studies. This is kind of their hangout room, the quiet room.”

Next door is the community room. “We have a kid area for them to be able to play. This is where you’ll see the football game on, on the weekend. This is more the loud room where they can play games, they can make coffee or a smoothie, if they want. The Greenville Woodworkers Guild donated their time to build all of the cabinets or us, which is amazing. We don’t allow them to eat meals in here. This is specifically for snacks. They use the fridge. They’ve been going to a lifestyle living class and learning how to eat healthy. We’ve had some professors from Clemson come and teach some classes.

“They go to classes and earn dream dollars. They don’t have to pay rent, but they have to pay a program fee. It’s an all-inclusive program. They don’t necessarily need money. The goal for the money earned here is for them to save it for their future. So, food, shower, hygiene, all of those basic necessities, we cover that in the program fee. They go up to four classes a day, and, for each one of those classes, we pay them $8 an hour, but it’s a dream dollar. They can use those at the store. Also, once they get a certain amount, they can put those into savings. If they complete the program, we’ll give them real money for it. They can buy a certificate of deposit by saving 104 dream dollars, and, at the time of their completion of the program, we’re not going to hand them cash, but we’ll help them for a deposit on their power bill or something like that.

“They have to pay 14 bills a week, which is, I think, 112 dream dollars. So, that’s 16 dream dollars a day. So, out of the four classes they go to, two of them go to their program fee. Once they get a job, in step two, we charge them $80 a week. If they’re part time, then they pay 40 of the dream dollars, because, if they’re part time, they can still go to some of the classes. They pay 40 dream dollars and 40 green dollars.

“We have 10 houses at the end of this road. They don’t have windows. They’re fully gutted out. We’ve done a lot of demolition. We’re getting ready to start a campaign to try to receive sponsorship for those.

“Step 3 is they get to pay a minimized rent down there. So, they’re still in our program, but we’re practicing, ‘Okay, now, what you’ve learned for the past six to eight months in our program, we’re going to still be in arm’s reach, but we’re going to allow you to do it on your own out there. I think they (the houses) are 400 square feet. They’re two bedrooms, one bathroom, and a kitchen. They’ll be required to check in occasionally with their case manager. to make sure that they’re staying on track with their goals.

“We have a computer lab here. We teach, I think, over 60 classes a month now. And we have all kinds of people that volunteer their time, from Behavioral Health, Mental Health, from different organizations. They come and teach anger management classes, parenting classes. A lot of things get court-mandated, and they can receive that credit here.”

Estrada said that an orientation is held twice a month for anyone who is interested in volunteering. Wilson leads the orientations, he said.

Slideshow photographs by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

"We’re excited to share the message and get the word out about our resale stores, because the resale stores allow us to function,” Wilson said, in speaking with The Christian View magazine. “Without them, we’ll never make it. The resale stores are the way we’re going to be financially sustained. Hopefully, people will donate their stuf to us. So, that was the goal (of the fashion show fundraiser). Libby Dalton and her committee did everything. I’m excited because I think it’s bringing awareness. Five of the models are residents in Opportunity Village, and they’re part of the program. Two of them are in the process of getting their GED. They’re all well on their way to self-sufficiency. We were excited that they agreed to be a part of it. They’re kind of the face of it, and we felt like, if people could connect, that these are people, and they have faces and lives, and they’re important to God, and they’re amazing individuals. I’m excited that they were able to share their story.”

Click here to read The Christian View magazine's previous article about The Dream Center's Opportunity Village on Build a Village Day