Sunday, April 27, 2014

I was stealing JOY

I will never forget the teenagers hugging the new fleece blankets they received at our annual Christmas party at the soup kitchen. The younger kids' squeals of delight when they tore open the packages to reveal the new toys that had been carefully selected especially for them by my kind-hearted friends.  Their parents stood quietly by and watched this wonderful scene unfold, smiling and celebrating with their kids when they brought their treasures for them to see. This was most definitely one of my favorite days of the year because it brought me great joy.  It brought all of us great joy, pride, and abundant blessing.  None of which belonged to me.  The truth is, we were stealing that joy, pride, and abundant blessing from the parents and they didn't even know it.   It wasn't until I read the book, Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton, that I began to understand that sometimes our "helping"
actually hurts people.  This past Christmas, The Dream Center of Pickens County opened the Santa
Shoppe Assistance program.  The experience of watching parents attend classes to earn store credit, shop for their children's gifts with that credit, and wrap the gifts themselves was overwhelming.  Most were single moms and many wept while they shopped and wept while they wrapped.  It was a surreal experience for volunteers as we all realized that these parents were weeping because they
were experiencing for the first time..the joy, pride, and abundant blessing of exchange that they never
knew existed. The joy I felt watching these parents was exceedingly more than anything I had experienced before. We prayed for 100 families to participate the first year. God sent us 528 parents and children and 100% of the parents said they would not go back to accepting one way giving at
Christmas.    God wants far greater things for these families than a hand out.  It is pure joy to see
them realize it. We welcome you to come see it for yourself.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

2012 Year in Review-The Dream Center

WOW. What a year it has been for The Dream Center of Pickens County.  As my husband told me recently, sometimes we need to look back over where God has taken us to better see where we are going.   Even though we have been actively seeking a building for over a year, and are still in that process, The Dream Center has never slowed down in reaching people, helping people and collaborating with other organizations to make an impact on the needs in Pickens County.

This time last year, The Dream Center made an offer to purchase Simpson Academy after hearing the program could possibly be moved to another school. The district decided to leave the program at Simpson and we turned to the possibility of Pickens Middle School.  In February, our offer to purchase Pickens Middle School was declined.  The search for a building continued.

Calls were coming in weekly from families in need with many either very close to eviction, or already homeless. There are no shelters in Pickens County and through our calls to shelters in neighboring counties, we found them to be full most of the time.  In April, The Dream Center partnered with Family Promise of Pickens County, which is an initiative of United Way. They were beginning development of this nationally known program in Pickens County.  We believe this proven organizational model is the perfect fit for homeless families in Pickens County.  The website is . We need 11 more host churches to begin helping families. Get involved!

The week of July 16th, The Dream Center of Pickens County collaborated with Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Easley First Baptist Church to provide transportation to a free basketball camp for students. We picked up over 60 kids from Creekside and Westgate Apartments bright and early and took them to camp. We returned them home each day after a fun day of basketball, devotions and lunch. This would not have been possible without the generosity of the Release Time Program, SHINE, 5-Point Church and Pure Grace Ministries, who loaned us the use of their vans and buses.

August 6th was a day to remember as Toyota of Easley presented The Dream Center with an incredibly generous donation of $23,200.  We could not have imagined we would receive such an amazing donation and we earmarked this money to go toward the building we were still searching for.

August 23rd, The Dream Center collaborated with Upstate Carolina Dance Center and REACH Ministries  with a back to school bash. Thanks to the generosity of UCDC, over 160 kids received backpacks FILLED with school supplies and enjoyed an afternoon of carnival rides, a live DJ and free food.

In September, we finally got the website  up and running and also facebook and twitter. Follow us @dreamcenterpc and be our friend on facebook for latest updates.

October 30th, The Dream Center announced our partnership with Ripple of One, which is a mentoring program that helps people climb out of poverty.  We have recruited mentors, been trained and are officially accepting applications for the program through The Dream Center.  You can learn more about the program on the website

November 6th, United Way of Pickens County and The Dream Center announced a collaboration with Bowers Transportation called WaveRider.  This service provides transportation to and from work or school for individuals in Easley and the surrounding area for only $50 a week.  Transportation is the #1 issue when individuals living in poverty cannot get a job.  This is a HUGE step forward for Pickens County and many thanks to Bowers Transportation for investing in lives of people in Pickens County.

Also, in November, Davey Hiott of Hiott Printing and his family donated a box truck to The Dream Center.  Because the primary focus of The Dream Center is collaboration, this truck will be shared by Family Promise, SHINE, Marys House and 5-Point Church food bank.  You may notice the truck traveling around the county with the logo of all five organizations displayed on the sides.  We are so thankful to Davey Hiott and his family for this incredibly generous gift.

December 8th was the Michael's Pizzeria Christmas Cruise 5K Run and Crossfit Challenge to benefit The Dream Center.  What a fun day and amazing exposure for The Dream Center! We have accepted the offer to host this event annually.

The Jr Elite Clogging Team from Upstate Carolina Dance Center raised $825 and presented the money to The Dream Center December 12th.  Wow! This small group of dancers worked together to make a BIG impact in their community.  They are proof that while we cannot do everything, everyone can do something.  Special thanks to UCDC and the Jr. Elites for your generosity! UCDC also provided the toys as we collaborated with the SHINE soup kitchen to have a Christmas party complete with gifts and handmade blankets for the kids. The beautiful blankets were made by ladies of Pickens Presbyterian Church.

This year in review does not include the dozens of families that received assistance from The Dream Center throughout the year. You can read about one of the most recent stories on the website if you are interested.

We believe great things are in store for 2013 and are working very hard to help Family Promise of Pickens County begin by late summer.  The Dream Center has agreed to serve as the "day center" for Family Promise, which is the place the homeless families in the program will go during the day to receive guidance in becoming self-sufficient. This is an incredible opportunity and many thanks go to United Way for leading the way in helping families get back on their feet through this program and for being 100% supportive in efforts to offer families a hand-up in times of need.

Plans are being made to help families at Christmas in a different way.  We will be accepting toy donations throughout the year and will open a Santa Shop in December for families to shop for the gifts.  Instead of being given everything, they will have the opportunity to pick out the gifts, buy them, and wrap them.  The items may only cost a dollar or two, and wrapping supplies will be provided, but families will gain their dignity and pride back and diminish the entitlement for free Christmas gifts. If they do not have any money, they will be given an opportunity to volunteer and earn the gifts.  We are currently forming a "Santa Shop" team to begin work early in the year to be prepared when Christmas 2013 arrives.  Email if you or your church/organization is interested in being involved.

We are currently considering four different buildings for the physical location of The Dream Center.  Our careful consideration is for the best possible location to be able to serve Pickens County and make the biggest impact on the needs of children and families living in poverty.  We covet your prayers for the location of the right building. To learn more about how to get involved or to make an online donation, please visit the website  I wake up every day excited to be a part of the work God is doing and thankful for the opportunities He provides.  Make a difference today because tomorrow is not a promise.


Friday, September 21, 2012


There's Got to be More to Life Than This!

The past three years have been life transforming for me. Three years ago, having been a Christian for 20 years, faithfully serving God in every way I knew how, I would still find myself thinking..There has got to be more to the Christian life than this. The more I did, the more I was becoming physically and spiritually tired. As I looked around me, I noticed so many of us were faithfully and tirelessly serving the Lord but we were remaining, for the most part, the same in our Christian walk. Normal Christians doing normal things Christians do. Maybe we would think about doing something radical for God or talk about stepping out in faith in an unexpected way, but..mostly, I got busier and busier, building my religious resume to show God how much I loved Him.

Then..God began to get my attention in a big way. I began to read the Word of God with new eyes. He began to show me that He is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine and when the Holy Spirit of God dwells within us, nothing is too small for Him. What I began to see is very few people who were willing to be moved to action for God. Christians like to discuss the greatness of God and our potential through Him and drink coffee and discuss some more. But where was that love so deep that we couldn't wait for Him to reveal our next step through Him? I wanted it and I began to pursue Him more.

In the past six months, we have done some very specific things in situations where we felt God's leading. Specifically, one of the first things we did was we started financially giving sacrificially. Above our tithe, when God led us to fill a financial need, we started giving beyond what was comfortable. Instead of purchasing the next "new" thing, sometimes it meant filling a need. That wasn't so hard. But.. the next big thing was much more difficult. He led us out of the church we love dearly and have called home for the past 14 years. We did not know where God wanted to use us or in what way, but we knew He was asking us to make this move. By far, one of the most difficult things I have ever done was to say goodbye to the people, the pastor and the ministries I had grown to love. We took this step of faith and prayed for God to guide our steps as we visited churches. Another thing He had led us to do was to start The Dream Center of Pickens County. A place where we can share the love of Jesus and offer practical support and resources to help people climb out of poverty and live a restored life. In May 2012, we received the Articles of Incorporation and soon realized this endeavor takes a lot of time and money. Here came the next thing. We strongly felt God was leading us to place our million dollar dream home on the market. There is so much to be done with our time and resources that maintaining this beautiful place didn't seem to be at the top of the list. I would be lying if I said it was an easy thing to do. It is beautiful and we love it. But, compared to the sacrifices so many people make, listing a dream home for sale was hardly a sacrifice. It is currently on the market and needs a family to buy it! Our next big thing is we are asking God to give us a building for The Dream Center.

We have also seen God at work in the lives of our children with a specific situation with Caroline that got our attention. Caroline has danced on a competition dance team for UCDC for 10 years. It is something she loves and works hard at. One of her goals for many years has been to audition and make the highest level clogging team and finally, this year, she met that goal. Dance did not start back up until September but she had the good news of what team she made in July and she would have practice every Tuesday night. Soon after receiving the news, she went for one week to The Gauntlet, which is the summer youth trip of Newspring Church. A friend of hers invited her and since we were visiting churches, she really wanted to go. When she returned, the first thing she said was "I want to take my next step for God and be sold out to Him. I also want to go to Fuse, the youth group at Newspring Church and it meets on Tuesday evenings". She immediately sent a text to the director of the dance studio whom she loves dearly. It said, "Miss Heather, I am so sorry to do this to you and I understand completely if it cannot be worked out, but I want to be ALL IN for the Lord and I want to go to Fuse on Tuesdays. If the team practice cannot be changed, I quit." I was stunned and excited. If you know Caroline and how much she loves clogging, you would understand the shock. Heather was also shocked but said she couldnt make any promises but would see what she could do. Caroline assured me that it did not make any difference because she knew however it worked out would be the right thing. To say this summer trip experience for Caroline got our attention is an understatement. She began to be excited about what God was showing her and leading her to do. By the way, several days passed and Heather gave Caroline the good news that after a lot of work, she was able to change the schedule.

I think many times we get caught up with our hard work for Him and wear ourselves out spiritually. We will always fall short. It was God that set us free-not based on our merits but simply because he loves us. Recently, I read a book called Unleash! by Perry Noble. The Biblical truths in this book resonated with me and a quote from this book got my attention. He said, "We can live a life that is unleashed because of whose we are not who we are". My initial reason for getting my hands on this book was because my family, most recently became "owners" (members) of Newspring Church where Perry Noble is pastor. I was interested in what this pastor would write in a book.

In the meantime, I received a call from Newspring Church regarding the area of service I had signed up to help in. I explained to the nice girl that I had not really prayed about that area of service because I was willing to help wherever the greatest need is. After all, I thought, I have done it all. Taught preschool, children and youth, directed VBS, led Bible studies, started a prayer ministry, outreach projects. I was going down my religious resume in my head. I said, "Just tell me where the greatest need is and I will be happy to do it." Her response still rings in my head. She said, "Newspring Church is not looking for you to fill a need. We want you to pray and ask God to show you where He can most effectively use you for His glory. We want you to feel so led in that area, that you cannot wait to come serve Him. Then, God will fill the needs." After a moment, I said, 'Take my name off and let me pray about it." I thought I had it all together, but, I was still finding myself being pulled into the performance trap. God doesn't NEED my expertise. He WANTS my heart, my life, my love. He and only He will then use my abilities for His glory because it isn't about ME.

If you are a Christian and are tired and "stuck", I recommend the book, "Unleash!" by Perry Noble. It offers practical wisdom and Biblical truth that can be applied to your life right now. It will push you to unleash your spiritual potential and go ALL IN with Christ regardless of where you are right now and whatever church you serve in. If you do not know Christ, it will inspire you to take the steps to enter into a personal relationship with Him. The very first chapter is titled, "There's Got to Be More to Life Than This." Yes, there is.

The last six months have been a breath of fresh air, a lot of hard work, an emotional roller coaster and filled with much, much excitement and anticipation of what God has in store for the future. To God be the Glory.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Dream Center Needs You

One Step at a Time

The Dream Center of Pickens County is moving forward and I am so excited at not only the progress, but the answered prayers and the opportunities along the way.  The Dream Center now has a new logo, a website  a facebook page and a twitter account @DreamCenterPC.  Please follow and "friend"!

We are receiving some much needed financial support from individuals in this community and still need to raise much more funding for the purchase of a building. We have accepted a married, homeless couple into the mentoring program and we are also supporting Family Promise of Pickens County to help them reach their goal to begin assisting homeless families by May, 2013.

The challenge of locating the building in Pickens County where God wants The Dream Center has been difficult.  We are praying daily for God to reveal this building and provide the way for it to become the home for The Dream Center of Pickens County.  Our greatest need is for people to PRAY with us about this building, to be LOOKING for a potential building and to be ASKING others to do the same. Ideally, it would have a commercial kitchen, but we can add the commercial kitchen if necessary.   We are praying and expectantly believing God to provide more than we could ever think or imagine.

We are not using the lack of a building as an excuse for inactivity. The Dream Center is already helping people who are seeking a restored life, we are building relationships with other like-minded non-profits and we are seeking funding and fundraising opportunities. We currently have a single mother who is in need of a job, preferably in Easley, first shift. Her car is also in need of repair and she does not have the money to have it fixed.  Without it, she doesn't have transportation to get a job to get the money to have it fixed.  We have a homeless couple in need of a place to live. He is working and she is in need of a job and has a lot of experience as a waitress.  They also have no transportation.  The Dream Center is tackling the transportation issue in an effort to come up with a solution to the problem and the cycle of desperation it causes.  We are providing tutoring to a young mom who is working on her degree from Greenville Tech to enable the family to move out of  government housing and have a better life.

Want to get involved? Here are a few ways:
PRAY with us for a building.
Make a financial donation, big or small, on the website.
Hold a creative fundraiser. Tell your friends about The Dream Center of Pickens County.
If God is leading you to offer employment, offer to perform car repair, provide tutoring, or if you know of very affordable housing opportunities, email questions to

The Dream Center is becoming a step at a time.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Dream Center is becoming a REALITY

Every step has been a step of faith in the vision for bringing The Dream Center of Pickens County to a reality and God has proven faithful.  As my previous post indicated, our attempt to purchase Pickens Middle School was repeatedly shot down and we knew it was because God had a better plan in mind for The Dream Center.  The Dream Center currently consists of  people from many different churches who are passionate about sharing the love of Jesus by helping people in our community.  When we first began talking about The Dream Center, we envisioned it to be a homeless shelter.  Last year, we received a call from someone who had 10 single beds to donate to us.  We did not have a current need for them but knowing our desire to help the homeless, we said yes and placed them in storage.  As we began to understand the greatest need, we changed the direction of The Dream Center. It would not be a homeless shelter but a hub for non-profits to work together in mentoring families out of poverty to prevent homelessness.We would have to work on a different plan for a shelter.

As God closed the door on Pickens Middle, we continued to pray and we continued to reach out to people. One example of people we are assisting: I received a call from one of the elementary schools about a desperate family.  The single grandmother was raising two beautiful granddaughters and she had suffered a heart attack and was experiencing a major financial setback.  The rent had to be paid within 2 days or they would be without a home.  As I explained to the social worker, The Dream Center is not about paying a bill and walking away. If we paid for this rent, we would need to visit this family and better understand the reason they are struggling and work on a plan to get on track. In collaboration with the social worker, that is what we are doing.  For our first visit, my friend Shannon and I took a box of food and introduced ourselves.  This grandmother was tough and explained her situation very matter of factly. But at the end of our visit, as Shannon begin to pray asking God for a miracle in this family and for this woman to intimately know Jesus, this tough lady began to weep. This is what The Dream Center represents. Not just a box a food, not just a paid bill, but hope in Jesus Christ and people who are willing to stay the course in giving a hand up not a hand out.

As part of the United Way homeless coalition, I attended a monthly meeting about four months ago and learned of an organization called Family Promise that would be coming to Pickens County to do a presentation of their program.  As you can learn on the website, this is an organization that helps homeless families. There are already 177 affiliates operating in 41 states and 53 more in development. Pickens County is now one of the ones in development.  This program enables churches in the county to get involved by being "host" congregations.  With only 13 churches agreeing to host families 4x a year, Family Promise can help homeless families in Pickens County get back on their feet.  The program only accepts 14 people into the program at a time which usually represents 3-4 families.  Family Promise uses a box truck to deliver single beds to the church and brings the families to the church in the evening.  (Remember the beds that were donated to The Dream Center last year??)  The church volunteers bring in dinner for the families and spend some time getting to know them. The families and a church volunteer spend the night at the church and Family Promise shows up bright and early the next morning to pick the families up and take them to a "day center" where the school bus picks up the kids and parents are mentored toward self-suffiency. (The day center sounds like The Dream Center doesn't it?)  After one week, Family Promise moves the beds and the families to the next scheduled host church.  My excitement about Family Promise is right up there with The Dream Center as I see God working everything together in His best way. Jim and I have joined the team of people who are making Family Promise a reality in Pickens County.

The current status of Family Promise: the program has been presented to 12 churches in Pickens County so far. All 12 responded favorably but we are waiting for definite commitment from our first church and are seeking other churches in Pickens County who are interested in learning more about this program.  The program must have 13 churches committed before it can begin helping families. The needed box truck has already been donated and the articles of incorporation have been filed.

The current status of The Dream Center: Being presented with a check from Toyota of Easley for $23,000 next Wednesday.  We are officially a non-profit corporation and are completing process for 501c3 status.  Preparing to make an offer on a building. Collaborating with FCA/ Easley First Baptist Church to provide free transportation to kids in 3 poverty stricken apartment communities to a free, Christ-centered basketball camp this summer.  Working with 3 families who are suffering hardship in our community. Collaborating with Family Promise in developing the Pickens County network.

How can you help Family Promise??  PRAY. PRAY. PRAY.  Get your church involved! We are available to come explain the Family Promise program to your pastor (only takes 30 minutes) so your church can make an informed decision about participation.  For churches that do not have the facilities to host, they can still be involved as a support church and provide volunteers.  Pray for the donation of a 15 passenger van which is needed to transport families. Come to the next meeting, June 26th at the YMCA in Pickens to get involved!

How can you help The Dream Center?? PRAY. PRAY. PRAY for us to be able to purchase a building. PRAY for us to continue to receive financial support from the community. PRAY for us to continue to reach families and for the kids coming to basketball camp. PRAY for our logo and website development. PRAY for wisdom and discernment and for everything The Dream Center does to be Christ-centered and ultimately point people to HIM. Pray for the team of people working together to continue to trust God for His plan and His provision.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Waiting for Him to Fill in the Blanks

This is an update to the progress of The Dream Center Project.  First, I must say I am glad this is not my vision, Jim's vision, or anyone else's vision. It is God's vision.  If this were dependent upon us, I would've given up a long time ago with the obstacles that have been placed before us.  A divine vision is limited only by God's potential and resources. which means anything is possible. If it is just a good idea, we would have to make it happen. Because we know God gave this vision, we have a sense of standing back in wonder and watching it happen.

Two weeks before the upcoming board meeting, I received a call about a family in Pickens County in need of help.  I, along with a friend, went and paid this family a visit.  What we discovered was a family with two grandparents and 8 kids living in a single wide trailer and a single mother with 6 kids living in the back yard in a camper with no running water.  They use the bathroom in a five gallon bucket.  This family represents 14 kids in Pickens County. We were immediately met at the car by the oldest child, a 17 year old boy.  Within the first five minutes he tells us he just recently turned 17 and dropped out of high school.  We are now working with this family to make their living conditions acceptable to raising 14 children.  But...this family needs mentoring. Period. Without a new direction, all 14 children will be Pickens County dropouts, the girls will get pregnant, and the next generation will still be living on that hill raising another generation of high school dropouts.  The reason Pickens County has a high drop out rate is not because of the curriculum, teachers or programs.  It is because 1,464 students in Pickens County schools are classified as homeless because they are living in situations such as the one I am describing.  80% of students living in such crisis drop out. 

The very next day, I received a call about a 17 year old girl who spent the previous night on a bench outside at the Easley library.  The police were there with her and couldn't find anywhere for her to go. Preventing drop out is too late for this girl.  Her parents had lost their parental rights and she had run away from the state's arrangements for her twice.  They didn't want her back. She not only lacked mentoring, she lacked basic parenting and now, there is NO WHERE for her. 

Later, I received a call from a social worker. She had a situation with a grandmother who is raising two beautiful little girls enrolled in a Pickens County elementary school and she had suffered a heart attack.  She is in need of heart surgery but they have no money for food and if her rent was not paid in three days, they would be evicted and homeless. We paid this family a visit. In addition to needing immediate rent assistance, this grandmother needs a mentor to help her budget and make responsible plans in the raising of these little girls or she will never get out of this cycle of poverty. There are over 20,000 people living in poverty in Pickens County and while many are satisfied to stay there, there are thousands that would like to break out of this cycle if they only knew how.  We are currently helping these families the best we can, but we need a facility in order to collaborate with other organizations and make the biggest impact on the needs in this county. The Lord confirmed to us that The Dream Center is His plan and success for us means one thing...remain faithful to the process He has laid out before us.

Monday, March 26th, was the Pickens County School Board meeting where the issue of selling Pickens Middle School was mentioned. Jim was allowed to speak for 3 minutes about our continued interest in purchasing the (soon to be vacant) school for $275,000 and turning it into The Dream Center.  The only other bidder on the property had withdrawn his bid completely.  It seemed to be a perfect match for us to purchase the building.  At the end of the board meeting, chairman Alex Saitta, seemed to remain unmoved on his position and stated that the board is still deciding if, when and how they will proceed with the future of Pickens Middle School. The board expressed no interest in accepting the offer. We have been steadfast in our attempt to purchase this building and feel confident that we have done everything we could to make it happen.  God must have a better location for us and we have begun the search to find it.

While our future location is yet to be determined, the vision remains clear.  We are helping families, we are feeding the hungry, we are planning a summer camp for at risk kids and we have set up an account to save the money we are receiving for The Dream Center.   We are asking Christians to pray with us for the location of The Dream Center and we invite anyone who is interested in being a part of this vision, join us as we move forward. We know that waiting time is not wasted time as we are seeing God put many different people together in His timing and will reveal the best location when we need it.  Our responsibility is simply to do what we know to do today, and wait for Him to fill in the blanks.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

THE DREAM CENTER PROJECT needs your help!!!

The following is the presentation we gave to the Pickens County School Board in our cash offer of $275,000 to purchase Pickens Middle School. Pickens County is leading the area in high school dropouts and as research done by organizations such as the National Center for Education Statistics has shown, poverty has the strongest correlation with high school dropout rates. The board has received another offer on the property in addition to ours, in the same dollar amount. Several board members expressed support for selling the property to us, however, Board Chairman, Alex Saitta, made the recommendation to NOT sell to us based on the fact that we are a non-profit and they would not receive tax revenue dollars from a non-profit. Interestingly, they are not receiving tax revenue dollars on the other schools that have been sold to government entities. The board was deadlocked on the vote and will likely be voted on at the next board meeting. Please read our proposal for yourself and if you are in support of The Dream Center, please email or write a (positive toned) letter to the board members expressing your support for them selling us the property for this purpose. The emails and addresses are posted at the end of this blog. We have the complete support of United Way, who has grant dollars available for this project based on the fact that we are the only county in the state without homeless relief. We will not be physically housing overnight but partnering with United Way in offering day training facilities in conjunction with another program supported by United Way that is planning to address overnight housing. So, this will not be a overnight homeless shelter but a family transitional training facility. We have been preparing for this for months, asking God to lead and it is our passion, along with an army of other individuals to bring this faith-based Dream Center to Pickens County. We are following what we feel God is leading and are trusting Him to provide the way. Thanks for reading and if you are willing to send your vote of support, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts! You may email any questions to
Our journey began with Kay Leopard who is shown in the video on this blog. Six months ago, she was homeless on the streets of Easley, SC. Today, with help of a mentor, she is making her own way, not receiving any government assistance, and is an employee of the Pickens County School District. She is one person who exemplifies what we would like to do on a larger scale in the lives of families in Pickens County. 1,464 students enrolled in Pickens County Schools are currently classified as "homeless". The federal McKinney-Vento Act defines "homeless" as students who do not have a fixed, regular, and adequate residence, including those who are staying with friends or relatives because they have lost their housing; are waiting foster placement, or are living in emergency or transitional shelters, motels, domestic violence shelters, campgrounds, inadequate trailer parks, cars, public spaces, abandoned buildings, or bus and train stations. While many of these students have a roof over their heads, 100% of them are living in crisis poverty situations and represent a small subset of the overall population of students living in extreme poverty.

The four schools in Pickens County with the highest levels of poverty have seen an increase of 8-10% in the poverty level over the past three years. Of the 1,464 Pickens County students, only 108 are in 9th-12th grades. This means 1,356 are in grades PK-8th which is considered to be the age range where measures can be taken to prevent dropout.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, poverty has the strongest correlation
with high school dropout rates. They also estimate the dropout rates for students living in the lowest income bracket are 7X higher. The Center for Mental Health in Schools at UCLA also reports that dropout rates correlate with high poverty rates, poor school attendance, grade retention and disengagement from school. Another 2011 research study of 4,000 students found that 22 percent of children who have ever lived in poverty do not graduate from high school, compared to 6 percent of those who have never been poor. This rate rises to 32 percent for students spending half their childhood in poverty. The rate was highest for poor Black and Hispanic students, at 31 and 33 percent respectively.

Another interesting discovery is that among poor children who were proficient readers by third grade, 11 percent still didnt finish high school. Poor families tend to develop weaker academic skills and fall behind over the summer with little access to stimulating educational programs or even regular meals. While the summer feeding program at Pickens and West End Elementary Schools fed over 66,000 meals from June through August, the children in the highest level of crisis and hunger have no transportation to receive this hunger relief. According to a study by United Way, (1 in 17) or 700 Pickens County Elementary students do not know where their next meal will come from.

Over the past six months, United Way of Pickens County has begun looking into the issues of hunger and homelessness and Pickens County's capacity to meet the needs of families in crisis. Pickens County is the ONLY county in the state of South Carolina with NO homeless shelter. In 2010, Pickens County received 132 calls from those seeking a homeless shelter. The statistics do not include the families hiding their homelessness out of fear of losing their children. The SHINE soup kitchen in Easley has seen the number of people being served each night triple in the past year including feeding approximately 25 students currently enrolled in Pickens County Schools. These are the hungry children lucky enough to have transportation to get there. SHINE is seeking a larger facility from which to operate and to be able to start delivering meals to satellite feeding locations in churches all across Pickens County. It would be similar to Meals on Wheels, except delivered to area churches who will serve those in their area who are hungry. This also addresses the problem of hunger in "desert" regions of the county.

As SHINE has researched potential locations to house the soup kitchen, the need for a family shelter and job placement center has come to the forefront. It is our intent to obtain a facility we are referring to as "The Dream Center" where the soup kitchen can function as well as a transitional housing shelter and job placement center for families in crisis. Additionally, we are collaborating with area churches to offer after school and mentoring programs and summer programs for at-risk students of Pickens County. It is our desire to offer transportation to students to the after school programs. Such programs, like "Breaker Buddies", led by Pastor Tim Sutton at Gettys Middle School, have proven to be effective in improving the performance of at-risk students.

In collaboration with United Way of Pickens County, our primary focus with the transitional housing shelter will be to educate and mentor families while assisting them in finding employment and assistance to help them overcome poverty and become self-sufficient.

The National Dropout Prevention Center/Network of Clemson University identified 15 effective strategies that have the most positive impact on dropout rates. These include school/community collaboration, family engagement, mentoring/tutoring, after school opportunities, individualized instruction and a safe learning environment. All of these strategies are part of our plan to help families in crisis. Declining behavior of students and the culture in which students value education less and less are primary factors in the decisions students in poverty take regarding dropping out.

For every student that drops out, the school district loses a minimum of $1,880 dollars per student, per year. The breakdown of the 1,464 students classified as homeless in Pickens County reflects a drop of 80% in ninth grade. So, 80% of students classified as "homeless" in Pickens County do not graduate. Our research in speaking with parents in poverty indicates many of these students, as early as elementary school, have no intentions of graduating.

The individuals, including ourselves, who believe in The Dream Center and are funding it with our personal finances, are willing to purchase and renovate a building and partner with area churches and organizations such as United Way to provide a quality family training facility, soup kitchen and support for families and students of Pickens County. We would like to be a community partner with the district as we seek to provide a model for school districts across the country for preventing dropouts and improving performance of students living in poverty.

The Dream Center's five year plan includes impacting 20 students the first year, 27 more the second year, 34 more the third year, 34 more the fourth year and 34 the fifth year. The cumulative number of students is 149 by the end of the fifth year which represents 412 cumulative "student years" of not dropping out. This comes to 412 X $1880 = $774,560 gained by the school district. So...yes, the district will not receive revenue tax dollars from The Dream Center, because it will operate as a 501-C3 non-profit. The benefits they will receive (at no expense to them) far exceeds any amount of tax dollars that could ever be paid. Respectful letters expressing support for The Dream Center can be sent to the following board members:

Dr. Herbert P. Cooper                         Mr. Jimmy Gillespie                       Mr. Alex Saitta, Chairman
241 Pendleton Rd                                413 Chastain Rd                            404 Doe Run
Clemson, SC 29631                             Central, SC 29630                        Pickens, SC 29671

Mr. Ben Trotter                                      Mrs. Judy Edwards, Vice Chair             Mr. Jim Shelton
520 Rotterdam Rd                                 104 Tanglewood Dr                             1510 Hunts Bridge Rd
Easley, SC 29640                                  Easley, SC 29642                                 Easley, SC 29640                          

Please watch the video interview below: