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 wilson@dreamcenterpc.org
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
654-1517                                 jimmygillespie@pickens.k12.sc.us           alexsaitta@pickens.k12.sc.us

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
bltrotter@aol.com                                  randjedwards@aol.com            jimshelton@pickens.k12.sc.us

Please watch the video interview below:

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