Week Nine

 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh ; rather, serve one another humbly in love.

Galatians 5:13

Upon reflecting on my time as a Turner Fellow, I realize what new depth has been brought to my understanding of both service and relationships. We are constantly faced with the choice of whether to serve ourselves or to serve others (and therefore God). Before this summer, I often categorized service as grand gestures and pre-planned sacrifices of time and resources. However, I’ve come to understand that so much more service is done in the small, daily moments spent with others. In these moments, it is often harder to sacrifice, because we are mentally unprepared and unwilling to give of ourselves. However, it is these moments that ultimately impact the most.

On the last day of Summer is for Kids, one of the kids grew frustrated with me, because I didn’t play cars with him. From his view, I was ignoring him and not interested in being his friend. In my brain, I was just trying to accommodate the six different kids asking me to do six different activities. I was able to talk it out with the little boy, and we were able to move on when I diverted all my energy to playing with him. In the past, I’ve approached service with big goals of impacting as many people as possible to produce bigger change. However, this summer has taught me that to change the world, I have to start with one person. It is from everyone’s collective efforts to change their own world that the world is changed one person at a time. I’ve learned that the depth of service is much more valuable than the reach.

Meeting Dansby Swanson on our trip to Atlanta to cheer on the Braves!
Last day of Summer is for Kids

Week Eight

One of my favorite parts of this past week has been interacting with the volunteers. As an organization with only four full time employees, volunteers are the heart of the Dream Center. Seeing their dedication and heart for the mission always reminds me of the privilege we have to serve others.

One of the struggles this summer has been the absence of male volunteers. After seeing and spending time with the community, I’ve seen the real need for this kind of presence, but 80% of our volunteers are female. This week at community night on Wednesday, I was so excited to see that we had 6 guy volunteers there to hang out with the kids. The kids absolutely lit up, and I was super excited for them. I’ve realized each day how invested I am in this community. Some nights like this, I love to sit and watch everyone come together. The organic connections are such a joy to watch, and my own friendships I’ve made are so valuable to me. I was originally nervous about being able to connect with those I met, but I’ve been genuinely surprised to see how easily we’ve connected. We prank each other, we goof off, and we have serious moments. I’m invested a part of myself in this community, and this community has surely touched my heart and invested in me.

Community night pick-up games!

Weeks Six & Seven

The past two weeks at the Dream Center I’ve been involved in working on the upcoming fundraiser, Summer is for Kids, mobile food ministry, and the annual backpack drive. Sometimes, it seems like the dots never connect and each part of the ministry is a separate entity. But Dream Center’s mission is to meet help meet basic needs, and this often takes different forms.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned over the summer has been the power of being present. I think the most impact I’ve made has been my relationship with some of the kids. This week, a couple of brothers, Kenny, KD, and Durrell (affectionately FooFoo) told us they were moving, and we wouldn’t be seeing them anymore. Kelton and I were immediately heartbroken since we are so close with them. However, only as we were leaving did we find out we’d been pranked. While the boys had a good laugh, it made me realize just how much these kids mean to me and how much I’ll miss them at the end of the summer.

The Dream Center seeks to create personal relationships with the community in order to better achieve their goals of helping meet basic needs and create a safer and stronger community. When you trust someone and have a relationship with them, it is much easier to accept their help. They do this through a consistent presence in the community, and when they say they will show up somewhere, they do. Whether it’s helping someone get into Belmont or flying out to Arizona to visit someone at computer camp, they inspire me to go the distance to really be there for people.

Week Five

Week five was a mix of all that I’ve been doing for the Dream Center these past couple weeks. Monday, I spent my day in the office working on the upcoming fundraising event in September. At first, it was somewhat overwhelming to be trusted with seemingly important tasks, especially those relating to fundraising for the Dream Center. While this was out of the ordinary for me, I have realized it has helped me to meet high expectations with hard work and a determined attitude. I admit that I was initially super anxious about having to meet with other businesses and act as an advocate for the Dream Center. I didn’t think I was qualified enough and that I would let them down. However, I had to complete the tasks given to me nonetheless and realized that it was not about me. I learned the value of believing in yourself as well as learning to accept rejection at times. Being rejected did initially feel as if I had failed, but it certainly prepared me for harder moments to come. My skin thickened, and I learned to accept it with grace and move forward.

I continued to work on the fundraiser on Tuesday, and then Wednesday, I helped out with our summer program, Summer is for Kids, and our weekly community night at Preston Taylor. Wednesday nights are seriously some of my favorites of the summer. Despite it being beyond hot, everyone is always so eager to be in each other’s presence and have fun, whether it be kids, volunteers, or staff. This week, one girl, Maya, very confidently organized a talent show of both volunteers and other kids. While the dance skills may have been lacking, the enthusiasm by everyone was so enjoyable to watch and brightened my week.

Thursday, I helped with Summer is for Kids again and then mobile food that night at Skyview. One of the best parts of my summer has been when I see the kids for the first time that day, and they run up to hug me. I’ve been called “mommy” on enough occasions that I’ve started to answer to it. But seriously, these kids have a soft spot in my heart and constantly teach me joy, generosity, and patience.

Mobile food that night was difficult as kids fought and were generally not being super kind to each other. Having to step into tough situations and alleviate tension is a super tough ask, but I’ve learned that being consistently present with the kids has helped garner some respect. All these boys wanted more than anything was to be loved and appreciated. I’ve learned that sometimes the best remedy is a hug and some tickles. Other times, they just need you to listen and give them your attention. All in all, Thursday taught me the many nuances of conflict and the need to feel heard and seen.

I rounded out the week on a high note with a super fun field trip to Ford Ice Center for pizza and ice skating. Although the kids were pretty far from skating pros at the beginning of the trip, by the end of the day some had mastered it while others had spent more time laughing at themselves and falling all over the place. The bus has never been so quiet as the ride home when just about every kiddo was asleep.

Community night with Journey, one of my first friends this summer.
Paca, who is absolutely terrified of ice skating
Sweet Noel who needed his buckets the whole time!!

Week Four

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to attend a reception to celebrate local non-profits with one of my coworkers, Katie. The event was put on by a foundation that provides grants to nonprofits to help them succeed. While this event was significantly different than my other experiences with the Dream Center, and it was a good transition into a week focused more on the developmental and administrative side of nonprofit work. Much of this week I spent in the office, which offered a sharp contrast with my hands-on experience at Summer is for Kids and Big Gross Adventure.

As an organization that is currently mobile in the building process, sometimes office work takes place in an office and sometimes in a coffee shop. Despite being disappointed about the loss of their original building, this upheaval has actually enabled the Dream Center to reach more people as they venture into the community even more than before. This week, seeing how nonprofits function from the inside has been eye-opening. Most of my work has been focused on a fundraiser coming up in September called Taste of West Nashville. I’ve had to step outside of my comfort zone as I’ve been asked to engage with potential silent auction sponsors and businesses. I felt this was a huge responsibility given to me and wanted to do it right. However, I’ve learned from my work this week that sometimes there is not just one right way. Much of the staff’s work requires learning as you go, because there is no way to truly prepare for the day to day challenges. I’ve discovered that success can be achieved through many different paths, and I’ve been learning to grow in this independence given to me.

However, I did engage with other ministries as well. I was able to see student ministry for the first time and interact with kids closer to my age, going through the same struggles as me, like deciding which path to follow after high school. Tuesday, we had the opportunity to visit the Air National Guard. This was an opportunity to see one of many paths possible after high school, because for many young people, four-year traditional university is not the best option for them. Katie has done a great job of presenting them with positive potential paths to consider, including the military. For many kids in these neighborhoods, it is not the question of “Where will you go to college?” but “Will you go to college?” Events likes these have helped me to realize the importance of choice and encouragement. I have been so blessed to have been presented with so many options after high school. However, many teenagers don’t know their options, which can lead to them making uninformed choices. The Dream Center is committed to walking alongside these teens so they make well informed decisions.

Lastly, on Friday, I helped Kelton run Fresh Friday, a weekly program that provides food from local grocery stores to those in need free of charge. This event has allowed me to interact more with adults and helped me to meet people of all ages in the community.

Lazarus in the pilot’s seat of a helicopter.
Our crew at the end of a fun day.

Weeks Two & Three

There is no such thing as a typical day at the Dream Center. As someone who loves structure and schedules, I was unprepared for the spontaneity of their ministry. However, in their flexibility comes their strength to be present in the communities they serve. While a good portion of their programs are focused on food, so much of what they do serves the West Nashville community in every possible area of need. Along with their other more structured ministries all seven days of the week, the Dream Center staff has helped people get accepted to college or find a job or move into their new house. Their dedication to a consistent presence in the neighborhood has amounted to invaluable relationships with so many members of the community.

As I said, every day with the Dream Center looks different as they seek to best meet others’ need. Last week, I spent most days helping out with their “Summer is for Kids” program that provides lunch and fellowship for kids in three different neighborhoods. In the evening, we got to take some of those same kids to Crosspoint Church’s vacation Bible school, what they call Big Gross Adventure. As someone who hates being dirty, this pushed me out of my comfort zone. Activities included giant Twister covered in paint and shaving cream, making kids into human sundaes with whipped cream and chocolate sauce, and water wars. Needless to say, we returned the kids to their parents very messy by the end of the night. While some of the young kiddos I was responsible for loved this, others did not and required some encouragement before being involved. However, one of my favorite parts of the whole week was seeing my shy kids make new friends and absolutely LOVE getting messy. By the end of the week, I was beyond sad to say goodbye Big Gross Adventure which had initially caused me so much stress trying to chase down kiddos while staying clean. Essentially, this week has taught me the immense value in going out of your comfort zone and willingness to get dirty. It’s in the mess that I had the absolute most fun and was able to truly be present in my interactions with the kids.

Noel, who loves racing and playing tag.
Giant twister!
Two little dudes who loved getting messy.
Human sundaes…
Team 5 at the end of a crazy couple of days!

Week One

My first reaction to hearing I’d be working with the Dream Center was excitement. After hearing their mission to protect and empower those living in crisis, I knew that I would have no problem finding people who have the same passion for helping others as me. Serving the West Nashville area, the Dream Center is currently mobile after the loss of their building last summer. However, they haven’t let this handicap their ministry.

One of their most significant programs is their mobile food bank that goes into the community to provide food for those in need. At first I was surprised to see how their program took place on a street corner next to an apartment complex, but I soon learned that they were able to go from serving 300 people to 1,000 people a month by going to where the people are. Their willingness to meet their community where they are, both literally and figuratively, was inspiring to me..

Another significant part of their ministry frequently follows mobile food, and that is community night. This happens three times a week and consists of simply hanging out with the neighbors. The primary goal of this is to keep kids off the streets in neighborhoods where drug crimes and gangs are common. Just the Dream Center’s presence in the neighborhood has helped crime reduce by 30% in the past few years – significantly due to partnership with local police. The Dream Center has the respect of community simply by continuing the presence and eagerness to help despite the difficulties they’ve faced in the loss of their building.

I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to see some of their ministries this past week and eagerly await more opportunities to engage with the community.