By Amelia Krauss, News Editor
The sound of a woman singing praise songs can be heard through the halls of an old, hundred-room hospital building. As the woman sorts her laundry, she openly talks about the grace of God in her life. As she walks down the hall toward her bedroom, Scripture flows freely from her lips. Even while making her bed or ironing her clothes, the joy of the Lord exudes from her as she recalls a broken life being put back together again.
Pamela Allen, once a crack cocaine addict for 25 years, is now a Christian seeking refuge at the Dream Center of Jackson — a place she calls home.
The Dream Center is a faith-based ministry providing hope and healing for women, like Allen, who have experienced life crises that have rendered them homeless. It serves as a 24-hour emergency shelter and transitional housing facility to help women and their children transition back into society.
The ministry provides many resources including Bible studies, parenting and nutrition classes, tutoring, job-search assistance, addiction-recovery programs and finance and budgeting classes.
“The mission of the Dream Center is to help these women and children become independent in life, to take care of themselves and give them a lot of Jesus,” said Gail Gustafson, the center’s executive director.
Because the Dream Center has only three staff members, volunteers are the lifeblood of the ministry. College students are especially valuable because they have the energy, skills and insights needed to tutor the women and children and to impact their lives in unique ways, Gustafson said.
“Volunteers at the Dream Center are so important, because without them, we couldn’t do what we do,” Gustafson said. “The volunteers do the Bible classes, nutrition classes (and) wellness classes. Even alcohol and drug rehabilitation classes are given by volunteers.”
One goal of the Dream Center is to help women such as Allen get their GED diploma so they have a better chance of obtaining jobs in the future.
But without volunteers, this goal would also be unreachable.
Currently, Allen has a tutor and study guide to help her pass the GED exam. She says her ultimate goal would be for her to own an apartment.
“(The people at the center) make it their responsibility … to make sure … I stay focused and go ahead and do this GED … whether I fail or pass, to keep going and try again, to never give up. They make sure I never give up,” Allen said.
Kate Allen, senior art major, is one of the volunteers who makes the mission of the Dream Center a reality. She reflected on her experience as a volunteer, noting the importance of understanding life beyond the walls of Union.
“Living in Jackson, at Union, it is such a bubble,” Kate Allen said. “There is a lot of need in Jackson and it has been a great experience to get to know these women and their children and see what they go through on a daily basis.”
Kate Allen also said it has been encouraging to see the women’s faith, but challenging to see their need.
“It has been great to help out and serve … (the women) and share with them and laugh with them and love them,” Kate Allen said.
While volunteers are vital to the center’s mission of helping women transition back into society after crises in their lives, it is ultimately the Gospel that drives the ministry.
“The Gospel to the Dream Center, without it, would be like a sandwich without bread, because if you’re not giving them something to have hope in, if you’re not giving them something they can hold on to, if you’re not giving them the truth, you’re not giving them anything,” Gustafson said.
For Pamela Allen, the Gospel is what has transformed her from a woman dependent on cocaine to a woman free in Christ. But she said the Dream Center has been vital in that transformation.
“If God hadn’t sent me (here), I probably would never have known how to face my responsibilities,” Pamela Allen said. “So I am thankful for the Dream Center (to help me) stand up and be a woman of God, not to look back, but to look forward and to look to the future and not dwell in the past.”