5 Star Stories: The Memphis Dream Center

Published: Nov. 22, 2022 at 11:06 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - In this season of Thanksgiving, this 5 Star Story shines a light on a group of Memphis dream makers - a local non-profit dedicated to closing the opportunity gap for underserved children and families.

It’s a spirit of giving that makes us proud to call this place home, as we share a special delivery at the Memphis Dream Center, which has offered a support system for families in need.

According to Executive Director Kelli Carson, the organization began in Memphis by feeding the homeless in Downtown Memphis.

“We started in 2010 with a, honestly, a pick-up truck and a few volunteers,” Carson added.

Executive Director Kelli Carson
Executive Director Kelli Carson(Action News 5)

These days, the trucks and the services offered by the center are much bigger. On the day we visited, Amazon was making a special delivery to the Dream Center’s Family Advocacy Ministry at The Life Church campus on Highland.

The delivery followed a conversation with Amazon, where Dream Center leaders shared a need for resources that would go to families on the center’s waitlist. Enter Amazon employee and Memphis Dream Center board member Josh Cotten:

“And those resources that are specifically needed are beds and dressers. And so sure enough, our team asked, ‘Well, how many would you need right now?’ And they said, ‘It would be great if we could get 30.’ And sure enough, that’s what Amazon was able to provide is 30 beds, bedframes, mattresses, bedding, as well as 30 dressers.”

Those dream suites represent much more than bedroom makeovers. Carson says those donations actually help families keep their children out of state custody.

“Through our partnership with DCS we’ve realized that there are children across our city who could possibly be placed in the home of a relative such as a grandparent, an aunt or uncle, but maybe they don’t have all the resources that they need to take a child in,” Carson said. “And Amazon has come along and helped us with those.”

The Dream Center’s Family Advocacy Ministry serves as a safe haven of sorts for families navigating crises by providing food, clothing, household items, school supplies and more, as well as emotional and spiritual support.

Cassandra Johnson, a former foster parent, is the Family Advocacy Coordinator.

“I tell them, ‘Hey, once you’re here you’ve got me for, you know, as long as you need me. We’re here to help, that this is a safe space, that what we want is for you to succeed,’” Johnson said.

There’s also a beautifully decorated Baby Boutique that gives new and expecting mothers twice-monthly shopping sprees for essential items like baby clothes and diapers.

The Baby Boutique.
The Baby Boutique.(Action News 5)

“We also, through those connections, provide parenting classes for those moms so they can come and just learn more about how to be a healthy parent and just have people walking alongside them and being a support to them,” Carson said.

There’s also a special space for teens inside the Advocacy Center, which is especially important at this time.

“So many times teens are just literally just staying at the DCS offices for several weeks at a time. So we provide a space here where the teens can come in with their social worker during the day, spend the day. We have showers and all hygiene products available. They can bring their laundry and do their laundry here at the facility. We have a fully equipped teen room with video games, couches, bean bags where they have a safe space that they feel comfortable in,” Carson added.

At the Family Enrichment Center on Austin Peay, the “Read to Lead” after-school program serves close to 250 Title I students with tutoring and homework help, designed to close academic and opportunity gaps in education as well as other experiences that might not otherwise be availed to those youngsters.

According to Carson, “We have a community garden that the children planted and tend onsite. They take fresh produce home .each week. We have robotics classes, intro to music classes: guitar, piano, tap, ballet. As we see them exposed to more, children exposed to more and more opportunities. We’re beginning to see them dream about their futures and get excited about their future.”

Children intently listen to a story being read at the Memphis Dream Center.
Children intently listen to a story being read at the Memphis Dream Center.(Action News 5)

The Dream Center touts that 86 percent of children in the program see reading scores increase and school suspensions decrease.

To fuel even more dreams, the Dream Center provides a combination of programs to address food insecurity in Memphis. This Cordova location is the heart of the center’s FeedMemphis initiative, providing more than 4 million meals to children since 2011, and that’s not all.

“Also, falling under our food security pillar, we provide weekend food bags to thousands of children across the city and they’re delivered directly to their doorsteps. We also provide monthly food boxes, non-perishable food boxes for vulnerable senior citizens and Amazon actually delivers those food boxes right to their doorsteps one time per month,” Carson explained.

The Cordova location is the heart of the center’s FeedMemphis initiative, providing more than 4...
The Cordova location is the heart of the center’s FeedMemphis initiative, providing more than 4 million meals to children since 2011.(Action News 5)

For Amazon’s Community Connects Leader, the global retail giant’s commitment to the Memphis Dream Center and other charitable causes throughout the Mid-South is a no-brainer.

“I know that we can’t save the world, but we’re going to continue to do our part to make our mark and do what we can touch as many lives as we can,” she expressed.

Those connections are what the Memphis Dream Center is all about, ensuring all families have equitable access to food, shelter, education and opportunity, something of which we can all be proud.

The Memphis Dream Center also provides Adult Education Classes through a partnership with HopeWorks and Greater Memphis Financial Empowerment, which includes high school equivalency classes, FastTrack career readiness and coaching courses, as well as English as a Second Language and Civics.

For more information about the Memphis Dream Center, click here.

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