By Crystal Burns
The Dream Center of Jackson, an emergency shelter and transitional housing facility for women and women with children, suffered what could have been a devastating setback in 2016 when the old Regional hospital was sold.
Instead, the Dream Center is moving forward with an ambitious capital campaign that Executive Director Gail Gustafson promoted to the Trenton Rotary Club last week. Gustafson, of Milan, said the Dream Center is asking 3,000 entities to give $1,000 each in order to meet its goal of raising $3.5M to build a new facility next to Northside Assembly of God Church in Jackson. The church donated 11 acres, and architects, plumbers, carpenters, painters, and Allison Contracting have pledged their time and services to build the new Dream Center.
Dream Center residents are currently living in three houses in the Jackson area.
“We need your help,” Gustafson said. “We want to build debt-free.”
The Dream Center raised more than $900,000 last year and needs $1.5M to break ground.
The Dream Center started as an emergency shelter due to the May 4, 2003 tornado disaster. The center obtained access to the 100-year-old former Regional Hospital then and housed up to 60 individuals and families nightly.
Due to the demand, the Dream Center transitioned from an emergency shelter to a multifunctional facility that now offers residential/emergency/transformational ministry for women and women with children who have experienced loss of employment, housing, unresolved conflict and mental health concerns, and/or other life-controlling problems that render them homeless and without hope.
Services included Christian, faith-based case management, counseling, computer skills via certification in Microsoft Office 365, classes to address emotional struggles, financial planning including budgeting classes, and tutoring for children in college or in K-12.
“We believe everybody has been given a gift, and it’s just about finding that gift,” Gustafson said.
Gustafson said many of the problems Dream Center residents face can be traced back to sexual abuse they have endured.
“We have a problem in our country, and the problem is sexual abuse,” she said.
92 percent of women at the Dream Center were sexually molested before the age of 18.
“That changes a person’s mentality,” Gustafson said.
She speaks from personal experience. Gustafson was molested in the second grade.
“I guess that’s probably why God put me in this position because I can understand,” she said.
“Sex is everywhere,” she continued. “I really believe we need to do something about it as citizens of our country.”
Gustafson said women at the Dream Center are trying to find acceptance and love to fulfill a “Cinderella” dream. In its current temporary housing, the Dream Center can minister to 23 people. Gustafson said that in the last six months, the center has received 280 applications from women who are hurting, have nowhere to go and no direction in life. The old Regional Hospital location housed 60-75, and the new facility will have room for up to 125 residents.
Gustafson said that more than 18 percent of Dream Center clients are from Gibson County.
“You may not see a lot of homeless women and children, but a lot are couch surfing,” she said.
Children living at the Dream Center improve their grades by 28 percent in the first semester. The center works with Jackson Madison County Schools to provide tutoring for children whose mothers are often attending school or training in order to find employment. Last year, 11 women graduated with degrees and/or certificates in nursing and hospital lab fields.
“I believe that education is so important,” she said.
A Board of Directors oversees the Dream Center. Members include President Gary Daughtery, Vice President Carroll Griffin, Secretary Kristi Anderson, Treasurer Melanie Luckey, Gustafson, Alicia Williams, Chad Butler, Dr. Kristine Nakutis, Kristi Turnbow, Russ McKelvey, Dr. Samuel W. “Dub” Liver, and Steven Puffer. Annual fundraisers include Run for a Dream 5K, cardboard boat regatta, and Night in the Caribbean banquet.
To make a donation to the Dream Center, contact Gustafson at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 731-512-0095. More information is available at dreamcenterjackson.com.