The Dream Center is today’s Daily Point of Light Award honoree, and one of the winners of the 2016 Make A Difference Day Awards. Each year, TEGNA recognizes 14 outstanding leaders of Make A Difference Day projects, awarding $140,000 in grants that are donated to the charities related to the winning projects. Learn more about Make A Difference Day and register a 2017 project at www.makeadifferenceday.com.
In Opportunity Village, rebuilding lives starts with a safe and comfortable home. On Make A Difference Day 2016, 500 volunteers came together to begin construction of the tiny house community that would become home to some of the homeless residents of Pickens County, South Carolina – constructing 13 houses in just 14 hours. Through the Dream Center, these residents would not only gain shelter, but also begin developing the assets and life skills needed to secure employment and ultimately transition back into their community. Local churches helped shuttle volunteers to the site; nurses donated time at a First Aid tent. “Everyone in town came,” said Chris Wilson, executive director at Dream Center. “Black, white, rich, poor, Republican, Democrat – it was a beautiful thing to see.”
The Dream Center was awarded a $10,000 grant, recognizing its efforts on Make A Difference Day – a little extra money to do a lot more good, giving hope to homeless residents of Pickens County. We asked Chris to tell us more about the Opportunity Village project, what’s happened since last year’s event and what to expect this year.
What was the inspiration behind the Opportunity Village project?
The Dream Center had more than 1,200 walk-ins in crisis poverty over a two-year period, with more than 400 homeless. As the only county in the upstate of South Carolina with no homeless shelter, it was a struggle to help them get back on their feet with no place to lay their head. Many people were already experiencing great life change through our programs, but the missing link was shelter. We developed the concept of The Opportunity Village but we knew we could not do it without the support of our community. Make A Difference Day seemed like the perfect avenue for enlisting the help of our community to build our village.
Tell us a little more about what your volunteers did on Make A Difference Day 2016.
We partnered with our local career center and volunteers to pre-build the walls and floor systems of 13 tiny houses. On Make A Difference Day, we organized 500 volunteers from the community and assembled and built 13 houses in one day. We had volunteers doing construction, making meals for the day, serving in first aid, and other projects around the Dream Center.
What was the most rewarding part of the experience? A favorite memory?
Make A Difference Day happened during a heated presidential election season. It was truly an amazing sight to see 500 people from every background, race, religion, and political party come together for the common good. On that day, nobody cared who was a Democrat or Republican. Every person worked together and had a blast while making a true difference in our community.
Why do you think it’s important for others to get involved and make a difference in their community?
The opportunity to physically be a part of something allows them to have ownership. Each of the 23 tiny houses built over the last year were financially sponsored by businesses, schools, and individuals from our community as a result of that special day.
As a 2016 Make A Difference Day Award Winner, you were awarded a $10,000 grant for this effort. What will that money go toward?
The money we received went toward finishing construction on tiny houses that are now being occupied by homeless residents.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
Every person has the opportunity to be a difference maker. When people come together, we can make a bigger impact on needs with less duplication. The ripple effect begins with one person.
What are your plans for Make A Difference Day 2017?
We are planning a day of service with our clients and homeless shelter residents, giving back to the community. Last year, the community gave to us and this year, we are teaching our clients the importance of giving back as well.
Volunteers across the nation will come together again on Saturday, Oct. 28, to improve their communities for Make A Difference Day. Project organizers are encouraged to register at www.makeadifferenceday.com to be eligible to win a $10,000 grant to donate to a charity related to their Make A Difference Day project.