The City of Springfield’s Zone Blitz initiative is all about neighbors helping lift neighbors out of poverty in northwest Springfield by addressing the challenges they face and creating opportunities. According to Jody Glazner, the “Give Back” Director at Springfield’s North Point Church, the ideals embodied in the Zone One Blitz are right in their wheelhouse.
“We’ve been talking the last few years at North Point, ‘how do we take what we do as Give Back, giving back to our community, how do we take that from an ‘event’ level into a neighborhood level? Kind of this idea of moving from a Good Samaritan to a good neighbor.”
Glazner says the church settled on a “Dream Center” model to provide what she calls “hope and help for our neighborhood.”
Most “dream centers” around the country seem to concentrate either on the problems of addiction and homelessness, or on kids and family.
Says Glazner, “For us, we started to identify what is our biggest problem in Springfield. And everyone kept saying, ‘meth, meth, meth’, ‘drugs, drugs, drugs’! Some people were like, ‘you’re going to go “addicts’n’homelessness.” And I said, ‘No! We’re going “kids’n’family!” Because for us, the drug use that’s in our town is not the problem—it’s the answer to a problem. People are using (drugs) as a solution to a problem that they are facing, which is brokenness at an individual and family level. So we’re going to really reach out to our ‘kiddoes,’ to our families, work on restoring some home, teaching people how to dream.”
The next step, then was to find an appropriate, centralized, permanent venue for this “dream center.” And as it happened, around the same time North Point church got what Glazner calls “really serious” about supporting a “Dream Center,” they received a letter from another local congregation, Hamlin Memorial Baptist Church.
“And they were saying, ‘Hey, we need to give our $1.3 million building away—free of charge. But we want to give it to someone who’s going to turn it into a dream center type of location!’ So it was exactly what our dream and prayer was—they were on the same track. So they sent that letter to 19 organizations both nationally and locally, and we responded quickly.”
Hamlin Memorial Baptist Church at 829 West Atlantic Street in Springfield was about to move to a new venue, and they ended up selecting three organizations to present in-person proposals to them regarding the use of their old property—including North Point Church. Well, North Point Church got the nod: they would receive the old Hamlin campus for their Dream Center. But it didn’t end there, according to Glazner.
“It just became this beautiful partnership," she says. "They’re still what we would consider ‘founding partners’ of this. We have volunteers from Hamlin here today serving with us and making this possible in the neighborhood.”
The Dream Center will offer after-school care for kindergarten through high school, as well as volunteer opportunities, job skill training and college prep assistance for teenagers. They’re also planning regular community dinners which will include an educational component for adults on subjects such as parenting, financial literacy, even home weatherizing for winter—“learning from each other,” as Glazner of North Point Church characterizes it.
“So much of lifting families out of poverty is making sure you have the education, and then the opportunity to use it. And so often, one of these pieces is missing –you either don’t have the knowledge you need to make the next step out of poverty, or you don’t have the opportunity to use what you’ve learned. So we want to try to provide both of these options for families.”
There will also be such services as computer labs; ten free hours of counseling; and a food pantry. In addition to the services offered at the Dream Center campus, staff and volunteers will be getting directly out in the community to visit residents and talk about what they need.
Now, the Dream Center isn’t officially open yet—they will officially initiate some programming in January 2017, and then they will be in full-launch mode by spring break. But for all intents and purposes, “Christmas (was) the kickoff,” says Glazner: specifically a Christmas party where parents and caregivers of children, people who might not be able to provide Christmas presents otherwise, are able to select from among literally hundreds of toys, books and clothes—totally free of charge. North Point Church has hosted this event for several years, and they wanted to unofficially inaugurate the Dream Center with it this year.
According to Glazner, this Christmas party, held on December 10, provided gifts, as well as breakfast and a visit with Santa, for 340 children from 121 families. Combine them with the more than 330 volunteers who were on hand to act as personal guides as the parents made their way through a gymnasium full of donated gifts, and the place was just plain crowded.
Glazner told me that a lot of the families they were serving “don’t qualify for other Christmas events. So they’re what we call ‘borderline’ families: they don’t technically fall under a ‘poverty line,’ but they are one mishap—one flat tire, one hospital visit—from being there.”
Among those being helped at this Dream Center Christmas party was Candace Krivak, who was selecting Christmas gift items for her young niece. She readily admitted that her family had been “struggling a little."
"We were ‘borderline’ today at Crosslines because we were just, like, fifty dollars over... but they picked us up here (at the Dream Center). And they’ve been super-awesome nice, so.... (A lot of people in the community) just don’t understand how much people are in need today. I mean, I’m on disability and stuff, and there’s a lot of people that need help.”
Her voice starts to trail away as she says, “I’ve sometimes felt very forgotten.”
Asked if she wanted to add any further thoughts, Candace immediately replied, “Just that, remember that people are people, and we’re all equal. And we should be loved all equal.”
For more information, visit http://www.springfielddreamcenter.com.