MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Today is Thursday, September 10th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Myrna Brown.
MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: The last installment in our Hope Awards for Effective Compassion.
Anna Johansen takes us to a ministry that reaches out to some of South Carolina’s most broken residents.
DEANNA: We were actually living in a tent in a person’s backyard. We had been there for four months.
ANNA JOHANSEN: Deanna Smith and her husband Jason used to have it all together. He was a chef; she was a manager at Walmart. But then things fell apart.
DEANNA: We were on drugs. We were on meth, we’ve been on meth for four years. Eventually all our money was going to drugs.
They sold everything so they could keep using. They quit paying bills, quit paying rent. They were both deep in addiction.
DEANNA: I just didn’t care if I laid in there and died. That is a horrible feeling coming off of that. And all I could think about was wanting to go get more of it to feel better.
Then a family member reached out and told them about a ministry called the Dream Center.
Chris Wilson is its executive director. Back in 2010, she felt a call to help people in the community. So that’s what she and her husband did.
WILSON: And we didn’t understand at the time that we’re kind of helping them in the wrong way…
If someone was jobless, they would help them get a job. If someone was homeless, they would help get them into housing. But Wilson would inevitably be disappointed.
WILSON: And I would say, Okay, now, here’s your new place to live. So, you know, you can do A, B, and C, but please don’t do D or you’ll get evicted. You know, within two days, they will jump right over A, B and C straight to D. And they would get evicted. Or we would get them a job, pull some strings, get them a job and three days later, we’d get a call that said we had to fire them.
Wilson began to realize that you couldn’t just fix the symptoms. You had to go for the holistic cure. And that became the model for the Dream Center.
AUDIO: Oh the class? Yeah it’s in classroom one today. [SOUND OF CLASSROOM]
The Dream Center is a hub for dozens of different classes: Budgeting, parenting, Bible study, health, job readiness, anger management. Through those classes, Wilson hopes to change the community from the ground up.
AUDIO: I know you finished the second half of chapter five with Christy last week…
This is a Bible class, run by volunteer Jeannie Truman. They’re studying John chapter six and the feeding of the 5,000. It’s not a big group—they’re just starting to get back up and running after COVID-19 shutdowns. One woman sits hunched over, her grizzled hair covered with a backwards pink baseball cap. Another carries a backpack and a grocery bag and wears a pair of slippers. Some are quiet the whole class. Others speak up often.
AUDIO: Even as Christians. Yes you have to pray and God does provide, but He provides on His time, not ours.
Anyone in the community can take classes here. If they do, they earn Dream Dollars…currency they can spend at one of the three Dream Center thrift stores in the area. We’ll visit one of those thrift stores in a minute. But first, let’s stop by the tiny house village. This is where homeless families can stay for one year while they rebuild their lives.
Chris Wilson leads the tour.
AUDIO: [Door creaking open] This is, Amanda just moved out of this house…
The village includes 23 tiny houses. Over the course of a year, the people who live here move through a structured program. They have to take classes and earn Dream Dollars. Those Dream Dollars go towards paying rent on the tiny house.
WILSON: Nobody lives in this one right now, but this gives you an idea…Very small. Kind of like a dorm.
This tiny house village is where Deanna and Jason Smith came. The Dream Center isn’t meant for drug rehab, so the couple had to detox before they could come. Even then, they still had a long way to go.
DEANNA: Eventually we started coming up here taking the classes and got moved in.
The first eight weeks of the program are a blackout period: No phones, no contact with the outside world. It’s an intense period of Bible study and character development. For Deanna Smith, that was intimidating.
DEANNA: And I feel so out at like a fish out of water because I’d never read the Bible. I didn’t know anything about it.
She would sit silently during class, feeling like the black sheep of the group. But as she read more of the Bible, she started to notice a change.
DEANNA: It’s just like when you start reading it, you just get pulled in, you get drawn in. And it didn’t take long before I was just in there asking questions, raising my hand.
The Smiths still had to work through withdrawal, but Deanna says dealing with the guilt was almost worse.
DEANNA: Because we felt so ashamed even though they weren’t judging us or anything. Realizing we had hurt our families, we had hurt our children.
The only thing that helped with that was turning their lives over to God.
DEANNA: I’m telling y’all when we surrendered everything to the Lord, it just got easier and easier. And Jesus transformed everything about us. Nothing about us is the same.
After the first eight weeks of the program, Deanna started working at one of the Dream Center thrift stores.
AUDIO: [SOUND OF STORE]
All of the stores’ profit goes to funding the Dream Center. And the stores provide a place for people to get work experience and start providing for themselves.
AUDIO: Okay I had to do a return and re-ring her stuff up…
All the residents volunteer at the ministry in some capacity. That’s key to the Dream Center’s “hand up instead of a hand out” mentality.
Chris Wilson says they do their best to provide a place for people to rebuild their lives. But it doesn’t always work.
WILSON: So we just had a lady relapse with drugs. And we even gave her a second chance because we dearly loved her kids. But she still was not, we actually had to call DSS and have them get involved because she was not willing to make the changes. She just wasn’t ready, I guess.
The ministry has a lot of moving pieces. But Chris Wilson says the gospel is at the center of it all.
WILSON: We don’t pound them over the head with a Bible. We try very hard not to do that. But Christ is undeniable, here. So we really are just trying to leave it out in front of them. And when they accept him and it’s real and then we see real transformation.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Anna Johansen in Easley, South Carolina.
BROWN: That’s the last in our series of features on the 2020 Hope Awards for Effective Compassion recipients. Now it’s your job to vote for the ministry you’d like to see receive the $10,000 grand prize. Voting begins next week at wng.org/compassion. That’s wng.org/compassion.