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The Dream Center: Helping Neighbors care for neighbors

The Dream Center: Helping Neighbors care for neighbors

JOANNA TEBBS YOUNG | October 31,2014

When the building on West Street formerly home to a bar called “The Office” received a new paint job early last year, the sign announcing it to be the “Dream Center” didn’t offer any clues to what kind of dreams it was a center for, or what one might expect to find inside. But almost two years later, the work of founders Linda Justin and Bill Beckim is becoming well known.

Interviewed by NY Times and filmed for Fox News My America, they have also received local recognition from various service agencies, including the Rutland City Police Department’s Chief James Baker, Project VISION (of which they are now active members), and have even won the Children’s Heroes of 2014 award from the Eckerd Foundation.

On Christmas Day 2012, Justin and Beckim headed to the streets with bowls of homemade stew to feed some of the hungry around the city. Wanting to give back in some way, Justin explains how what is now a nonprofit organization running youth groups, offering prayer sessions, organizing block meetings and parties, and providing occasional free meals through bi-weekly “cafés,” didn’t begin with such big intentions. “We hit the streets even before we knew about the drug problem in Rutland and before we knew about Project Vision.”

In January 2013 the building on West Street was purchased and renovated. Soon after, they decided to “adopt” two blocks of the NW Neighborhood, visiting the residents once a week and holding a block party where, according to the Dream Center’s brochure, neighbors came out of their homes and began to care for one another. The results were almost immediate, says Justin.

“We saw the drug problem go down. We saw drug dealers and users who were openly on the streets leave. Residents put up signs that said ‘Drugs and Crime will not be tolerated in our neighborhood’ and began to take down license plate numbers for the (police department).”

Believing strongly in the power of relationship to heal people and communities, Justin and Beckim engage with their neighbors and encourage them to interact with each other. “We believe that people need unconditional love and acceptance and that’s what we offer,” says Justin. “People will change when they want to change and they are most likely to do that when they know they are not being judged by their behavior. They need acceptance without the pressure of conformity.”

Unlike other organizations, the Dream Center, which runs on donations and volunteer help, doesn’t provide services, but rather helps families connect with the agencies that can match for their needs. “We stay close to them, building a lasting relationship,” says Justin.

And Justin and Beckim have certainly formed relationships with the children they serve in their three weekly children’s groups. Going on camping trips, and to such places as Billings Farm and Museum and the Paramount, Justin says, “We have a lot of fun with them and we have definitely fallen in love with each and every one. They and their parents are family to us. We help them find their dreams and begin to show them how they can fulfill those dreams.”

Fulfilling dreams can be hard when living in poverty in a city such as ours. And Justin acknowledges Rutland has problems. “So does every other city in America,” she says. “We are not unique in this. Instead of looking at what is wrong let’s just acknowledge it and do something about it. It takes personal sacrifice both of time and resources. It takes patience, endurance and perseverance. Building relationships that last is not an easy task but if just one person would find another person outside their base of family and friends then we can turn Rutland around. It takes getting out into the neighborhoods and doing it.”

To this end, Justin encourages more people to adopt-a-block; “To take ownership of it,” she says. “Come out of your homes, get involved in one another’s lives and bring a sense of community back to your neighborhood.”

Justin knows the Dream Center’s unique approach is making a difference in Rutland and acknowledges its ability to work with other organizations that are willing to step out of their own comfort zones. “Let’s face it,” says Justin, “the old way is not working anymore. We have to change that approach to meet the very real, core needs of people. Meet them with love and acceptance and go from there. It takes time and friendship and trust.”

Joanna Tebbs Young is a writer and writing workshop facilitator living in Rutland. Her other column can be found at @jtebbsyoung.

Photo by Christopher Thayer

The Dream Center, located at 197 West St. in Rutland, runs on donations and volunteer help, doesn’t provide services, but rather helps families connect with the agencies that can match for their needs.

The Dream Center

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