Nestled among a mix of row homes, auto body shops and the Hunting Park Community Garden rests a small brick building, which might go unnoticed to passersby. But for 15 students who call the area home, the Feltonville Dream Center is a beacon of hope, an organization shining its light to children of the community.
The center, located on the border of Feltonville and Hunting Park, provides an after-school program focusing on not only education but building character.
The students, who attend either Cayuga or the Hunting Park Christian Academy, receive consistent support from the 20-plus volunteers at the center.
“We’re not just tutors. We try to mentor the children and try to teach them how to act, how to be young men and women,” says Rasheedah Waters, the center’s program coordinator. “Even though they’re children we try to teach them, even at a young age, how to act and how to be successful in this world.”
Through the course of the afternoon volunteers at the 18,000-square-foot facility pump constant motivation into the children, spurring them on to accomplish and realize their hopes and dreams.
“It’s (the program) going to help them from wanting to participate in any negative activity when you speak positive things into someone’s life,” says Waters.
Waters believes that the Feltonville Dream Center sets itself above the traditional programs that exist in other community centers in the surrounding area.
“I’ve actually researched a lot of the centers around here and it’s mostly the programs we offer (that are different),” she says.
For volunteer Lacie McGowan, who teaches dance, drama and acting, the program provides the opportunity to share her passions with the students.
“I hope to just give them a little bit of exposure to the performing arts and see the different possibilities that they can do and get involved in different programs that would be recreational,” she says.
For parents such as Takiyah Green, mother of Mikah Jones who’s in the program, the center has been a breath of fresh air.
“I’ve seen a huge difference in Mikah. He’s more excited to do school work, homework and even to do activities that I never thought he would have an interest in,” she says. “He’s really excited to show me the work and the different activities that this program has to offer.”
While activities stretching the imagination and horizons of the children are the center’s ultimate mission, volunteers make sure that education comes first. Students spend approximately an hour and a half on homework and education with volunteers lending support where needed.
“We make sure that they have all of their homework done before we start any activities,” says McGowan.
While education seems an obvious reason for starting a program like the dream center, the idea for the organization was actually founded through the vision of Christian Winters, pastor of the Chosen Generation Worship Center. This vision was one that came from an unlikely source.
“I met a homeless man named Dave, who had a master’s degree in philosophy. We had a great conversation and began to hang out consistently. One Sunday I picked Dave up and took him with me to all my preaching engagements. We had dinner, then I realized I had to take Dave back to the bridge he called home. It crushed me,” says Winters. “I decided that day that I needed a place where I could serve anyone in need, whenever I needed to.”
That summer Winters established the “Express Yourself” program, with hopes of providing individuals the chance to improve their lives through dance and other performing arts.
Along with help from longtime friend Fayette Coppock, Winters transitioned the summer’s program into an after school curriculum running from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Although the “Express Yourself” program never elevated to the level Winters and Coppock hoped, Winters is optimistic that the afternoon program will reach its full potential.
“My goal for our organization is to become the hub for the Hunting Park, Kensington and Feltonville areas. I would like to be the city hall for these areas. My goal is that within our doors there would be no need that we cannot meet.”
As the program continues to grow, Winters actively searches for new ways to improve the center. He reaches out to corporations and private donors for funding, in addition to the money he brings in through speaking engagements. The program maintains itself through the $40 registration fee it charges per child, along with the additional $30 charge per child at the start of each week.
While Winters’ primary responsibility is to accumulate funds and oversee the program, he considers himself more than simply a pastor and fund-raiser.
“My role for the center is to be that constant dreamer and challenger to the staff, donors and the local government to be who we need to be for communities.”
In the future the center hopes to bring more programs into the facility, which is currently in the first year of operation.
“Once we get up and running we hope to get computer classes and to help them (the students) with their literacy, reading, math, discipline, behavior, everything we can for the kids,” says Jasmine Brown, the center’s program administrator. “Give them an outlook that everything is not narrow. That there is a big world out there and you can pretty much do whatever you feel as though you can do.”