SUMITON – Larisa Mills, who is a volunteer for the City of Lights Dream Center, says that the organization wants to help local citizens dream big and succeed in many ways, ranging from a 12-step …
SUMITON – Larisa Mills, who is a volunteer for the City of Lights Dream Center, says that the organization wants to help local citizens dream big and succeed in many ways, ranging from a 12-step recovery program to after-school activities.
Mills was the guest speaker at the first East Walker Chamber of Commerce meeting of 2019 on Tuesday, updating chamber members on the progress made by the Dream Center since it opened this past year.
More than 2,000 people attended the City of Lights Back to School Bash last August. The organization gave away 500 backpacks to kids with school supplies.
Several businesses and other organizations pitched in for that event. One of the offerings was free haircuts for children heading back to school.
Mills noted one of the salon volunteers cut the hair of a little 7-year-old boy. While he was in the chair, the stylist asked the child what he wanted to do when he grew up.
The child just sat there before saying, “I don’t know. No one has ever asked me that.”
The stylist told him to dream big. The child’s mother leaned close to the child and said, “Baby, don’t dream too big because we’re never going to be more than what we are now.”
That attitude is something the City of Lights wants to change, according to Mills.
“This is why we created the Dream Center for this community,” Mills said. “We’re trying to change the mindset of poverty,” she said. “Our purpose is to bring hope through partnerships, community, and education for people who don’t have it."
Their goals are big, but they are taking baby steps towards those goals, according to Mills.
The organization recently launched an after-school program. Volunteers are working with a non-profit in Walker County called Raising Arrows that comes in three days a week and feeds the kids a hot meal. They also have tutors who come in and work with the children in the program.
Mills said that feedback from teachers where the children attend school has been positive. “They say that the kids are doing better since entering the after-school program,” Mills said. “It’s hard to pay attention when you’re hungry,” she said.
The Dream Center received a grant from the Walker Area Community Foundation to buy two new vehicles.
“Transportation is a huge issue for many in our community, and this was a barrier we wanted to remove,” she said.
Volunteers with the Dream Center, which is based at the old T.S. Boyd school, are in the process of preparing its gym as a warming center for people who don’t have anywhere to go when the temps drop. They will have cots and hot showers for those taking advantage of the warming station.
The Dream Center also started a Celebrate Recovery program, but it quickly outgrew the space there and had to be moved to the Sumiton Church of God. Mills pointed out that the Dream Center is not a Sumiton Church of God program, but a community-wide program that includes not only Dora and Sumiton but all of Walker County. There are even people in West Jefferson County participating in the program, according to Mills.
The organization partnered with Bevill State Community College to provide GED classes. Workforce training is also in the works at the Dream Center.
Dream Center officials met with Jasper Area Family Services, as well as the court system, and began discussions to offer classes for families in need. The classes include ones on childcare and other family classes, according to Mills.
Future plans include a rehab center for women with children. They are remodeling one wing of the old T.S. Boyd School, and they expect to accommodate 24 women when the program launches.
The need is great in this area but there are many resources available, according to Mills. The Dream Center wants to help them get connected to those resources.
“Our goal is to change things one life at a time,” she said.
Mills admits this will not be easy, and officials need help from people in the community. That help can come in the form of prayers, financial support, grant writers and volunteers.
The City of Lights posts pictures, reports, and resources on their website and on social media. The web address is www.cityoflightsala.com. To contact Mills, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In other chamber business, officials said Bevill State welcomed its first student accepted into the Mercedes Internship Program. Also, the community college has an opening for a part-time book store clerk that works a flexible 18-hour schedule each week. The opening should be posted on the www.bscc.edu by the end of the week.