EASLEY — Six students walked into the musty classroom of Simpson Academy Alternative School with smiles beaming across their faces.
They are not students of the alternative school, but students of the Anderson Districts I & II Career and Technology Center who were excited to play a small part in transforming the old building into a place where lives would be forever changed.
Amidst the smell of wet paint and dust, they could sense something greater in the old halls of Simpson Academy. They could sense hope.
In the fall of 2013, Chris Wilson bought the building that was once Simpson Academy with a vision to start a non-profit organization called The Dream Center.
The goal of The Dream Center is to provide a network of support and resources to individuals and families giving hope through Jesus Christ.
While they provide aid to those in need, they emphasize that they exist to give a hand up and not just a hand out.
For this reason, The Dream Center has many ministries to make a long term impact including an extensive mentoring program, classes to educate people on how to better their lives, and programs where people can earn things to provide for their families.
This whole idea of giving more than just a handout is what attracted students from the Anderson Districts I & II Career & Technology Center to choose this non-profit organization to work alongside during their senior project.
“There are many organizations that exist that are great for giving someone a check and then moving them on to the next handout,” said Clay Williamson, one student working with The Dream Center. “The Dream Center stood out to us because they genuinely cared about the long-term impact they could make on families in need. Our group wanted to play a part in this change.”
For the first time, the Digital Art Design, Graphic Communications, and Radio/TV broadcasting programs at the Career Center offered seniors a collaborative project titled “ECCO” that stands for “Engage, Create, Cultivate, Outreach.”
During this project, students created their own design agency and chose a non-profit for which they would create audio, video, and print productions. Many people don’t realize that many non-profits have this need, but it is both crucial and expensive for a non-profit to advocate for its cause.
The group that worked with The Dream Center named their agency Awakening Studios with a mission to “awaken” the community to the needs of The Dream Center. The group then used what they’ve learned in their classes at the Career Center to design a logo, create business cards, and “brand” their agency.
After creating their identity, they began to produce various products for The Dream Center.
Digital Art Design students Haley Johnson and Tyler Meece worked hard to develop a T-shirt design to be used by The Dream Center while Radio and TV Broadcasting students Hunter Fricks and Matthew Aleshire created radio commercials and a promotional video about the incredible opportunities given by The Dream Center.
Jennie Montgomery and Clay Williamson worked on brochures, fliers and posters that advocated the ministries offered at The Dream Center. The students in Awakening Studios commented on how amazing it felt to use their skills and resources obtained at the Career & Technology Center to make a real difference.
“I cared more about the quality of work I was doing because I knew that it was going out into the community and representing not only our group, but The Dream Center,” Haley Johnson added.
As a part of the project, students were also given the opportunity to volunteer with their organization. A major project that Awakening Studios helped with was turning an old classroom into a modern, beautifully decorated boutique.
The boutique named “Hello Gorgeous!” is a way for people in need to take classes in exchange for credit vouchers that can be used for clothing and other essential items. Awakening Studios was able to witness this transformation from start to finish and could barely believe their eyes when they walked into the final product.
“The Dream Center didn’t have to spend so much time and money on making the boutique attractive,” Jennie Montgomery said. “They could have just left it as an old classroom and they would have still gotten the job done. However, I think the atmosphere of Hello Gorgeous makes all of the difference. When people shop in a place that is attractive, they feel like they have worth and I think that in a way, that’s what The Dream Center is doing.
“While many other organizations are satisfied with treating people like a musty classroom, merely getting the job done with whatever handout they are giving, The Dream Center goes the extra mile to make people feel like they are worth the long term help they are getting to better their lives,” she added.
Just a generation ago, “community service” was a punishment imposed on juvenile offenders, but today, it is the reason six students cheerfully spent their morning sorting through used clothes and scrubbing toilets at The Dream Center of Pickens County.
When asked how the project changed him, team member Tyler Meece answered: “This project has opened my eyes. I used to be so consumed with only my needs that I guess I never really realized that people in my own community needed.”
The students who were apart of Awakening Studios said this project was just the beginning of a life dedicated to community service.
Matthew Aleshire said that he now knows how to use what he is passionate about to make a difference in the lives of others. When students began working with The Dream Center, they expected to change their community. However, it is evident after this project, that this project changed them the most.