Why I’m Part of the Dream – TJ Fletcher

Screen Shot 2017-11-01 at 12.21.54 PMTJ Fletcher is our Community Relations Director, managing all of our programs at the Dream Center and finding new ministry partners who can serve the community we love. She is a proud Canadian, is married to her husband Kyle of 7 years, and has 3 boys, Cash, Caleb, and August. TJ’s story is the first of a series of blog posts where we not only introduce you to our staff but share why we are part of the dream. 


 

The words that changed the course of my life and gave me hope for others:

“You’re going to have to work harder than anyone else and you don’t get to feel sorry for yourself.”

I was 15 and making poor teenage choices. Seems normal enough right? Except I didn’t have that liberty. I had no parental support. My sister and her roommates were my primary guardians so I wouldn’t end up in foster care. I had fooled the school system since 3rd grade, pretending I was my sister’s age so I could go to the same school as her and not be labeled as a homeless teen. I had an after-school job to pay rent and buy groceries, not for fun money like most teenagers. I lived on next-to-nothing and would eat tuna sandwiches for weeks at a time.

I often felt like no one cared about me and that I wouldn’t make it. My friends were my family. My heart and my mind were a minefield just waiting to blow if the wrong person stepped too close. I had baggage for days that I carried around with no clue how to get rid of.

So, when my youth pastor took me for coffee and sat me down to say he had heard I was partying and hanging out with questionable kids, he told me I needed to stop right away. The words he said impacted me so greatly that I’ve never forgotten them.

He told me that YES, my life sucked and it wasn’t fair but what was even less fair was that I had no time to feel sorry for myself. If I wanted to make it out, I had to work harder than anyone else around me. As the words sank in I kept thinking about how unfair it all was.

I was tired of being an adult. So tired. I just wanted to have fun and not worry about people hurting me, being hungry, or how I would succeed.

He told me that he would do whatever it took to help me get out, but that I could never be a victim. At the time I was really mad at him; I mean my life was awful and there he was telling me, “Too bad, you better suck it up buttercup.”

But he was right.

When you grow up in poverty and crisis and have secrets a mile wide before you even finish high school, you can’t afford even one slip-up. You start out on a slope and there is no net at the bottom to catch you.

The kids we work with at the West Nashville Dream Center have so many disadvantages just like I did. Before they are out of diapers they are subject to a path of giving up and allowing themselves to be victims. They are climbing up a slope of neglect, poverty, racial prejudices, abuse, lack of education, hunger, lack of resources, fatherlessness, and all sorts of trauma.

This is why I am part of the dream.

I know they can climb up that slope if they work harder than everyone else. Even though they deserve to feel sorry for themselves, if we can teach them to power through those thoughts they can make it out and see their full potential. I imagine being at the bottom of a mountain, rocks, and mud everywhere. All you can see is the distance and the work it will take to get where you want to be. But if you fight through the hard, you get to the top and your eyes are opened to a valley of beauty.  

Potential is kind of like that. If our kids can fight up the mountain, their eyes will be wide open to see how much more potential their life can hold. There is nothing like winning to make you think you can win bigger and better the next time.

I love the song by Need to Breathe called “Hard Love.” It reminds me of how hard we have to fight for these kids and help them get back up again when they fall down.

We get back up together.

“HARD LOVE”

Trading punches with the heart of darkness / Going to blows with your fear incarnate / Never gone until it’s stripped away / A part of you has gotta die to change

In the morning you gon’ need an answer / Ain’t nobody gonna change the standard / It’s not enough to just feel the flame / You’ve gotta burn your old self away

Hold on tight a little longer / What don’t kill ya, makes ya stronger / Get back up, ’cause it’s a hard love / You can’t change without a fallout / It’s gon’ hurt, but don’t you slow down / Get back up, ’cause it’s a hard love

You know the situation can’t be right / And all you ever do is fight / But there’s a reason that the road is long / It takes some time to make your courage strong

When the wolves come and hunt me down / I will face them all and stand my ground / ‘Cause there’s a fire burnin’ in me / They will see my strength in this love I found

TJ recently received certification from the Katyn Purvis Institute of Child Development in Trust-Based Relational Intervention and plans to implement these tools at the Dream Center in the near future to further help the kids we serve find hope and healing. If you have questions for TJ or would like to talk more about how you can be part of the Dream, email her at tj@westnashdc.com

IMG_5953

The Gift of Protection

Our mission statement: We are a ministry center committed to PROTECTING and empowering those in our community living in distress.

We serve through the lens of protecting all who come to find safety at our center. Some of the children we help live in crisis daily. Their basic needs unmet, tension at home, and neglect.

We recently had a challenging time with a young girl who was irate after her sister was kicked by another student. It took several adults to keep her from taking matters into her own hands to defend her sister. She was inconsolable. Staff member, TJ, was able to embrace her while she still fought.

TJ said, “I don’t know what it’s like for you at home, but at the Dream Center, KIDS GET TO BE KIDS. You don’t have to fight to be safe. At the Dream Center, grown-ups protect children.”

The young girl sobbed and fell into TJ’s arms letting her body finally relax. WE PROTECT.

At our Sunday worship service this past weekend a 5-year-old walked away from his class while they were outside playing a game. He was found and told to always tell an adult where you are or where you are going.

He replied, “Why?”

We assume it never occurred to him that anyone would be looking for him or keeping up with his whereabouts. Most 5-year-olds are rarely out of their parent’s sight. We’ve witnessed toddlers unaccounted for, their caregivers unaware they had left the house. WE PROTECT.

During Dream Center kids class, one boy was being bullied by a group of brothers, getting knocked over in his chair. Just like the girl mentioned above, that boy’s brother took action and did the same to one of the bullies. After the fight ended and we made sense of what happened, the group of brothers causing trouble were given lunch and sent home for the day. We then talked with the brother who took up for his younger brother. He was still in fight or flight mode. We reminded him that when he is at the Dream Center, we are here to protect him and his brother. The lesson of asking an adult for help, instead of using his hands to fight back, was given. He let his guard down and begin to share about being bullied himself at school. We earned a little trust, the scowl on his face faded and we allowed he and his brother the special job of bringing out the lunch cart, (pictured above).

They took such pride in a chance to have this responsibility. WE PROTECT. 

We could share story after story about the need for protectors in our community. The police come to us when a child is hurt or missing. We stay connected with local schools to report when kids are spotted in the neighborhood during school hours. Often, school is a much safer place for them to be during the day than at home.

We hope that the gift of protection motivates our kids to seek out relationships that build them up and ask for help when they don’t feel safe. Sometimes this mission seems like an uphill battle. But, the moments when the load is lifted off their hearts and minds for a day keep us walking, sometimes crawling up that hill, hand in hand with those we get to serve.

If you are interested in learning more about serving our young children or teenagers after hearing these stories, click HERE to fill out the volunteer form and standard background check.

IMG_0246

 

 

Photo Sep 23, 10 16 25 PM

 

It’s Ok to Leave – Katy Cash – Volunteer Highlight

Katy Cash’s first Sunday was not an ideal introduction for a potential volunteer.  She walked into volunteer cancellations and short staff. Without hesitation, she agreed to hop in the car with staff member, Miranda Telford, to grab the sermon file for the worship service.

They had a great introductory conversation and it was apparent that Katy had found a place to serve that fit like a missing puzzle piece. When they returned, Katy joined the 4th-6th grade class to shadow for the day and poor thing, she got dragged onto the concrete during a game of Trash Can, ON HER FIRST DAY SERVING! It didn’t phase her one bit.

She stayed after class to help serve lunch to moms and kids. When she asked, “What else can I do,” Miranda replied, “Go Home!”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, you are free to go!” Katy, a teacher, had told Miranda earlier that she was going back to work the next day, after her Summer break.

This trend continues every time she serves. We have to make her leave. She gives her whole self when she is with us, whether it’s throwing a football with the kids, teaching the 4th-6th grade class or helping us with a special event.

Welcome to the family Katy. We hope you enjoy her WNDC Story:

How long have you served at the WNDC?
A little over a month
How did you hear about us?
Instagram
What ministry is your fav?
Kids ministry on Sundays
Best memory?
I have only been working at WNDC for a little over a month but I always leave there with my heart full of joy! My favorite memories are seeing the light bulb go off when we did the lesson on poverty… and of course getting hugs from the kids because they don’t want to leave you!
What is your why?
“Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11 Sometimes that means going out of your way to give your time, support, encouragement, resources, and love to those who need it. I was so blessed to have a family and church who helped me learn how to do that at a young age. I want to keep spreading that love.

Chawnika and Tristan

IMG_3121It’s hard to remember a time when Chawnika and Tristan weren’t a part of the Dream Center. They are family to us and when they aren’t here, something doesn’t feel quite right. Chawnika explains it all started one Sunday afternoon when she came to pick up her son from our kids programming. Chawnika’s mom, Sharon, had been bringing Tristan to church with her. She said Pastor Ryan insisted she come inside and join the Single Mom’s lunch. Chawnika admits despite the fact she didn’t have her hair or makeup done, Ryan was very convincing, so she reluctantly obliged.  

From that day forward, she was hooked.

Chawnika says after Tristan was born and while his estranged father was in jail, she felt hopeless and judged by people who didn’t even know or understand her heart. “Sometimes I would break down because the last thing I wanted for my child was for him to grow up fatherless,” describes Chawnika.

Today, Chawnika and Tristan’s lives are full of joy, community, faith, and freedom. “A primary source of strength is that Tristan has found a community of people at the Dream Center who love him unconditionally. I have also found a group of women to walk beside me on this journey and I’m forever thankful. Our Single Mom’s group did not judge me. They have embraced my flaws. I couldn’t ask for a better group to walk this thing called life – a life that has ups and downs. I know I can overcome anything thanks to the power of prayer…my life wouldn’t be as peaceful as it is most of the time if I didn’t have this community of people.”

Chawnika and Tristan are living proof that your support makes a major impact on the lives of our moms and kids. “Tristan is impacted by all of the love he has grown to know and become so familiar… Tristan runs through the doors of the Dream Center and it warms my heart with the thousands of hugs he receives. For Tristan the Dream Center means freedom, the freedom to be playful, active and himself… As his mother, I’m so thankful.”IMG_1869

Kani

Like so many young kids that have come to the Dream Center over the past four years, Kani just started showing up one Sunday. Now we can’t remember a time without him.

Kani has a genuine curiosity to learn and he wanted to know every facet of serving at the Dream Center. This kid really wanted to help out. He’d be waiting for our staff to arrive to get started. He was less about what we could do for him and much more about how he could help us.

Recently, Kani’s mother, Stacy, stood up at our Dream Center Mom’s group and shared that at one time her son’s story was full of heartbreak and challenges. Stacy tearfully explained that one of Kani’s teachers told her he was going to be a dropout at 12 years old and saw little to no potential in her son. Stacy even described Kani being ruthlessly bullied at school.

But that was in the past. Today, Stacy joyfully declares Kani has found his home away from home at the West Nashville Dream Center and went on to say that above any program or mentor Kani has every received help from, she knows that as long as he has the Dream Center, he’ll be ok.

Here, Kani is loved unconditionally, encouraged daily and serves faithfully. Stacy explains, “It no longer matters what the teachers think or what the other kids say, my son is going to do great things with his life.” We couldn’t agree more. After all, there is not a week that goes by that Kani isn’t taking care of the farm animals, directing Sunday morning traffic, setting up speakers, even taking on the role of Sunday DJ. Now our only problem is making sure Kani still understands he is still a kid and can’t tell the other kids what to do! He has that much ownership in the Dream Center.

Like all of the kids we reach on a daily basis, their successes and failures become ours as well. We cherish each opportunity to walk through challenging journeys by their side, cheering them on every step of the way.

Won’t you cheer them on as well by joining the Dream Team, becoming a monthly donor, knowing you have a chance to change a life like Kani’s? More info and a link to sign up below:

JOIN THE DREAM TEAM

 

Keeping it Fresh – Volunteer Highlight

2015-10-16 11.07.19-1Emily Sims is one of our most faithful volunteers. I think we could count on one hand the times she hasn’t been at Fresh Friday Ministry. She has created a special environment, treating all who walk through our doors like family. This ministry is such a huge resource to our community and we know we are lucky to have her leadership.

This is her West Nashville Dream Center story.

How long have you served at the WNDC?
3 years
How did you hear about us?
I first served at Adopt-A-Block. And then I saw a post on Instagram about starting the Fresh Fridays and began serving regularly.
What ministry is your fav?
I absolutely love Fresh Fridays!
Best memory?
One of the things I love about Fresh Fridays is the diversity of people we serve. We serve people from Iraq, Kenya, Palestine, Sudan, and our neighbors right across the street. We all come together and pray and socialize, sharing each other’s burdens. Everyone is so grateful and appreciative for the food they receive and concerned for the people sitting next to them.
What is your why?
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Matthew 5:16. I pray the people I serve are drawn to Christ because of this ministry.

Volunteer Highlight – Jenny from the Block

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

No really, we can call her that because she is Jenny and she is an Adopt-A-Block leader! We met Jenny a couple years ago and first asked her to serve with our kid’s ministry. Jenny kindly asked after serving faithfully, “Can I serve somewhere where I don’t have the work with kids?” Turns out, that area of serving was not her strength. We joke about it now and the rest of the story is that YES, you don’t have to work with kids to be a part of the ministry at the West Nashville Dream Center. So, Jenny soon started volunteering on our Adopt-A-Block, Neighborhood Check-In team. A year later, she is now volunteering to help us coordinate our Adopt-A-Blocks and continually holds us accountable to live out what we say, “See a need, meet a need.” She follows up with neighbors from the block she leads and helps find resources for our community. This is her West Nashville Dream Center story.
How long have you served at the WNDC?
 1.5 years
How did you hear about us?
Katie Kines / Darby Herod’s Community Group
What ministry is your fav?
Adopt A Block
Best memory?
Welcoming 3 different families to a West Nashville Dream Center event after inviting them for months during AAB.
What is your why?
 Love. Everything about the Dream Center is love. How can we love on this person, this family, this neighborhood? That’s how I see the staff and volunteers approaching everything. Love breaks down walls and barriers and stereotypes and gets to the heart of each person. And that is a beautiful thing to witness.

A Race With Lasting Impact – A Participant’s Story

Anthony McCauliff is a dear friend of the West Nashville Dream Center. We first met him when he was next door at Safe Harbor mens transition home. Anthony has volunteered for us in numerous capacities and was a part of our first 5K in 2015, which was his first competitive race.

He recently moved back home to help his family during some trying times, but our Volunteer Director, Miranda Telford, got to catch up with our old friend about how the West Nashville Dream Center 5K had lasting impact on his life.

This is Anthony’s West Nashville Dream Center Story.17265002_10210914292706431_7903113685338807742_n

M:  How did you get involved with the Dream Center?

A:  I found the West Nashville Dream Center at Safe Harbor. The Dream Center was having a block party and I was able to come and be a part of that. Meeting new people and serving the kids was just something really fun and positive for me to do. 

M: What about that experience made you come back?

A: I felt so welcome and I really enjoyed being surrounded by people that truly cared.

M: Tell me about where you were at that point in your life?

A: I wasn’t in a positive place. I was going through a really rough time and coming over to the Dream Center gave me such an amazing feeling and put me in such a great positive place and that is something that I really needed at the time. 

M: Ok, so what got you into running, because it’s a huge part of your life?

A: My entire family ran and had been involved in track. I didn’t start running until I got out of the Army, especially not in any races, I just never had the desire to do that. The Dream Center 5K was the first race I ever did, and it was so exciting and thrilling for me. I loved it so much that I ran the loop twice! This was a defining moment for me because I found something that I really enjoyed and I kept doing it. Now I am a pacer for a race company and I owe it all to the Dream Center for helping me find this passion.

On that second loop at our 2015 5K, Anthony ran with a sweet mom from our neighborhood, Divina, also a cancer survivor, cheering her on and helping her finish the race. One of our favorite memories so far. Picture below:

image1

M: What would you tell someone to encourage them to be a part of our 5K?

A: Just being there is such a great experience, whether you are blowing up balloons, or setting up checkpoints, it’s just really special to be a part of and who knows, you might be like me and find that running is something you really enjoy and want to keep up! If it weren’t for the Dream Center, I never would’ve gotten into competitive racing. Anyone can participate in this race! Walkers, runners, it doesn’t matter, we all come together as a community and encourage each other to finish. 

M: How easy was it to participate?

A: It was really easy to sign up for the race and it didn’t cost me any fees, just cans of food that were going back into the community. I appreciated that I could even wait until the last minute to sign up. 

M: What do you think the 5K does for this community.

A: I have seen this center allow people to overcome an obstacle that they never thought they could. By bringing the community together in this way it promotes a good life style and getting to the finish line no matter what. Coming here I felt such a great sense of love and appreciation. This center does so much good, it’s a family and they make you always want to come back. I know that this is a safe place where I can come and not be judged, but be loved and involved with the community.

We hope you’re inspired to sign up TODAY after reading Anthony’s inspiring story of finding a passion and staying dedicated to it. Register online HERE! Enter code: blog to receive $3 off the purchase of a t-shirt today through tomorrow at noon! 


 

An Original – Volunteer Highlight

darby-volunteer-highlightThis is Darby. She is one of the original West Nashville Dream Center volunteers. Woot Woot!

Darby is an Adopt-A-Block leader and helped launch a Tuesday night running program for the kids, in her spare time. She spends her days as a teacher at Tusculum Elementary and has a classroom of multi-cultural children she adores. We think they are pretty lucky to have her.

Here is her West Nashville Dream Center story!

How long have you served at the WNDC?

“Since we opened our door, and served this community through Adopt A Block a year prior to us moving in :)”

What ministry is your fav?

“Adopt-A-Block”

Best memory?

“Oh the memories I have from my block are endless! I’ve been invited inside for a grilled cheese, I’ve delivered bikes to a single mom and her children, I’ve prayed on porches, I’ve gone in homes and helped change light bulbs! One of my favorite memories happened recently. I was walking the blocks picking up trash and inviting people to our cookout hosted by The Hills Church. We knocked on a door where one of our kids ministry little girl lives. I told her about the lunch, and then she asked what we were doing. I told her picking up trash and telling people about lunch. She asked if she could come, put on some gloves and grabbed a trash bag! She knew most of the children on the street, knocked on their doors and gave them all of the details including, “I hope you can make it! We’d love to see you there!” before she left the door. Seeing this little girl get out of her house on a cold and rainy day to serve her friends and neighborhood was by far my best memory.”

What is your why for serving here?

“Being here for almost 4 years and seeing a lot of these kids grow up, it’s clear the impact this place has on their lives. Especially the teenagers we have now that were only 8 or 9 when they started coming to the West Nashville Dream Center. I see how different they are from their peers, and the choices that they make knowing they have a family at the Dream Center that believes in them, loves them and will hold them accountable. They have refuge in this place, a place to get off the street, out of the house and know they will always be loved. They choose to come here for Sunday services, they choose to come here for community nights, they choose to come here for a cookout, they choose to come shoot hoops with friends here and that is exactly why we all do what we do here everyday at the Dream Center.”

Want to get involved after hearing Darby’s story? Visit our online volunteer sign up form HERE.

IMG_9524.jpegIMG_6632.jpegIMG_0239.JPGFullSizeRender.jpgIMG_0176.JPGIMG_5295.jpeg

All in the Family – Volunteer Highlight

IMG_0443.JPGThis is Jordan.

She heard about the West Nashville Dream Center from her mom, Jo, while she was away at college. When she moved to Nashville after graduating, it wasn’t long before Jordan became a familiar face. She now serves in our kids ministry on Sundays and the community afternoon lunch that follows and will jump in where needed.

Here is her West Nashville Dream Center story!

How long have you served at the WNDC?

“Since May 2015”

What ministry is your fav?

“My favorite ministry is obviously kids/single moms. I LOVE my Sunday time with my kiddos.”

Best memory?

“This sounds extra crazy BUT my favorite memory was one Sunday just recently I got called Ms. Jordan instead of one of the kids just yelling “HEY”. It was a little action but I smiled all day knowing I have FINALLY made enough of an impact for them to remember my name.”

What is your why for serving here?

“The kids we serve are the future leaders of our country. They deserve to know that someone loves them, prays for them, and isn’t going to leave them just because things are sometimes hard. They have so much potential and I want to play a part in them succeeding in this life God has given them. ”

Want to get involved after hearing Jordan’s story? Visit our online volunteer sign up form HERE.

IMG_0636.JPGIMG_0751.JPGIMG_1242.JPGF8BDF662-5EA6-4D85-9FC3-68CC1473257C.JPG