Technically, the Tampa Bay Dream Center can be defined as an inner city nonprofit charity. But when defined by its young volunteers, the Dream Center is described as not only a program that feeds inner city Tampa with food but also with love.
“There are so many kids just hungry for love,” said Marlyse Rivera, Missions Coordinator for the Dream Center.
Rivera, 19, has been working with the Dream Center since February 2001. She is in charge of planning mission trips and promoting the trips to church youth groups in the area.
In addition, Rivera mentors children, participates in block parties and helps out with food drives, as do the other volunteers.
With these ongoing programs, the Dream Center concentrates on supporting children and single mothers. Along with weekly block parties, food drives and mentoring programs, the Dream Center provides restoration of homes and Sunday discipleship classes.
Although Dream Centers have been established in cities throughout the country, the Tampa Bay Dream Center began two years ago when Bill Craver, a minister, took his family on a trip to visit the Los Angeles Dream Center.
“My family and I knew that we wanted to reach our inner city, so we went to L.A. to experience what God was doing at the Dream Center there,” said Bill’s son David, who is now vice president of the Tampa Bay Dream Center. “After seeing the zeal of the volunteers and aiding one of the street ministries, I knew that a relationship would soon be formed.”
When returning to the Tampa area, the Cravers started to ponder the idea of establishing a Dream Center in Tampa.
This began with David asking a youth group that he was directing if any of them would like to accompany him as missionaries. Five recent high school graduates abandoned their plans and accompanied Craver. Craver himself turned down a full scholarship to the University of Tampa.
They started the Dream Center out of a four-bedroom home on the corner of 4th Avenue and 23rd Street, which at the time was one of the most drug-infested areas of Tampa. The youths’ graduation and savings money served as the down payment on the home.
Since September 2000, the Dream Center has expanded greatly.
Instead of working in the cramped four-bedrooms on 4th Avenue and 23rd Street, the Center now occupies two floors of a church on Palm and N. Florida Avenue.
Instead of feeding 10 people during its food runs, the Center now reaches more than 300. Instead of the five youths running the Dream Center, over 20 volunteers (ages 16-24) now help keep the Dream Center running.
Each Saturday, two block parties are held in separate areas of Tampa.
Block parties include food drives, football games, face painting and entertainment provided either by the volunteers themselves or local rappers. In addition, local youth groups participate in summer mission trips to inner-city Tampa. The Inner City Experience restores homes in the area and puts pride back into the community.
The volunteers also mentor children throughout the week, and Gameworks supplies the Dream Center with tickets for the local children.
The volunteers are interns who are required to raise their own support through local churches and banquets.
They also all have high goals for the center in the future. The Dream Center is looking forward to supporting a tutoring program, as well as securing its connections with missionaries in Mexico and Belize.
The volunteers commit their days to the Center, and all have moved to inner city Tampa with their dedication to the organization.
“I always had a heart for the inner city,” Rivera said.
James Ryan, who is in charge of the feeding program, added that The Tampa Bay Dream Center gives the youths a chance to fulfill their desire to give to the community and follow the path they believe has been chosen for them.
“What I like about the Dream Center is it gives people a chance to see that Jesus and the Bible are more than something to do on Sunday,” Ryan said. “There’s nothing better than helping others, and you can’t help but help yourself, too.”