Dream Center official: ‘Benefits will far exceed any tax dollars’

COUNTY — In the last two weeks, the SHINE Dream Center project has leapt onto the radar of many in Pickens County, as the school district’s board of trustees debated at a meeting last week whether or not it should vote to sell the current Pickens Middle School property for the project.
No vote was made on the matter, but trustees heard from SHINE board chair Jim Wilson at the meeting about the project.
Along with his wife Christine, Wilson’s journey toward the Dream Center began six months ago when Kay, a homeless woman on the streets of Easley, was brought into their lives. With the help of a mentor and other caring members of the Easley community, Kay is an employee with the SDPC. She is making her own way without any government assistance.
Kay’s story is not unique. While there might not be cardboard colonies set up under Easley’s overpasses, homelessness and poverty exists in Pickens County. Without a face or a voice, without raising awareness and soliciting community interaction, the Wilsons say they realize the problem is only going to become worse.
Jim Wilson is finishing up his term as board chair for SHINE, a local soup kitchen in Easley. Through their service in SHINE and their interactions with Kay, Jim and Chris Wilson believe they have been divinely called to address the problem of poverty and homelessness in Pickens County via the Dream Center project.
1,464 students enrolled in Pickens County Schools are currently classified as “homeless” today. The four schools in Pickens County with the highest levels of poverty have seen an increase of 8-10 percent in the poverty level over the past three years. Of the 1,464 Pickens County students, only 108 are in 9th-12th grades. This means 1,356 are in grades PK-8th which is considered to be the age range where measures can be taken to prevent dropout.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, poverty has the strongest correlation with high school dropout rates. Another 2011 research study of 4,000 students found that 22 percent of children who have ever lived in poverty do not graduate from high school, compared to 6 percent of those who have never been poor. This rate rises to 32 percent for students spending half their childhood in poverty.
Over the past six months, United Way of Pickens County has begun looking into the issues of hunger and homelessness and Pickens County’s capacity to meet the needs of families in crisis. In 2010, Pickens County received 132 calls from those seeking a homeless shelter. The statistics do not include the families hiding their homelessness out of fear of losing their children.
“They figured out that there is nowhere for people to go who are in crisis,” said Jim Wilson. “Pickens County is the only county in the state that doesn’t have any homeless shelter relief.”
SHINE is seeking a larger facility from which to operate and to be able to start delivering meals to satellite feeding locations in churches all across Pickens County. It would be similar to Meals on Wheels, except delivered to area churches who will serve those in their area who are hungry. This also addresses the problem of hunger in “desert” regions of the county.
“Right now there is a single mom with six kids living in a camper with no running water,” Chris Wilson said. “This is the face of homelessness in Pickens County. They aren’t living under a bridge, but they are in crisis and need help.
“We feel like we are being called to do something about this. Everything since that time has been plain as the nose on your face.”
Right now the Dream Center Project, a huge portion of the Wilsons’ mission, hinges on SHINE being able to purchase the old Pickens Middle School. During the February 27, SPDC Board Meeting, the motion to facilitate the sale of the school to SHINE failed, as did an amendment to table it for further discussion.
Board chair Alex Saitta was vocal in his opposition of selling Pickens Middle to SHINE. He said that because SHINE is a non-profit organization, once they purchase the property, the SDCP will not receive future property tax revenue from the sale.
Jim and Chris Wilson have faith that the Dream Center project will be a successful investment, not only helping the SDPC reach its goal of an 80 percent student retention rate in the next five years, but also in fighting poverty and homelessness countywide.
For every student that drops out, the school district loses a minimum of $1,880 dollars per student, per year. The breakdown of the 1,464 students classified as homeless in Pickens County reflects a drop of 80 percent in ninth grade. So, 80 percent of students classified as “homeless” in Pickens County do not graduate.
“All the research shows that there is a correlation between poverty and dropout rate. There is an even higher correlation between homelessness and the dropout rate,” said Jim Wilson. “For anyone to say that isn’t a school problem drives me crazy.”
The Dream Center’s five-year plan includes impacting 20 students the first year, 27 more the second year, 34 more the third year, 34 more the fourth year and 34 the fifth year. The cumulative number of students is 149 by the end of the fifth year, which represents 412 cumulative “student years” of not dropping out.
Doing the math of 412 times $1,880, the SDPC stands to gain $775,560 from the Dream Center project, according to the Wilsons.
“The district will not receive revenue tax dollars from The Dream Center, because it will operate as a 501-C3 non-profit,” they said. “The benefits they will receive far exceed any amount of tax dollars that could ever be paid.”
Another point Jim and Chris want to bring to public awareness is that they have no plans for utilizing Pickens Middle School as a homeless shelter. Instead, they envision Pickens Middle and the Dream Center as a hub into which other organization can plug their services.
While it is not yet official, the United Way in Pickens County is spearheading a campaign to start Family Promise, which organizes churches in an area to create a space for homeless families and enroll adults in a day program complete with a social worker and training they need to become self-sufficient.
“Having Pickens Middle school facilities helps in getting this thing started,” said Jim Wilson.
In addition to the United Way, Five Point Church in Easley is interested in hosting a summer day camp for kids who can’t afford to go to camp. All they need is a place to house it.
“They can’t count on the Dream Center because we don’t have a facility yet,” Jim Wilson said.
SHINE has researched potential locations to house the soup kitchen, and the need for a family shelter and job placement center has come to the forefront. This is exactly what SHINE and the Wilsons are trying to create using Pickens Middle as their foundation.
The Wilsons only need four votes on the SDPC board to purchase Pickens Middle.
“Some people can only see the dollar,” said Wilson. “No matter how many arguments we have showing that the dollar will come in other ways, they just can’t see it.
“We can’t win the bidding war. That’s why I feel like it is a good thing — a God thing — that we are in this arena of public opinion,” he said. “When people understand what the need is and how they can affect the solution, it motivates them to make a difference.”
Wilson pointed out that any property SHINE purchases in Pickens County — whether it is Pickens Middle School or another building — will be taken off the tax rolls, so the SDPC will lose some tax revenue either way.
“The wise choice is seeing the bigger picture and the impact the Dream Center will have in Pickens County,” Wilson said. “Pickens Middle School has a commercial kitchen, a gymnasium, classroom space and offices.
“The location isn’t important in terms of the tax revenues, but for us, the location is vital. We pay more than $24,000 a year in taxes to the county since we purchased Doodle Station. The school district is getting that money.”
“Maybe the SDPC will consider,” Wilson said, “that we started making payments for the Dream Center [rogram six years ago.”
For more information or questions regarding The Dream Center Project, contact