The West Orange Dream Center has been a dream of Family Church members for several years, and now the facility is a reality — and a chance for the church to extend a helping hand into the community.
“Our pastor … wanted to bring one into West Orange County and give our members a place to serve as well as makes a difference in the community,” said Carol Oller Vereb, missions director of Family Church and director of the Dream Center. “We’ve always been good going globally, and this gave us a chance to serve locally.”
The goal was to find a need in the community and concentrate on that. Vereb said organizers were careful not to duplicate what other groups were doing.
“Matthew’s Hope takes care of the homeless, Shepherd’s Hope is medical, and the Christian Service Center feeds people,” she said. “We found what was lacking in the area was educational programs, so that’s what we focused on.”
With a plan in place, a team was tasked with finding a space appropriate in location and size. This building was perfect for meeting the needs of the community, but it needed a few renovations. And then COVID-19 hit, creating even further delays.
The doors were opened late last year and with this came a plethora of free educational programs, including English for Speakers of Other Languages. Other offerings include Jobs Partnership, which provides needed skills training and connections to resources and relevant opportunities; Grief Share, for people who have recently lost a loved one; Celebrate Recovery, for those struggling with hurt, pain and addition of any kind; a single moms program for mothers and their children that includes a hot meal; and men’s luncheons, which is a time for the men in the community to come together, share a meal and connect with each other and hear a testimony.
A coffee shop serves free coffee, and guests can connect to free wi-fi.
“We welcome people to come in and meet with someone,” Vereb said. “There are no reservations — just come as you are, and we’ll try to help in any way we can.”
The space includes the coffee/lounge area, with multiple tables and chairs; one small classroom; a large classroom equipped with a 3D printer and individual desk spaces with large-screen computers, all donated; and a reception area and office space.
A multipurpose room that can seat 75 has a stage for large-group activities and is used on Sunday mornings as one of Family Church’s five campuses.
There also is a food pantry that is not open to the public but is used to feed families at the discretion of the Dream Center board. Among the recipients are single mothers and widows in 42 homes in east Winter Garden who get items such as pasta, meat, fruits and vegetables, toothpaste, toilet paper, cleaning supplies and diapers.
“We wanted to make a difference in the community in which we are living, and one way of doing that is giving back, and one way we can give back is offering these programs to those in need,” Vereb said.
“Education is the key to changing the next generation, so offering the tutoring program for children, making sure they have the tools and skills they need from the people mentoring and tutoring them,” Vereb said. “It’s not just giving them skills to learn, but it also shows them that people do care.”
Assistance is needed in all areas of the center. Volunteers can share the gift of education by tutoring or mentoring students, becoming partners in one of the eight programs, donating canned goods for the food pantry, or serving in the coffee shop.
“We’re 100% volunteer led, so volunteers are always needed,” Vereb said. “I’m really excited about the space now and ready for people to know who we are now and what we’re about.”
Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.