FLORENCE — The Shoals Dream Center is open for business with programs geared toward reducing poverty and its impact on families.

An extension of the Chapel church, the  center is designed to be a hub of practical help and hope for area families through services such food provision, academic tutoring and mentoring for at-risk kids, addiction recovery resources - helping transition to long-term treatment options - and life skills training.

During Monday's ribbon cutting, Chapel pastor, Bobby Gourley, said, "God gave us this location for the purpose of helping people find hope for today and dreams for the future."

The center is on Cloverdale Road in the former Fred's Discount Store location. 

The multi-faceted center will now be the hub for food distribution. The Chapel-operated Loaves and Fishes stores will continue to sell clothing and home wares.

"This center is about helping people to move out of the poverty cycle, changing that generational tree," Gourley said. "It's about giving people a hand up not a hand out."

Toyia Gourley, the director of the Dream Center Academy, said the social services component of the operation will offer after school programs in a safe and family-focused environment where students can engage in learning and developmental training, activities and games three days per week.

Life skills training through partnership with Circles USA helps identify and eliminate causes of poverty and provides skills to do so. Through the Circles program, volunteer mentors help those striving to break their poverty cycle.

During a tour of the campus Monday, Toyia Gourley showed guests counseling and education classrooms explaining each program that will be housed at the center, adding that the goal is to break the entitlement and poverty mentality that has many in its grip.

"We're teaching people how to dream again," she said. 

Lauderdale County Commissioner Faye Parker thanked Dream Center officials for their vision in seeing the project come to fruition calling it, "A very comfortable environment for people to come into."

Distribution Center Director Dave Davis said stores will continue operating as in the past, but additional warehouse space on the new campus will provide a holding site for those items (minus furniture) stocked in store locations.

No donated clothing is wasted, Davis said, adding that an Atlanta-based company picks up clothing items that can't be sold in the stores for distribution in third-world countries.

The center's food distribution is strategically set up supermarket-style, allowing clients the opportunity to shop for items their family needs.

The center includes a variety of meats, produce, canned goods, snack foods and various other items for which the clients use a voucher system. Much of the food comes through the USDA and feeding programs such as Operation Blessing.

Clients are allowed to shop once a month and Davis said each shopper's food load is weighed, averaging 160-200 pounds per visit.

Food is distributed four and a half days a week, he said.

"We average about 500 families a month," he said. 

With an average of 2 million pounds of food given out in a year's time, center officials say the goal is to lower the amount that must be distributed, thus helping families rise above the poverty level. 

"We're currently seeing about 70-90 new families per month," Davis said. "We know we'll always have to provide food, but the goal is to help people in their time of need and equip them to move out of that poverty cycle to a point of independence."  

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