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Dream Center: Two Decades of Empowering Salem’s Edgewater District

Written by Wyatt Jones on Jun. 25th, 2024
Featured Image photo for Dream Center: Two Decades of Empowering Salem’s Edgewater District

SALEM, Ore. — In the heart of Salem’s Edgewater District, the Dream Center marks its 20th anniversary this year, celebrating two decades of significant impact in what was once known as “Felony Flats.” Founded in 2004, this non-profit organization has transformed from a small group of committed individuals reaching out to local youth to a comprehensive support system for families, driven by education, mentorship, and community involvement.

The Dream Center began with a vision to address the immediate needs of a struggling neighborhood, according to founder Craig Oviatt. “We started by building relationships with the youth, slowly addressing the broader needs of their families,” Oviatt explains, reflecting on the origins of their mission in Salem. This grassroots approach laid the foundation for an organization that would become integral to revitalizing the community.

Shawna West, a key figure at the Dream Center, details their mission: “to equip and empower youth and families to succeed in life and break the chains of generational poverty.” The organization stands out through its unique approach, not just offering help but fostering an environment where participants are encouraged to give back. “This is not just about receiving help; it’s about building a community of mutual respect and dignity,” West emphasizes.

The cultural integration of the Dream Center within Salem is profound. By working closely with local schools, police departments, and other community organizations, the non-profit has become a vital part of the city’s social fabric. These partnerships enhance the center’s ability to serve effectively and reflect the community-oriented spirit of Salem.

The pandemic posed significant challenges, but the Dream Center’s response was swift and adaptive. Instead of shutting down, they modified their services to continue safely supporting the community. West recounts, “We managed to keep our doors open, offering outdoor markets and running errands for essentials, which was crucial during such a challenging time.”

Those interested in supporting the Dream Center can do so in various ways, including volunteering, individual donations, or through corporate sponsorships. The center also promotes a sustaining donor program called the 100 Hero program, where supporters can contribute monthly, providing a reliable financial base for the organization’s activities.

One of the most touching success stories from the Dream Center is that of Miguel, a youth whose life was dramatically altered by the organization’s intervention. Initially withdrawn and isolated, Miguel’s engagement began when Oviatt noticed him and took a personal interest in his well-being, inviting him to join a Friday night video game program. This program was pivotal in helping Miguel open up and eventually become an active, outgoing member of the community.

Today, Miguel is not just a success story but an inspiring figure, having graduated from Oregon State University with a degree in Engineering. He now works as a Site Engineer, overseeing significant projects like the Salem Hospital project, and continues to give back to the community that supported him.

Reflecting on these transformative outcomes, West states, “Stories like Miguel’s drive our commitment deeper every day. They remind us of the impact we can have on individual lives and the broader community.”

As the Dream Center looks to the future, its mission remains clear: to empower and uplift, continuing to serve as a catalyst for change in Salem. Their work over the past twenty years is not just a series of successful programs but a profound testament to the power of community and the human potential for growth and resilience.

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