Executive Director of The Dream Center of Jackson, Inc.
Rebuilding Lives, Restoring Hope, & Renewing Dreams
Story by Lyda Kay Ferree, The Southern Lifestyles Lady. Photography by Woody Woodard.
Gail Gustafson was raised in Milan and she graduated from Milan High School. After graduating, she moved to San Diego, California, where her older brother was stationed in the Navy. Her grandmother always wanted Gail to be a nurse, so she pursued that career and worked as a nurse for 13 years.
Then she had an opportunity to enter the field of sales and marketing, and she discovered that she really enjoyed that career path. “In 1995 I made the best decision I ever made and that was to surrender my life to the Lord. I immediately was drawn to prison ministry, women’s ministries and teaching small children,” said Gail.
She went on to say that the second best decision she had made was to marry her husband, Dave Gustafson, who is a rock and prayer warrior for the ministry of the Dream Center and for her. The couple will celebrate their 20th anniversary in September.
Gail has worked in radio since 2004 and she currently works part time as an account executive for Victory 93.7 FM. She served on the board of the Dream Center in 2005 and in 2008 she was asked to assume the responsibility of becoming the director of the Dream Center.
VIP: Why and when was The Dream Center established and what is the mission of The Dream Center? Is it a national organization?
Gail Gustafson: In 2003 The Dream Center, which is not a national organization, was a vision of Pastor Val Treece of the Family Worship Center. In 2004 they began the plans for the Center. Then Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit, and the Center began taking in people in 2004 when The Dream Center was under the umbrella of the Jackson Family Worship Center. I did not get involved until 2005. Gidget Egner, who was one of the board members of The Dream Center, asked me if I would be interested in serving on the board of The Dream Center and I agreed to join the board.
The mission or slogan of The Dream Center is rebuilding lives, restoring hope and renewing dreams. It is a 24-7 educational ministry for women and their children.
VIP: What are the chief goals of you and your board?
GG: To help our female residents ages 18 and over at The Dream Center become self-sufficient in every aspect of their lives—emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. We have classes so that they can reach those goals.
VIP: Talk about events for The Dream Center and how the monies will be used.
GG: A Night in the Caribbean is our biggest fundraiser of the year. This year our January 20 fundraiser at the Carl Perkins Civic Center was our eighth annual Caribbean-themed event. A Night in the Caribbean (this is our annual party theme) netted about $90,000 last year. This year we hope to make over $100,000. These monies will be applied toward our new facility, but they are also used for the operation of the Center. Our 5K race will be held on Saturday, March 31 at Union University.
We have a capital campaign in which 3,000 entities give $1,000 each. Our goal is to go into our new facility debt free.
VIP: What programs, courses or classes do you offer at The Dream Center?
GG: We offer finance and budget classes, cooking on a budget and parenting classes that are taught mostly by volunteers in the community. Classes are held every morning and every evening five days a week Monday through Friday.
I believe that Jesus is the answer in our society today. We offer a program called 180 Degrees whose emphasis is getting your life back on target through Biblical principles and overcoming difficulties in your life, your own fears, your co-dependencies, to put perspective in your life, what you believe about yourself and the behaviors which that causes. It’s a great program! What you believe about yourself causes your mindset, and your mindset causes your behaviors. If you can get to the root of yourself, then you can change a lot of things.
VIP: What is the status of the new Dream Center?
GG: In the first phase 65-70 women and children will be housed. (In the past we were in a former hospital building.)We will add two sections of rooms in Phases 2 and 3. Our expansion will enable us to help more people. The women must be 18 and older. Currently we have an office at 1970 N. Highland (behind Payless Shoes).
VIP: Tell me about your applicants, the selection process and how do the women who find you know about The Dream Center? Where are they from?
GG: Our applicants come to our office and fill out a very lengthy application. They have a one-on-one interview with me. We talk about what they want to do with their life and how they have gotten where they are. I ask them if they are ready to change and are they ready to follow the guidelines. If we have rooms, then they are accepted. We do have some emergency situations where we take somebody if we have an extra bed. The majority of the women come from Madison County, but we help people from all over West Tennessee.
Some women tell us they don’t want to stay there because they cannot smoke nor have a cell phone. During the first 30 days they are in a probation period and they have no contact with the outside world. It is time for them to get their head together and focus on their life.
VIP: Why does this program speak to you?
GG: Ninety-two percent of our women have been sexually molested before the age of 18. I was molested as a child, so I totally understand how that changes your mindset, what you believe about yourself and what you think others think about you. I struggled in life. I went through a lot and made some bad choices. When you are abused, you have very low self-esteem and you hang around people you should not be around and that starts the cycle in your life.
VIP: Tell our VIP readers your plans for the new Dream Center in north Jackson and the timetable for opening. How many women and children will it serve? Will they have private rooms?
GG: North Side Assembly gave us property at the corner of Oil Well Road and Old Humboldt Road. Our new facility will serve 125 people when it is completed. We will accept all women and children of any age as long as they’re with their mom. The children will attend public schools. Single ladies share rooms. Families have their own room. We will serve three meals a day. We serve over 50,000 meals a year to residents. At present the residents may not have guests in the houses. They may have company in neutral areas.
Our contractor says we could probably break ground in March for the new Dream Center office. We must raise some money because we want to move in debt free. Our previous building was sold and is now a behavioral mental health center. We had no choice but to move. We looked at a lot of buildings all over Jackson. They were either very expensive or by the time work was done on them you could have started from scratch and not spent as much money. We need to be near a bus line so the ladies can have transportation. After 30 days the female residents get a job or go to schools. We offer scholarships to schools like West Tennessee Business College.
VIP: What do you most want our VIP readers to know about the good work of The Dream Center?
GG: Women’s lives are truly being changed by the work of our Center. Women all over Jackson are now a viable part of society as a result of the work of The Dream Center. They are working in other ministries, teaching Sunday School at their church, and one lady is a Chamber Red Coat. You can’t believe how many of our former residents called to ask if they could help with the Caribbean fundraiser. A lot of them stay in touch with us.
There will always be some of our women who will go back to their former lives. But for those who totally complete the program their lives are changed. God’s word does not come back void.
VIP: Do you need more volunteers? If so, what types of projects are available for them and whom should they contact?
GG: We always need volunteers. They may call (731) 512-0095 and talk to me. We always need a plumber or a handyman, and we need volunteers to help with the kids while the ladies are in their hour-long classes. We are very rigid about the class hours. And the ladies are also in counseling.
What to Know
The Dream Center of Jackson, Inc.
1970 N. Highland, Suite E
Future Address: Corner of Oil Well Road and Old Humboldt Road next door to the Northside Assembly of God Church