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Dream Center aids homeless, shows student volunteers reality outside of campus ‘bubble’

Zach Laughman and Luke Davis meet with the volunteers who help out with the center’s Thursday meal. They divvy out responsibilities and pray with the group before opening the doors. Credit: Lydia Gingerich | Lantern Reporter

Every Monday and Wednesday, Sam McWhorter drives 2 miles from her Grandview home to her field placement at the Columbus Dream Center where she helps serve the homeless population.

But the center is more than just an obligation for McWhorter, a graduate student in social work.

“It’s been really nice to be there twice a week and see the same people and start to develop relationships and get to know them as more than just people I’m serving,” she said, adding: “Learning that every person has a story and everyone has goals and a different place that they’re at in their life, that has been my favorite part.”

Established in 2015, the Columbus Dream Center is located in the Short North and provides meals, showers, laundry and medical care to the homeless and needy in Columbus. Positioned just 1 mile south of campus, at least 200 Ohio State students have served at the Dream Center in the past year, said Abi Marrah, the center’s volunteer coordinator.

At OSU, even if you’re not wealthy, you are in this bubble where everything is taken care of. You have housing, you have meals. Everything is state-of-the-art, everything is safe, but literally just blocks outside of campus in almost any direction, people have different realities. — Luke Davis, a Columbus Dream Center volunteer

In addition to McWhorter, Ohio State alumni Luke Davis and Zach Laughman lead volunteer teams at the center.

Laughman graduated in May with a degree in human resources and Davis graduated in December with a degree in industrial engineering. The two volunteered at the Dream Center as students and now lead community meals every Thursday night.

“I started because I had the time and it fit in my schedule, and once I got here I was hooked,” Davis said.

Cris Gordon, executive director of the Dream Center stands in the food pantry. This food is often dispersed in small amounts because people do not have a place to store it. Credit: Lydia Gingerich

The center serves an evening meal every week night, except Wednesday, and provides laundry and shower services Monday and Wednesday mornings. There are numerous other programs that the center organizes around the city by compiling resources and building relationships.

In his time volunteering at the center, Davis said he has learned about the people and places that are often hidden from Ohio State students.

“At OSU, even if you’re not wealthy, you are in this bubble where everything is taken care of. You have housing, you have meals,” he said. “Everything is state-of-the-art, everything is safe, but literally just blocks outside of campus in almost any direction, people have different realities.”

Laughman said he has gained perspective from working at the Dream Center, discovering value in every member of society.

“I don’t care where you’ve been, I don’t care what you’ve done, I just want to get to know you, and I want to hear your story and I want to, as best I can, walk with you in the things you are going through,” Laughman said.

Cris Gordon, director of Dream Center, said this genuine compassion is the purpose of the center.

“We want to serve and love the people who are homeless. But there is more to it,” he said. “Who has got that need? How can we meet it? Who is hurting? How can we fill that hurt?”

Volunteers like Davis, Laughman and McWhorter have found the process of meeting needs and healing wounds to be not only an act of service, but also fulfilling.

“There are multiple stories of people who are here at first because they have to be, and after coming and building relationships with people, they are coming back because they want to be here,” Davis said.

“If you want to be a part of something bigger than yourself,” Laughman added, “this is the place to be.”

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The Engaged Scholars logo accompanies stories that feature and examine research and teaching partnerships formed between The Ohio State University and the community (local, state, national and global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources. These stories spring from a partnership with OSU’s Office of Outreach and Engagement. The Lantern retains sole editorial control over the selection, writing and editing of these stories.

One comment

  1. La Donna Cottrell

    My name is La Donna Cottrell, I am a member of the New Generation Church of Columbus Ohio. I don’t know if this is the church of the program that was at St. Stephens or another church program, but your mission and New G’s mission is the same. Saying that will it be possible for us to merge, if you will please contact Eric at ethompson@newg,org, and let him know your mission. I talked to Zach and he gave me his email address but I could not contact him. Your program seems to be so good. I appreciate it.

    Thank You
    La Donna Cottrell
    cottrellplmc@gmail.com

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