Q Commons had its most recent national event on October 13, 2016. Q Commons events include nationally streamed talks, along with local gatherings all over the country. Dream Come True co-founder Carol Kallendorf spoke in Austin at Covenant Presbyterian Church on alleviating poverty, highlighting the Dream Come True model. If you weren’t able to join us, please enjoy the text of Carol’s talk below.
Disrupting the Cycle of Poverty in Austin
Think back to the first time you had a really big dream….a dream that focused you, consumed you, seemed to give direction and meaning to everything you did.
My first BIG DREAM was when I was 4 years old. I grew up in Aberdeen Washington…a poor, sooty, pulp and paper town. The air always reeked of Sulphur from the pulp and paper mills…and everyone just called it the “smell of money” and looked the other way when emphysema and lung cancer rates downwind were 3 times the national average. It rained 300 days a year!
I was in the bathtub. It was COLD….because we didn’t have any heat in the bathroom. And suddenly I had this epiphany: I’M GETTING OUT OF HERE! I’M BLOWING THIS JOINT! Somehow, someway, someday I’m busting out of Aberdeen to someplace that wasn’t covered in soot and mildew.
My 4-year-old Carol dream was big on WHAT….and pretty thin on HOW.
But then age 7 rolled around and the next BIG DREAM: Education! Like Plastics in the Graduate. That would be the ticket. I’d go to college and maybe go all the way to a Ph.D.! Then they’d have to let me out! Yeah……that’s the ticket!
Now I had the what. And I had the how…… But I had no way to make either BIG DREAM come true.
But focusing on that dream, a lot of people turned up to help: parents, university, professors, Duke University graduate school. They were like a human snowplow clearing the obstacles out of the way. Providing resources.
And it happened. It all came true.
What was YOUR First Big Dream??? I know you’ve all had them and have them today. Those dreams are probably one of the reasons you’re here tonight. Big dreams are powerful. They’re transformational. And they are precious. You know the Scripture: Your young men will see visions and your old men will dream dreams.”
My husband and co-founder of Dream Come True, Jack Speer, and I have always had a passion for the city of Austin Texas and for finding ways to move people out of poverty. We all know that Austin is growing – but so is the area’s low-income population.
Over the last decade or so, Austin has seen the second-largest percentage increase among big cities across the U.S. That’s not the dream Austin has for itself.
Nine years ago, Jack and I were frustrated by the income disparity in our hometown. We were frustrated by writing what for us were pretty big checks to big charities….and not knowing if it made a difference and changed lives.
And we were supremely frustrated to discover that the most under-served group in poverty are the people who want OUT. Isn’t that astounding???
Most of the assistance available is directed at a NEED…not an OUTCOME. It’s great to meet specific needs. Scripture admonishes us to meet specific needs. To feed the hungry and clothe the poor. But just meeting a NEED….still leaves a person in poverty. They may not be hungry THAT day…but they will be hungry tomorrow. And they will be no better able to escape the bonds of poverty. That may work OK if you want to stay stuck….but not if you want out.
How could we disrupt this whole dynamic….at least here in our hometown of Austin, Texas?
And then it hit us: DREAMS! People stuck in poverty had to have dreams as big and brash and transformative as anyone.
And that was the foundation of Dream Come True. Find people stuck in poverty, with tons of talent, resilience, optimism …. And a DREAM that they had already taken huge steps to achieve on their own. But they were stuck. THEN WALK SIDE BY SIDE WITH THEM TO MAKE THOSE DREAMS COME TRUE AND CROSS THE BRIDGE FROM POVERTY TO SELF-SUFFICIENCY!
And oh the dreams we have shared:
– Carmella: Illiterate teenager….saw St Edward’s University on the hill….her dream: Go to THAT school and get a degree in Social Work. Through Dream Come True, she did just that and is now a social worker running the ACL program for Muscular Dystrophy of Houston.
– Calandra: Victim of horrific child abuse. I will become a nurse because who better than me to gain the trust and help children who are victims of abuse? Through Dream Come True, she is now a nurse in the Texas Medical Center.
– Eric: Homeless university student at Concordia. I will get my degree and I will help kids who are struggling as I did. Through Dream Come True, he is now a high school teacher, department head, in graduate school, and on a fast track to becoming a principal.
But HOW do you unlock those dreams? How do you help them come true?
You begin with the DREAM….then you work side by side to identify and remove every obstacle that keeps the person from achieving the dream…and it will be different for each person.
For some, it’s the need to drop one or two subsistence jobs so they can focus on school, parenting, and ONE job.
For others it’s reliable transportation or a computer or Algebra tutoring or just learning to trust another person or run a family budget.
Last Sunday several of us got to participate in one of the most fun and inspirational parts of Dream Come True: interviewing candidates for Dream Achiever.
One single mother looked at the interview team in the middle of the interview. Her eyes were glittering with a combination of tears and fierceness. She said: “I will no longer be a statistic! My children will not be statistics! I will get an education NOW and I will have a career, not just a job. And one day I’ll buy a home and I will be an example to my children!”
Suddenly I was transported back through time and space to that bathtub in Aberdeen Washington. My dreams came true…through the help of a lot of people.
Her dreams can come true too.
Here’s what we can all do. Take our two hands and grab hold of someone who has big, brash, bodacious dreams…and fewer resources than you. And help make their dreams come true.
THEN we can disrupt the dynamic of poverty and make big dreams come true for Austin, Texas. Because when you move a talented visionary person from poverty to independence and success, you have a citizen and a neighbor and a teacher and a caregiver and an engineer and an attorney who will stop at nothing to make the rest of the world a better place.