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Meet Sheila Donegan of Boston Dream Center in Downtown Boston

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sheila Donegan.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Sheila . So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I was born and raised in the Boston area. We moved to the west coast—Southern California—when I was 16. In 2012, I felt a strong sense from God that I was to move back to Boston. After being gone for more than 30 years, I was to start a work—a ministry—in downtown Boston to those who are often most marginalized and forgotten. This might sound odd, but I felt led to sell and give away all that I owned—to ‘take nothing for the journey’…And I did just that. I sold and gave away everything I had and followed my calling to Boston.

When I moved here I thought everything would open quickly, but it did not. I spent the first two years praying, dreaming, and imagining what would come. By Spring of 2014 I had a clear picture—in fact a huge vision—of an organization that would reach tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands of people who were most in need in the city of Boston. This organization would address chronic issues like homelessness, poverty, incarceration and addiction.

We would do this in a multitude of different ways, by providing: food, clothing, shelter, transitional homes, holistic solutions for health and wellness, businesses where we could employ the unemployable, training to develop job skills, and so much more. The dream took shape and now there was a clear vision to fulfill.

In 2014 we launched Boston Dream Center, a multi-faceted ministry for: the urban poor, those dealing with addiction, the homeless, and those in prison. I began the organization with 6 other people who were at least as crazy as I was, and while nothing was visible in the beginning we all seemed excited about the plan. We met around my kitchen table in a small, one-bedroom apartment in the North End of Boston. For the first 9 months we worked out of that apartment until we were literally tripping over each other, and then…it was time for our first space.

We had our first building on the corner of Pearl and Purchase Street in downtown Boston. It was all of 800 square feet—I called it the ‘lower level’, but it was in fact the basement. Yet even still, I was tremendously grateful. We had a space which allowed us to begin the work in earnest and reach many more people. In our first 4 months we reached about 500 people through food and clothing outreaches to the homeless. We became a member agency of the Greater Boston Food Bank in December of 2015, and in 2016—our first full year—we reached nearly 5,000 people. We were off and running.

We have since moved to a larger space in an amazing location—right on Boston Common—which we love but we have outgrown. Now, at the beginning of 2018, we have reached over 30,000 people in the past three and a half years, through a variety of outreaches, mobil food truck delivery programs, classes and groups in Suffolk County jail, and partnerships with many city government and local organizations.

We are endeavoring to partner with those who are like-minded—who want to find viable and creative solutions to some of the most complicated issues in our community. Chronic homelessness and incarceration, drug and alcohol addiction, food insecurity, and systemic issues keep people trapped in cycles of poverty. We believe that everyone deserves to have chance at a whole and healthy life. It is our desire to help people who are often disenfranchised and forgotten lead the life they were meant to have. We are committed to doing all we can to see that reality transpire by providing support and solutions and by removing obstacles that stand in the way of them fulfilling that life.

Has it been a smooth road?
Living by faith can be amazing but it is not without its challenges. Learning to let go of control and trust God with all that we have is often easier said than done. I began this organization by myself, with no money, no funding, and no team. So yes, there were many challenges.

I have often felt that I am inadequate for the task, that this vision is so much bigger than I can comprehend. But I am grateful that my faith is what carries me through the times of uncertainly. I am inadequate, and that is true, but God is not, and it is his strength I rely on.

We—like many non-profit organizations—are often challenged with insufficient funding. In our case, we are growing so quickly that we could use 10 times the space we have right now. The task of finding space that is adequate, in a desirable location, and within our budget is no small feat.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Boston Dream Center – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
Boston Dream Center is a faith-based charitable organization that finds and fills the needs of struggling people in the city of Boston and beyond. Since 2014 thousands of individuals and families have found hope and healing through the programs that only the Dream Center offers. We aim to not only meet the immediate needs of communities by providing for essential needs such as food and clothing, but also focus on the holistic transformation of people’s lives.

Our mission is to reach the broken people in our community by offering free resources and services that address immediate and long-term needs in the areas of poverty, addiction, and abuse. We are moving towards our first live-in transitional home to provide long term solutions for men dealing with chronic incarceration, the homeless, and those dealing with addiction.

We serve those in our community through:

Mobil Food Truck Outreach to Charlestown and Watertown.

Charlestown: We deliver groceries to very low-income families in the Charlestown Housing Projects. We provide bagged groceries, fresh produce and essential hygiene items.

Watertown: We deliver groceries to disabled seniors who are very low income each month. At this location we also provide fresh produce, dairy, protein and hygiene items.

Boston CarePacks: We deliver bagged groceries to the D.T.A (Department of Transitional Assistance in Boston). We provide food and hygiene items to homeless or very low-income families that cannot access food as they have inadequate documentation.

Outreach: We host large, monthly outreaches for men and women who live on the street. We provide clothing, hygiene, food, and more. We intentionally schedule these outreaches on the holidays, as this can be a particularly difficult time for those who might be estranged from their families. Some of the major outreaches we do are:

The Big Boston Warm Up: Each fall we provide new winter coats hats, gloves and more helping to prepare people for the winter.

Christmas in the Commons: We provide wrapped Christmas gifts for men and women who live on the street. Last year we provided 1600 wrapped gifts for about 400 men and women who call the streets home.

Our Charlestown Christmas Family Celebration is hosted for families. This past December, we provided hundreds of wrapped gifts for children of very low-income families.

Boston Dream Center Jail Ministry: We host weekly classes and groups in Suffolk County jail providing health and wellness, spiritual care and life skills for men who are incarcerated. In the past 4 years we have reached over 400 men. Now we are providing life coaching and groups for men post-incarceration. It has been one of our greatest joys to see men that have been in our groups inside now joining us on the outside, and watch their lives be restored.

This year we are focused on two main priorities:

Boston Resale: A boutique resale store will provide employment opportunities for those who have a difficult time finding employment (Men and women coming out of jail or those coming off the street.) It will also act as an additional revenue stream to help fund additional outreaches and programs.

Life House: A live-in transitional home for men post incarceration. This will be a sober-living home with a strong focus on health, wellness, life skills and recovery.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Image credit is Megan Nicole
A couple of the pictures were Megan’s and the rest were mine. I took them. – Sheila

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