Pentecost Offering helps young DREAAMers dream big

April 16, 2024 by by Emily Enders Odom

DREAAM, a unique, church-based program for at-risk African American boys, takes its life lessons on the road

Originally published by Presbyterian News Service

One van, five days.

That’s all it took to change the worldview of six young people. That, plus three committed adult leaders, a whole lot of faith and one big DREAAM.

DREAAM, an acronym for Driven to Reach Excellence and Academic Achievement for Males, is a program designed to reach, teach and invest in African American boys at risk and to walk alongside them and their families beginning at the early age of 3 until they reach the age of 24.

Now in its ninth year, DREAAM was the brainchild of Tracy Dace, an educator and tireless advocate for at-risk youth, who left his doctoral studies program to become DREAAM’s founder and chief executive officer. DREAAM, a ministry of the First Presbyterian Church of Champaign, Illinois, operates in partnership with the congregation and its members as a separate 501(c)3 organization.

Since the program’s inception, Dace has never once stopped “DREAAMing” up new and creative ways to grow DREAAM’s mission.

“Creativity is one of the core values of DREAAM,” said Dace. “Our impact is inspired by the Kwanzaa principle of Kuumba [creativity], which means to always do as much as we can to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it. We reach, teach and empower through building creative partnerships with area congregations to achieve our program’s goals.”

One example in the local community was DREAAM’s six-week summer initiative called “Around the World in 30 Books,” which served over 150 DREAAMers, ages 5 to 16, through two churches that provided both space and volunteers.

But the program also goes on the road, actively exposing young DREAAMers to the unlimited potential and life opportunities that await them.

“We are creative with — and stretch — resources, partnerships and opportunities to make dreams come true,” added Dace. “This creativity gave birth last fall to the plan to take DREAAMers to Niagara Falls and New York City in one van within five days.”

Such transformational experiences, are made possible, in part, through the Pentecost Offering, one of the PC(USA)’s four Special Offerings.


Not only do gifts to the Pentecost Offering benefit children at risk through the “Educate a Child, Transform the World” national initiative, but the Offering also supports the Office of Presbyterian Youth and Triennium and the Young Adult Volunteer Program

A hallmark of this shared offering is that 40% of it is retained by individual congregations for local ministries, while the remaining 60% is used to support children at risk, youth and young adults through ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

Although the Pentecost Offering may be taken anytime, most congregations receive it on Pentecost Sunday, which this year falls on May 19.

For the Rev. Dr. Alonzo Johnson, coordinator of the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People (SDOP) and staff person for the PC(USA)’s “Educate a Child, Transform the World initiative, DREAAM’s road trip last year connects beautifully with the 2024 Pentecost Offering theme, “I Am Coming to You.”

“What a great follow-up this initiative was to everything that the amazing young people of the DREAAM program have been doing since we first met them,” Johnson said. “We are excited to hear about the ongoing ways that DREAAM continues to be innovative in providing education and engagement opportunities for urban youth. DREAAM’s innovative teaching and mentoring activities exemplify what the Pentecost Offering and its emphasis on children at risk is all about.”

Because Dace had previously served with Johnson as a member of the SDOP National Committee, he decided to ask him for suggestions of some SDOP-funded projects or congregations in New York City where the DREAAMERs could engage in a mission project.

All of the pieces fell into place when Dace and his co-worker connected with The First Presbyterian Church in the City of New York, where the church staff designed a mission project focused on homelessness.

“A homelessness project was perfect, because DREAAMers love to help people and do hands-on projects,” said Dace. “About three years ago, DREAAMers became very interested in homelessness and formed an afterschool club called ‘Neighbors Without a Home’ to learn more about homelessness and to create service projects. Therefore, it was important for them to understand and experience the context of homelessness in New York City. It was interesting to observe them ‘naturally’ helping in that space with confidence and comfortability. They were caring young servant leaders and more excited to continue serving their neighbors without a home in Champaign.”

In October 2023, the group traveled first to Niagara Falls and then on to New York City with a goal not only of opening young minds and hearts, but also of developing leaders.

“Traveling is life-changing and builds a leader mindset,” said Dace. “Through the college visit, mission project and hours of sightseeing, the goal was for them to experience a world of possibilities and to spark more ideas and dreams about a positive future. We teach and empower DREAAMers to dream big!”

In 2024, DREAAM already has plans to travel to Washington, D.C.; Atlanta; and Malawi to visit colleges, to engage in collaborative mission projects with Presbyterian churches, and to continue building hope and dreams through travel and cultural experiences. An estimated 30 DREAAMers will participate in what promises to be life-changing experiences.

Another major initiative happening this summer is the opening of the DREAAM Center for Community Excellence. The center will serve as a community hub for youth development programming and family services, as well as offer a range of resources from mental health to access to food.

Food insecurity was something that the DREAAMers learned about firsthand while in New York City.

“I learned while talking with this man that everyone getting food is not homeless,” said Marquan, age 14. “Some can’t afford to pay bills while also having to pay for food.”

It’s a hard but invaluable life lesson learned on the road, thanks to the Pentecost Offering.

“I am a nonprofit visionary — and also a Presbyterian — who has been blessed to receive funding for DREAAM from my local church’s Pentecost Offering,” Dace said. “Our giving leads to hope in action. Our giving is an investment in academic achievement, mentoring and life opportunities for young people who need us the most. Through the Pentecost Offering, we are making a difference in the lives of young people.”

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