Written by John Kay
Within Los Angeles’s robust Echo Park, the Dream Center exists as a faith-based outreach and mission organization. Since 1995, the Center has been positively impacting lives affected by poverty, homelessness and addiction. From their ministry of providing warm meals to the homeless presiding in Skid Row and South Central to the 135 blocks that are now “adopted,” over 30,000 lives have been affected by the Dream Center.
This latter program, called Adopt-A-Block, serves people in 16 housing projects from Watts to Pueblos located in South LA.
Adopt-A-Block director, Alexa Duerest, oversees 30 weekly outreach programs. For her, Adopt-A-Block functions as an outlet for people to serve by “adopting” communities.
“Through consistency, we believe that true meaningful relationships are built. We don’t only bring physical needs but strive to fill the spiritual needs of these communities as well. By doing this we believe and have seen lasting change in the lives of the people we encounter,” Duerest said.
Adopt-A-Block has made its presence known in LA since 2000. Over 500 volunteers come together to address the basic needs of under-resourced communities with distinct love and passion.
One of these volunteers, Chelsea Coates, is enrolled in her second year at the Dream Center Leadership School and serves weekly as a volunteer to share the love of Christ in a simple yet powerful way.
“My responsibility at Pueblos is home deliveries. We take food and personal items to elderly or disabled people. This gives us the opportunity to not only meet a physical need but to check in on them and pray with them,” Coates said. “Most of these residents do not have a strong support system, so we are able to build consistent relationships with them and get to minister to them in that way.”
Ana Peters, Pueblos site leader for the last nine years, is responsible for short-term mission projects and DCLS students for her site located in South Central.
“One example of a life-changing situation at Pueblos was Andrew—a 12-year-old that was on house arrest for misbehaving at school. We started to visit him on Saturdays and [to] just be there to encourage him,” Peters said in an email. “Andrew started attending the Academy at the DC [Dream Center]. I was proud when he successfully caught up on his credits and graduated high school last year. He currently holds a job and is attending a community college.”
Adopt-A-Block stands out from other forms of service in that they utilize a practical technique that goes beyond addressing physical needs. Adopt-A-Block offers a simple but applicable concept to live out in everyday life.
Rose de Ocampo, volunteer veteran at Pueblos and current co-leader of the site, understands the importance of consistency, which Adopt-A-Block generates—one that challenges the meaning of being selfless.
“What AAB means to me is giving your time, heart and patience to a community that needs consistency to help build their lives for the better. Be involved in their lives not just for the day, rather, whenever needed,” de Ocampo said.
Adopt-A-Block bridges the gap between a reality of poverty and abuse and that of individuals recognizing their dreams and value. The Dream Center continues to live by their motto: “Find a need and fill it.”
“We are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Adopt-A-Block is simply a set time where we have an assigned spot to go and do that. We, as Christians, though, have the amazing privilege to be the light of Jesus in every moment of our lives,” Duerest said. “In the grocery store, in our families or in our workplace. We get to be the physical representation of Jesus by simply loving others because He first loved us.”