The best way to describe Jody Dow’s career is a childhood dream realized.
“I feel I’m just a regular person that gets to do a really awesome job in Springfield,” Dow says. “I got to pursue my dream and run after what I’ve wanted to do since I was 11.”
She came home from school one day and told her mother she wanted to be the Mother Teresa of the United States.
“I had no idea what that meant except for the fact of what she was known for is that people had dignity and they weren’t dying alone,” she says. “So many people are dying alone every day, just on the inside, not even in a literal sense.”
Dow sat on an idea for 18 years to create a place where people would know they were cared for, have hope and feel loved. It’s the origin story of the Springfield Dream Center.
“It’s fun to look back now and see how it developed,” she says.
The Dream Center, at 829 W. Atlantic St., offers community dinners, a food pantry, an after-school program, a clothing closet and high school equivalency classes for individuals in poverty.
It was born through a building donation from Hamlin Baptist Church and funding from North Point Church. Dow worked for North Point before graduating from Missouri State University and a few years later led the church’s outreach programs.
“It came back to this idea of 11-year-old Jody,” she says. “How do we make sure people feel loved, people have the help they need and the hope to carry on?”
She helped to open The Dream Center in March 2017.
“It’s really hard, it’s always challenging, and it’s the most humbling thing I’ve ever done,” she says.
As executive director, Dow sets the vision, handles fundraising and manages the center’s annual budget, estimated at $550,000 in 2019. While overseeing the development of 16-18 full- and part-time staff members and interns, she also spends time with the families the center serves.
“I really believe that visions leak and stories spill,” she says. “The vision of this place leaks naturally every day because that’s what happens in life. Our personal life visions will leak, our business visions will leak and we have to fill those with stories.”
The stories of the 250 people served weekly, predominately in northwest Springfield, remind her of why the work is important.
“When you’re out of crisis mode, you need that hope that tomorrow will look different than your last 100 days, that in two years your life can have a different trajectory than where you feel like you’re at now,” Dow says.
The congregation at Crossway Baptist Church is building a children’s wing at the west end of the church, and beginning in 2024, it will be home to a Christian academy.