Life can sometimes squash one’s dreams.
Especially for people suffering from substance abuse, hope gets lost in the problems of daily life, said City of Lights Dream Center founder Jamie Massey. But scratch below the surface, and everyone has a story about how they got there and hopes – even though clouded – for a better life.
For the past year and a half, Massey has listened to the hopes and dreams of the facility’s 12 women clients, who are part of the center’s Celebrate Recovery program for people fighting addiction.
“I wish you could hear their stories,” said Massey, who operates City of Lights Dream Center with her husband, Victor, lead pastor at Sumiton Church of God. “A good 90 percent of people have something in their background that left them broken.”
Most clients come from a dysfunctional upbringing, have a history of sexual molestation, or domestic abuse and violence.
“People say others choose drug addiction,” said Massey, who mentors the women into new lives. “You don’t know their stories. There have been things that have gone on that have caused the behavior. We have clients from different states, and even have a woman from Russia. Some girls struggle with a lot of anger. I see people in emotional and physical pain.”
The rehabilitation center provides clients a free 12- to 18-month treatment program, including drug counseling and therapies provided by doctors, nurse practitioners and counselors who volunteer their time.
“We had a girl with a serious mental illness,” Massey said. “With help from our volunteer doctors, counselors and medication, the woman is now getting to a place where she can work through the issues of the past.”
Massey has found that emotional and mental health issues are a leading factor in drug and/or alcohol addiction. Left untreated or misdiagnosed, she said, many people self-treat through prescription medications, which can lead to hard drugs.
People need mental health help, and treatment will prevent addiction, she said. Untreated or undiagnosed mental health issues can be a big factor in addiction, Massey believes.
“I see God work here every day,” Massey said. “We’re here to tell people they don’t have to live that way anymore. Your brain thinks that emotional pain is the same as physical pain, and you’ve got to confront the pain. Some feel almost helpless. We encourage the women to stay in recovery.”
Clients find recovery and new life
Massey and her team have created a homey atmosphere where clients – many of whom were homeless – find respite and healing. Such was the case for Melissa Lamb, who left her home in North Carolina when she was 16 years old.
“There are ones who have been in domestic violence,” Lamb said. “I ran.”
A few years ago, Lamb attended the Massey’s church in Atlanta, before they were led to start a ministry in Alabama. When Lamb briefly relapsed into substance abuse, she lost custody of her daughter. She found it very difficult to regain her parental rights.
“I spiraled downhill,” Lamb said. “I needed a fresh start.”
Searching the internet for the Massey’s new church, Lamb saw that the couple had founded the City of Lights Dream Center. Lamb packed up her belongings and made her way to Alabama, sometimes living in a tent along the way.
“I called Jamie and told her, ‘I’m coming to check myself in,’” Lamb said. Massey picked up Lamb at the WalMart in Sumiton.
The past few months, Lamb has worked hard to re-stabilize her life. She wants to earn an associate degree from Bevill State and has plans to become a commercial truck driver.
“My daughter is that important to me,” said Lamb, who has a part-time cleaning job with a commercial company. “Once I could focus on what I needed to do, I can use healthy coping skills. I know now what to do to prevent a relapse.”
“The determination, heart and passion to succeed is influential with the women here,” Massey said. “We want to see moms reunified with their children. People have to get on their feet. They just need that chance.”
Lamb is grateful for the opportunity to start anew.
“Jamie is a miracle soldier, a warrior woman,” Lamb said.
Birthing the Dream Center
The Masseys moved from Atlanta three years ago to pastor Sumiton Church of God. Performing a demographic study of the area, they discovered needs within the community that couldn’t be handled on a Sunday morning. For several years, Jamie Massey had desired to provide a center where people could receive treatment for substance and alcohol abuse.
“Starting the City of Lights Dream Center has been an amazing journey,” said Massey, who operates the center through Jamie Massey Ministries. “This is definitely a God thing.”
Searching for a location, Victor Massey found the old T.S. Boyd school property, which had been closed a few years before and had been put up for bid by the city of Dora. The couple placed a modest bid on the property. The Masseys learned they were the only bidders.
Massey said the center has received much help from the Walker Area Community Foundation, the Walker County Coalition for the Homeless, and other churches and organizations seeking to improve conditions not only in Dora and Sumiton but all of Walker County.
For example, several members of the Miller Chapter of the Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) helped prepare the center for opening. Miller APSO members volunteered 400 hours. In 2019, Miller APSO gave a donation for school supplies to help with the Dream Center’s Back 2 School Bash for needy families.
Massey plans to use the entire 18 acres of the property. Coming phases, which will require property improvements, will include housing for single mothers and battered women and children. Behind the Dream Center, Massey added a new mobile home that will house a current client when her baby is born. She hopes to expand the center’s program to include men with substance-abuse issues in September 2020.
A Bevill State Community College instructor provides onsite job training to clients, helping with computer training and teaching business skills. Several clients are receiving tutoring to earn GEDs.
The Dream Center provides free day care after-school care to about 30 children of approved families, picking up the children by bus after school and delivering them home at 5:30 p.m. daily. The children are fed a nutritious meal made in the center’s community kitchen and engage in learning activities on computers donated to the center.
Many members of the Sumiton Church of God have volunteered their help.
“I thank God for a church family that is so supportive of this,” said Massey, who has shared the Dream Center’s mission with several churches and other groups. “I always say God must love this place. God has said, ‘I want you to love these people like I love them.’ We are helping change outcomes in Walker County, one person at a time.”