The Kernodle Center plays a role in CityGate Dream Center’s big impact

The Kernodle Center for Civic Life has partnered with the CityGate Dream Center on many initiatives to assist the center in achieving its mission to serve the local community.

Elon University students and the Kernodle Center for Civic Life volunteered at the CityGate Dream Center’s monthly Diaper Distribution giving diapers and feminine hygiene products to families in the Alamance County community on Thursday, Oct. 6.

Approaching the Dream Center, at 1423 N. Church St., a long line of cars built up even 30 minutes before the event. Students, community members and center staff received their roles and stepped into position. Some volunteers stocked, and repeatedly restocked, the areas where cars would stop to receive their orders. Others filled the orders, delivering the products to each car as they rolled in consistently for 90 minutes.

This isn’t new for the Dream Center. Since becoming an official partner with the Diaper Bank of North Carolina in May 2020, the first Thursday of every month has looked similar.

“The diaper bank had five emergency locations during that first year, and we gave away the most diapers out of all of them,” said Lisa Edwards, president of CityGate Dream Center. “I think we gave away $129,000 worth of diapers that year.”

This trip to the Dream Center was a part of the Kernodle Center’s Get on the Bus program. The program is a series of service events offered to all Elon students during the first eight weeks of the fall semester. Transportation is provided for students to participate in an afternoon of service. The Diaper Distribution was the final Get on the Bus event of the year.

Students cleaning indoor soccer field

The Get on the Bus events are one-time service opportunities for students to connect with community partners. The Dream Center is a partner that collaborates with the Kernodle Center more regularly.

“Currently, we have primarily worked with their weekly after-school program for middle and high school students,” said Kyle Anderson, associate director of the Kernodle Center. “Our volunteers provide mentorship, help with activities and get to build relationships with the Dream Center’s after-school students. Participation has been quite strong since last spring. Also, we collaborate with El Centro to recruit volunteers and we usually have 10 to 12 students attend every week.”

The students make an impact directly as volunteers, a pillar of most successful non-profits. Their participation comes with greater benefits as relationships are formed. They become positive influences in the community.

“It has been really awesome to see students come and help with our after-school program and catching on to the culture of being a positive person in other people’s lives,” said Edwards. “Then, the kids get excited about school and realize, ‘Wow, I can go to college too.’”

The partnership between the Kernodle Center and Dream Center started in 2020. “We had a group of students participate in our alternative break program and volunteer during Elon’s spring break,” said Anderson. “We continued the partnership since then.”

Alternative breaks are immersive service experiences designed to introduce students to new communities while working to address pressing domestic and global social issues. In March 2021, students volunteered at the center’s food distribution and COVID-19 vaccination clinic. “Due to COVID, there was a lot of restrictions,” said Chandler McKelvey ’23, lead service ambassador with the Kernodle Center. “To participate in alternative break, we were restricted to Alamance County.”

McKelvey, a human studies major, started as a service ambassador in her first year at Elon.  Currently, she oversees many of the service projects and helped design the alternative break with the Dream Center.

“We wanted to focus on disparities in education. A professor mentioned the Dream Center, which wasn’t on our radar. Talking to Lisa and learning what the center means to the Latinx/Hispanic community, we wanted to help,” McKelvey said.

“Working the vaccination clinic was really eye-opening. I thought everyone wanted a vaccine, but a lot of people in the community were very apprehensive and worried about the effects of it,” she added. “So, talking with community members and educating them on the vaccine and supporting them regardless of their choice was very impactful.”

More organizations at Elon have fostered partnerships with the Dream Center, including the Freedom Scholars. As the collaboration grows between the Dream Center and Elon, more students are witnessing the center’s positive effect.

“I get so happy seeing people from different communities caring about each other,” said Emilia Suarez, Dream Center’s health promotion coordinator. “Sometimes people come just because they need service hours, but when they come in here and see what’s going on, they say, ‘I want to come back the next time.’”

Katherine Smith ’26, volunteering for the second time at the Dream Center during the diaper distribution, shared a similar experience. “My introduction to human services course requires 40 service hours,” she said. “I came last week and had so much fun that I had to come back. This is something great I can continue doing.”

The Dream Center will host its annual Hispanic Heritage Festival on Oct. 15 from 2 to 8 p.m. Additionally, they have a community kitchen, monthly family nights, sports leagues, a citizenship and computer course in partnership with Alamance Community College and after-school tutoring and programming for youth. To learn more or how to get involved, visit the CityGate Dream Center website.

“There are a lot of other great services the Dream Center offers,” said Anderson. “They do an amazing job collaborating with many other local organizations in Alamance County and keep growing in what they offer to the local community.”