Graniteville nonprofit aims for 'Field of Dreams'
GRANITEVILLE — Overgrown grass and brush cover the field, the splintering wooden bleachers and the graffiti-stained pressbox like cobwebs, giving the football field of the former Graniteville High School almost a mausoleum-like presence – but not for much longer.
The field is the future site of the Megiddo Dream Station's classroom and vocation facilities, the plans for which were unveiled on Thursday night at a special ceremony on the field.
The Megiddo Dream Station is a nonprofit organization based in Graniteville that seeks to create self-sustaining families by offering education and job-training opportunities, food programs, life-skill classes and Christian-oriented services.
Its nonprofit status was approved last October, and classes began the following month. Since then, 65 people have graduated and gone on to find jobs, said Kay Benitez, executive director.
The Dream Station is currently located at the corner of Gregg Highway and Canal Street.
The new facility will consist of two new buildings, Benitez said.
The first building will be a large classroom building where classes will be offered in general work preparation, culinary arts, computer training and childcare training. The second building will house the vocational training, including courses in automotive, carpentry and general construction training. The facility will even include a multi-purpose athletic field and even a restaurant.
Benitez said a capital campaign to raise funds for the construction will begin next month. Construction is anticipated to begin in the summer, and Benitez said she hopes to start offering services in the new facility by summer 2015.
The average student at the station has been out of work for about three-and-a-half years, she said.
“It's a lot more than teaching them how to fill out a resume or how to fill out an application,” Benitez said. “What do we need to do to help them feel better about who they are and what they've done? Many of them have gotten very discouraged and very distressed over time.”
Benitez said the station did a study on the estimated savings of getting people back to work versus them receiving government assistance. The result: About $85,000 per month, she said.
The project, nicknamed the “Field of Dreams,” is named after the 1989 Kevin Costner film of the same name, in which a farmer obeys voices commanding him to build a baseball diamond in his corn fields.
Benitez said the people who will “come” to the buildings in the field on Gregg Highway come from different backgrounds. They are various ages and races; some have been unemployed for two months, others have been unemployed for 10 years.
Ritchie Cunningham smiled as he watched his three young children roll around in the field Thursday night. Just a few months ago, he was struggling to find a job to provide for them.
“I'd heard about it. I was like, 'Well, nothing else seems to be going right. I've got to get a job,'” he said, remembering when he first heard about Megiddo Dream Station. A felony conviction further hindered his landing a job.
“It followed me everywhere I'd go as a black cloud. I couldn't get out from under it,” he said.
Less than a month into the program at the Dream Station, Benitez had a job opportunity lined up for Cunningham at All Star Rents in Aiken. He helped construct the tent under which Thursday's event was held.
“She has to make sure the person is right for the job, and that you're really reliable and really dependable,” he said. “They gave me a chance and let me in, by her word.”
Teddy Kulmala covers the crime and courts beat for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since August 2012. He is a native of Williston and majored in communication studies at Clemson University.