Updated: Oct 31, 2019
Tucked away on the Southeast Side of Iowa City sits a bright blue building surrounded by trees that many young adults in the community consider their second home.
The father of this household is Fredrick Newell, 27, founder and CEO of the Dream Center. Newell balances this with a full-time job at City High as a student adviser.
“I don’t want to see any snacks before your homework is done,” said Newell to five teenagers from City High who had just sat down to do their homework but were eager to tell Newell about their day at school.
The Dream Center, founded by Newell in 2012, was created as a re-sponse to the effects he saw absentee fathers had on the lives of young adults. The center’s core mission is to strengthen families, change lives, and restore hope within the Iowa City community.
“Fatherhood is important,” he said. “There’s a father factor in education, drug and alcohol use, poverty, homelessness, teen pregnancy, and youth suicides.” Growing up in Chicago, Newell had his own issues with fatherhood. Despite growing up with both his parents, his relationship with his father was not a positive one. “From the ages of 16 to 22 my father and I had a love-hate relationship. It made me do some unfortunate things,” he said.
Newell had his first child at 17 years old and eventually became a single father.
While the center was created to address the issue of fatherlessness in the Iowa City community, it has expanded throughout the years and now offers a variety of programs catered to the evolving community.
“I’d have a bad life without Fred. He’s like a father figure, big brother and older cousin all in one,” said Kishonna Chew, a sophomore at City High. Chew said Newell is always looking for ways to help other people and that he is genuinely interested in the well-being of those who attend the center. He took Chew and another Dream Center regular on a college trip to Drake last year, something she said wouldn’t have been possible without him.
“He’s one of the most selfless people I know,” Chew said. When Newell’s name was mentioned around the other girls sitting in the “Martin Luther King Jr.” room at the center, they started giggling and smiling with abandon. “I feel like Fred should be president,” said Destini Randle-Estes, a sophomore at City High.
Randle-Estes said Newell has opened doors that she would have never thought possible without his help. He helped her get a job at Hy-Vee and is taking her on a similar college trip during spring break this year.
“Fred is a leader and one of the best people I know,” Randle-Estes said.
UI graduate student Lindsey Kutcher works at the center to help students with their homework as part of a practicum for her social-work program.
Kutcher sees the first-hand effect Newell has on the youth who come to the center.
“Kids are drawn to him,” Kutcher said. “He connects and challenges the kids with things in their life but at the same time, he keeps it real with them.”
For Randle-Estes, Newell always seems to know when is the right time to be funny and serious. She appreciates that he does not show favoritism among the group at the center and loves how he looks out for everyone with the same passion and determination.
“It’s nice to have someone in your corner who is cheering you on and constantly motivating you to be better,” said Randle-Estes.