Updated: Oct 31, 2019
IOWA CITY, Iowa – It’s 2 p.m. and nearing the end of the school day at City High School. Frederick Newell sits at his desk in the Welcome Center, but you can’t see him behind the groups of students who crowd the room.
The students chat amongst themselves, some doing homework with staff members, others listening to music while waiting their turn to talk to Newell.
Newell is the director of the Student Advisory Center at City High School, where he works with students on a number of matters.
“I deal with any issues whatsoever, from attitudes to tardies,” he says. Newell’s responsibility here is to provide the students with guidance in whatever may be troubling them, whether it be home life or difficulties in school.
The 27-year-old has quite a bit of experience working with youth in the community, as he is the also founder of The Dream Center in Iowa City.
The Dream Center, located at 611 Southgate Avenue, provides a safe haven and resource for youth and families in the community to be successful, through pursuing strong relationships and self-confidence.
Their mission statement embodies just that: The Dream Center works to strengthen and empower families, with a particular focus on fathers and youth, through support, advocacy, lifelong education, and community connections.
The Dream Center got started in 2012 and has since grown into a larger facility, offering multiple programs, including the Fatherhood Academy, Performance Arts Academy, Youth Leadership Academy, and Family Academy.
After graduating from the University of Iowa with a degree in social work, Newell was looking for ways to make a difference in the community.
He began meeting with a group of kids in the community between 5th and 8th grades, who were seeking day-to-day guidance.
“I started working with a group of young men who didn’t have a place to call their own,” explains Newell.
The original group consisted of only eight boys, but at the first official meeting over 20 kids showed up.
As they continued to have meetings, the number of attendees steadily increased.
Calvin Sandifer, a freshman at City High School, was part of the original group.
“I’m the cofounder,” he says with a big smile. Sandifer was only nine when he first met Newell and started going to The Dream Center.
“I wanted something to do after school,” Sandifer says. He remembers how they started off by just hanging out after school and doing different activities like bowling.
Sandifer is now part of the Young Men Achieving Manhood program at The Dream Center and he continues to go there after school when he isn’t at sports practice.
Davonte Foster, also a freshman at City High, was another member of the original group.
“I was fresh out of Chicago and not used to mentoring programs. It was all bad there,” he says. “I found all my friends here and started the basketball team. Basketball became my everything. The Dream Center opened my eyes and helped me find opportunities.”
Foster says Newell is a good role model because “he came from the same place we did and can relate to us.” Newell is originally from Chicago and moved to Iowa City after high school graduation. Growing up in a two-parent home, he says he was raised by a standard of certain values, values that he strives to teach the youth he works with.
His role models growing up were his two uncles, one of whom is a pastor.
“They looked after me,” he remembers. “They taught me the core values of family, faith and fatherhood. They taught me how to be an active participant, provider, nurturer and role model.”
When Newell was 17 he became a father which also put him in the position of a single parent. Newell says it was important for him to know his rights as a father, in order to gain custody of his son, and provide his child with the care he deserves.
At that point in his life he had just graduated high school and was planning to go to college. He became estranged from his family and lost his support system, as Newell becoming a father put a strain on their relationship.
A scholarship to the University of Iowa brought him to Iowa City, where he decided to study social work. Sara Sanders, the program director for the School of Social Work, became Newell’s mentor. She encouraged him to finish his degree and pursue a line of work that he was passionate about.
Unable to get child care or financial support, Newell ended up taking his son to every class with him. “It matured me very quickly,” he says, “but it’s amazing. Fatherhood is one thing I cherish the most.”
The Dream Center focuses a lot on the responsibilities of a father, and the relationship between a father and his kids. The Fatherhood Academy is a division of The Dream Center that offers programs like F.U.N. (Fathers United Now) and D.M.A.D (Dad’s Making a Difference). These unique support groups are specifically for men to discuss effective parenting, building relationships with their kids, and creating a support system of other fathers.
Newell says his relationship with his father was “non-existent” when he was growing up. “He was one who provided but he worked 16 to 17 hours per day,” he says, “He was present financially but not physically.”
As he got older, he says his relationship with his father changed. “Now I consider my father my best friend.” Newell wants to have that type of nurturing relationship with his kids from the start.
Now a father of four, he continues to be the best father he can, by providing both financial support and emotional support. In the future Newell hopes The Dream Center will become a state-wide organization, and one day possibly a nationwide organization. For now he says, “We are just a small organization trying to make the biggest impact we can on the lives of young people and their families.”
Gabe Nkumu, a junior at City High, also attends The Dream Center. He says, “I learned a lot about growing up and becoming a man.” When asked to describe Newell, Nkumu, without hesitation states, “he is one of the best role models anyone could have.”