Community Engagement
The Dream Center: Diary of a Shelter Guest
Carol Thomas
Carol Thomas

Servathon brings out the best in all of us and reminds us that we contribute so much more than our everyday job. The service spirit that drives us to do our jobs well is the same spirit that can affect positive change in our communities.

I have participated in many Servathon activities over the years. However, this time, it was more personal.  This April, I served with my 17-year-old daughter, Kayla. Together, we committed to spending a week living at a shelter called the Dream Center in East Los Angeles. For a week, we ate, slept, and worked alongside this community.

Our accommodations were sparse―a dorm room with six metal bunk beds, a shared bathroom with just the necessities. At night, it was very quiet. There was no internet, TV, etc. I thought about the reality of living in a shelter fulltime. I was proud of my daughter for her bravery and willingness to serve and I thought about what it would be like to raise a child in a place like this as so many must do. The lack of personal space, freedom, and amenities are a small price to pay for the security of having a roof over your head and a bed to sleep in.

Our days of service were full. Immediately following breakfast, we Volunteering.at_.the_.Dream_.Centerwere off to load trucks with pallets of fresh produce. The trucks drove to neighborhoods in the surrounding area, where hundreds waited in line as we made a human assembly line. People filed by and grabbed one of each fresh offering. We spoke to each person eye-to-eye, hand-to-hand and heart-to-heart; we connected with the people who received the gift of produce and so much more. The children danced with excitement to receive, not candy, but fresh fruit. Have you ever considered that to some, fresh wholesome food is a luxury?

One afternoon, we drove to Nickerson Gardens to help with a children’s program. On the drive there, I thought we were going to help with a gardening project on such a beautiful LA day, but I was quite mistaken. Nickerson Gardens is the largest housing project in the west. If you have never been to the projects before, it is a dismal place; dirty, dangerous, and depressingly poor.

Yet, as we pulled up in the familiar vans, scores of children ran out of shabby apartments to join us. Our instructions were to “go love on some kids”. So we did and they loved on us too. Holding hands, laughing and soaking up the attention and love, as any child would. In their eyes, I saw a strange mix of innocence, pain, and fear. I glanced across the playground and saw my own child, now a young woman, pouring out love on these children. Two girls braided her long hair while others danced around waiting their turn. I was so proud of her. Our eyes met briefly, and in that moment I realized that we were not just mother and daughter but two women serving alongside each other and sharing an unforgettable moment of openness and love. These children are like all children, including my own. They just want to feel safe and loved; unfortunately, the odds are stacked against them.

That week, the world seemed to grow very small and our focus grew narrow. No concern for the latest news or email, but rather on who could we help next. The outside world fell away as we focused on each new task.

We did many service activities throughout the week, but it’s not about what we did it’s about the people‒the human beings that we connected with. People like Mo and Memphis, Josh and Quincy….Human beings with names and stories, each sharing what we had to give in that moment.

That is the heart of Servathon‒giving time, food and money to help our neighbors. Sodexo is a company that strives to make a difference in the quality of life for others. Servathon is one way that we can do this.

Carol Thomas is a District Manager in Sodexo’s Corporate Services Division and an avid volunteer. Carol’s passion for service earned her a Hero of Everyday Life award in 2005.

Servathon is Sodexo’s global month of service dedicated to fighting hunger in local communities. To learn more, visit

2 comments on “The Dream Center: Diary of a Shelter Guest

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    Christy Cook says:


    I am sure this experience will forever be a milestone for you and your daughter that will always reside in your heart and in the hearts of those you touched. Thanks for sharing this story.


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