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Fulfilling the dreams of Iowa’s youth

Reverend Deb Hill-Davis has helped youth throughout her whole career. As minister at the Unity Church of Ames and a former school psychologist for Des Moines Public Schools, Rev. Deb uses her faith and passion to provide service to others.

In 2015, when Deb was new to the area, the Unity Church of Ames hosted the annual Martin Luther King Jr. interfaith service sponsored by AARLA (Ames Area Religious Leaders Association). Rev. Deb asked if there would be a collection for a “love offering.”

Since there was none, she proposed the idea to collect funds for a scholarship for youth who were aging out of the foster care system. This is how the idea of the Dream Seed fund was born.

“To make this happen, I needed to partner with an agency,” Rev. Deb says. “I knew of George Belitsos, the CEO of YSS at the time. Because of his reputation in the community, I decided to reach out to YSS—and ultimately, the AMP program. I knew this is where I needed to be.”

AMP, Achieving Maximum Potential, is a statewide youth council led by YSS that strives to unlock the full potential of foster and adoptive children. The organization helps youth find their voices, advocate for themselves, and educate state legislators, child welfare professionals, and juvenile court representatives on foster care services from a youth’s perspective.

Through the support of YSS and AMP, Rev. Deb was able to create the Dream Seed program for former foster care youth.

Rev. Deb’s compassion for foster care alumni comes from a personal connection with Reggie Kelsey. Reggie was a young man who aged out of foster care back in 2001. After three months of being on his own—while experiencing homelessness and untreated mental health issues—Reggie was found dead in the Des Moines River.

Following his death, YSS created Reggie’s Sleepout, an annual event to honor Reggie and raise awareness and funds to support youth experiencing homelessness. YSS also led the charge to create the Iowa Aftercare Services Network, which bridges the gap between foster care and self-sufficient adulthood.

“When I was a school psychologist in the Des Moines schools, I had evaluated Reggie on his 18th birthday,” says Rev. Deb. “We were trying to find some resources to help him because there was nothing available but a bed in a homeless shelter. After he died, I spoke at his memorial service and said if there was anything I could do to prevent this from ever happening again, I would do it. This was my opportunity to support kids who were aging out of the foster care.”

Through that promise, Rev. Deb was able to create a scholarship to help support young peoples’ dreams. Each year, the Dream Seed offers an application for youth to receive a $300 grant.

“Students have used this grant for laptops or software. One young man wanted to become a welder and needed an apron and boots, so we were able to provide that for him,” Rev. Deb explains.

She hopes the Dream Seed program continues to grow, even past her time at the Unity Church of Ames, and provide even more scholarships to youth. She explains the need for an online donation system that can provide a steady flow of funds throughout the year.

“The number of applicants dropped due to COVID, when youth had to focus on surviving rather than dreaming,” Rev. Deb says. “Luckily it has gone back up, but my next mission is to make donating more accessible year-round.”

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