HILDALE — On Sept. 27, Luke Barnett, head pastor of Dream City Church in Phoenix, Arizona, and his daughter Annalee Barnett set out on the Arizona Trail to hike approximately 800 miles to the Mexico border in an effort to raise $1 million for the Short Creek Dream Center.
The Short Creek Dream Center is housed in the former residence of Warren Jeffs, the polygamist leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and convicted felon. In 2017, the residence was acquired by the Phoenix Dream Center and has since been converted into a safe house and refuge with the ability to provide residential life recovery care to 88 people.
Luke Merideth, director of Short Creek Dream Center, said the idea for the hike came when Luke Barnett approached him and said that he and his daughter were going to hike 20 miles a day for 40 days to raise funds, spread awareness and help give the center a kickstart in its “new season.”
“I think it’s well-over a million steps to raise hopefully a million dollars, to pour into this dream center, to pour into this community,” Merideth said.
The Arizona Trail stretches the length of the state of Arizona – from the Utah-Arizona border to the Arizona-Mexico border – coursing through deserts, forests, canyons and mountains. As of Wednesday morning, the Barnetts were nearly halfway to the Mexico border and are expected to cross the bridge near the Roosevelt Dam on Friday.
“We’re going to have a bunch of our people there cheering them on,” Merideth said.
In a video interview with the Barnetts before they embarked on their 800-mile journey, Barnett talked about the reasons this cause was important to him.
“Warren Jeffs told the young ladies of that town that they were basically … baby-making machines, and they were not free to dream with what God had put in their hearts to be and to accomplish,” he said. “This is a brand-new day. And they can dream about being anything they want to be in life and do whatever they want to do in life.”
Merideth said the Phoenix Dream Center became invested in the Short Creek community about 4 years ago, when Glyn and Jena Jones, the former executive directors of the Short Creek Dream Center, were in the community doing missionary work. During this time, Briell Decker, the former 65th wife of Jeffs, offered her house as a facility for a dream center.
The house she was referring to turned out to be Jeffs’ former compound, a 30,000 square foot, 3-story main building, along with two 5,000 square foot guest homes. While a teen bride, Decker lived in Jeffs’ house before escaping in her early 20s. Because of the pain and abuse she went through, she was awarded an appropriation, which she then leveraged to obtain the property and houses.
Her dream was for the compound to be transformed into a safe house and a refuge for victims.
Since it was acquired by the Phoenix Dream Center, the facility has been vastly transformed. All bedrooms have a unique theme with vibrant or soft colors. They have created a video game room, where many of the kids will play their first video game. They have also been working to remove parts of the home that are a reminder of its history.
Promotions Coordinator Mykenna Laden, who moved here from the twin cities of Minnesota to work at the Short Creek Dream Center, told St. George News that the needs continue to change.
“The idea is to fill the needs in the community as we find them,” she said. “It being 10 or 11 years later, the needs have really shifted and changed. Our heart is really set on helping the community, finding ways that we can help and serve.”
A large part of this is providing access to education and job resources, as most of the problems are more “second generation” problems, she said. Some of the common situations have to do with poverty and substance use disorders.
“Because when you go through something as traumatic as they did … a lot of times we turn to other things to fill that void,” she said.
Merideth said one of the primary populations is a group they refer to as the “Cricker Kids.”
“They left their religion some time ago, and they went full on sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, and so we’re helping them come out of unhealthy lifestyles,” he said. “And we have folks who want to come out of the FLDS. All the sudden we’ll get a woman and 12 kids who want to come out of the religion all at once, and one of the first things they want to do is go and buy some new clothes or things like that.”
Laden said, more than anything, this center offers an open door to people who before felt like they were trapped with no way out.
True transformation of a community is a group effort, Laden said.
“The more people that want to rally around a cause like this and make a difference in the lives of people that have been through so much – that’s a game-changer. It doesn’t take one person to change something; it takes people coming together,” she said. “We want to see people and walk alongside them.”
“It’s not just about the monetary support; there’s a list of prayer requests we have there for Pastor Luke and Annalee,” Merideth said.
The original Dream Center Network was founded in 1994 by Tommy Barnett with the mission to stop human trafficking, fight drug addiction and end childhood hunger. Since its inception, there are now over 300 Dream Centers around the world.
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