It’s been a long time since students roamed the halls of the old Garfield School on Billings South Side.
And it’s also been a long time since Pastor David Morales first started dreaming of turning this old school into something else.
“It’s been 20 some years that we have been working to make this dream happen,” says Morales, who serves as pastor at the Billings Praise Center. “Most people don’t realize the plight that is going on out here”
It would be called the Montana Dream Center and would provide resources and help for those who have struggled with homelessness and addiction as well as other problems.
“You can find treatment if you have money or insurance, but if you don’t, it is very limited,” says Morales.
It would also be a place to help those who have fallen victim to another evil that Morales says he first became aware of while working as a truancy officer a couple decades ago.
“I was finding more and more of these little girls caught up in human trafficking or child prostitution. It was something people didn’t want to hear about, yet it is going on right underneath our noses,” he says.
Garfield served students in Billings for around 100 years and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Recently the Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch had offices in it before putting it up for sale. Hobby Lobby bought the building in 2019 and then turned the deed over to the Billings Praise Center last year as a donation.
The 63,000-square-foot building was built over the years in different sections which Morales says makes it perfect and safe for multiple uses and populations.
“The actual reason why everyone else hated it is exactly why we love it is because the floors are so broken up and they can easily be segregated and shut down. So, we can easily separate all the populations in the building,” he says.
The building is mostly vacant right now except for a childcare center that serves about 50 children. The plan is to double that number and move it downstairs, freeing up the rest of the building.
“There would be a rescue floor to bring in the little girls brought in the human trafficking. The upper floors will be used for a discipleship treatment program. Six to 12 months for women. It’s not based on money whether they can pay or not. It’s based on whether they need help and need to get sober,” Morales says.
There are also plans for a Christian bookstore and small restaurant to provide training and experience for some of the occupants. There is also space for non-profits that could work directly with those in need.
“That is the other part that makes the Dream Center work so well is that you can get as many nonprofits on one site so that you can bring as many direct services as possible,” he says.
But making the Dream Center come true will also take a lot of money. The old boiler needs to be replaced with a modern heating and AC system, a fire suppression needs to be installed, and a lot of other rehab is needed for the old building.
“We are going to rely on the public because this is a community issue. And we will show up we will do the work,” Morales says.
The plan is to kick off an education and fundraising campaign in early 2022 with hopes of making the Dream Center a reality.
“I’m just praying that this happens sooner rather than later. Because it is so desperately needed for both the kids and the adults.”