Photo: Standing from left, Breakaway Ministries board member David Surratt, founder Eddie Nichols, board members Tommie Goggans, Jett Parker and Cheryl Cornutt welcome children and their familes to The Megan Kelley Dream Center.
By Katie Bohannon, Staff Writer
Breakaway Ministries hosted its second annual Inner-City Christmas Party at The Megan Kelley Dream Center, located at 601 Black Creek Road, on Saturday Dec. 21. Before Breakaway Ministries acquired the building across from Floyd Elementary School, it was involved with Christmas parties in housing communities on a much smaller scale. After discovering that the presents given to those children were the only presents they received, Breakaway Ministries founder Eddie Nichols recognized the need for change.
The Inner-City Christmas Party provided an afternoon of fun for over 100 children and their families from the Etowah County area. With the help of over 70 volunteers from nine different churches, the party offered activities and performances both children and adults enjoyed. Volunteers read the Christmas story to children and monitored a massive inflatable slide while children played. Local dancers performed Christmas themed-dances for entertainment and each guest was served a homecooked Christmas meal. Before leaving, children received presents specifically purchased according to their wishes, while their families were given a bag of groceries to take home.
Breakaway Ministries board member Andy Brunson attested to the afternoon’s success and the positivity the Dream Center promotes. Founded in 1990, Breakaway Ministries began as summer and winter camps for youth groups, but over the years evolved into a ministry that serves the underprivileged or those without accessible resources.
“It’s quite amazing the things we’ve seen,” said Brunson. “We regularly get reports of what I’d call miracles taking place, needs that have been met in miraculous ways. You hear about people who would give you the shirt off their back, he [Eddie] does that. If somebody is down and out, that’s who he is ministering to all the time. He’s never out there trying to impress anybody. What you see is what you get with Eddie.”
The Inner-City Christmas Party served as a welcoming event preceding The Megan Kelley Dream Center’s opening on Feb. 11, 2020. The center plans to be open Tuesdays and Thursdays for after school programs and bible studies during the week. In the future, Breakaway Ministries hopes to develop the 10 acres outside the center into a soccer and baseball field. But Nichols and his team are approaching their projects as a process. Events like the Inner-City Christmas Party show their present efforts and promote the promise of the future.
“The biggest focus has been on getting this Dream Center going, casting a vision on what the Dream Center could be and helping serve this community,” said Brunson. “But the biggest purpose is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ and provide a safe place for these kids and their families.”
The Megan Kelley Dream Center will not charge its visitors any monetary cost to use its facilities and partake in its programs. In return, Breakaway Ministries requests that the families volunteer at the center and participate alongside their children.
Instead of dropping their children off, relatives are encouraged to stay and help maintain the safe atmosphere the center promotes through learning and engaging with their children.
“That’s the way you grow a community, that’s the way you change a community,” Nichols said. “You start with something that we can all agree on, which a child is usually the best thing, and we pour love into the children unconditionally, not asking you for a thing, and then we want to reach you.”
Nichols described how family involvement ensures that once the children leave the center, they are not going home to an alien environment that undermines and rejects everything they learned at the center. When he was a youth minister, Nichols shared that regardless of his efforts to benefit his students, his efforts were futile if that same mindset was not being reinforced at home. Despite the positive seeds he may plant, those values were uprooted if the family home was broken.
“In a culture where family units do not exist, we want to reach both entities and then work together and let it be a home where Christ abides,” Nichols explained.
The Megan Kelley Dream Center is named for Nichols’ great-niece, Megan Kelley, whose kind nature and joyful spirit inspires others to live a life of endurance, gratitude and dedication to Jesus Christ. At 17, Kelley was diagnosed with cancer. For two years, Kelley experienced the care and service of UAB’s hospital staff and witnessed the needs of other patients around her. Kelley’s generous heart longed to repay the blessings she received and provide services to others. During her time at UAB, she wanted to create gift baskets filled with treats to cheer up her neighbors and developed plans to create her own cancer care facility. Although Kelley passed away at 19, her message of service and compassion still lives on through projects like her Dream Center and her own charity, the Megan Kelley Smiles Foundation. Kelley’s motto, “be kind to everyone, you never know what they are going through,” served as the blueprint for her Dream Center and remains the essence of the center’s mission today.
“Her nurses, everyone around her, said that she just exudes light and kindness and that smile; that’s just who she was,” said Kelley’s mother, Donna Kelley. “Megan was so humble and so quiet, but she would be very happy that this was going on.”
Before she died, Nichols spoke with Kelley about his plans to develop a community center in her name. Though Kelley loved the idea, she asked him why he wanted to name the center after her.
“You display in your countenance and your smile on your face and the words you speak hope,” Nichols told Kelley. “I have a community that has no hope. You also display a unity that you have with Christ that these people don’t have; that’s where your strength comes from.”
Breakaway Ministries has a three-fold mission. First, Nichols believes that God called him to establish unity among the churches and wants to establish an organization run by God’s people, not the government. Second, Breakaway Ministries wants to embrace and engage its community where it is at the present moment and work with the community to lead its people to Christ. Third, Nichols foresees that through establishing the first and second aspects of Breakaway’s mission, the kingdom of God will enhance. One day, he envisions a community church at The Megan Kelley Dream Center that does not discriminate against its members or the circumstances of their lives. He envisions a place where people of all backgrounds and ethnicities come together, unified by their beliefs.
“I know that’s what God has called us to do, to be an example, to set a standard, and that’s what we’re doing in this building,” Nichols said. “I’m not telling you it is [possible] because I’m doing it, I’m telling you it is because God is doing it. If He can part the Red Sea and raise people from the dead, he can sure put people together. We’re going to believe that and act on that, and it’ll be pretty powerful.”
Breakaway Ministries plans to host a live auction fundraising event for The Megan Kelley Center, either in April or May at The Venue at Coosa Landing in Gadsden. Duke University head football coach David Cutcliffe is scheduled to speak. Following the fundraiser, Breakaway Ministries will evaluate and solidify its future plans for the center and community.
For more information about The Megan Kelley Smiles Foundation, visit www.mksmiles.org.