Matt Reeves once spent his workdays planning landscaping and stone masonry projects for clients “who had extra money.” Now he runs the Frazee Dream Center – working to build skills and relationships for area children who need a leg up. Reeves talks about his journey from service in the Air Force and playing Clemson football to providing preschool, afterschool and mentoring programs for kids who need extra support.
How did you decide to start the Frazee Dream Center?
My wife, Jenny, and I would work summers at Fellowship of Christian Athletes [FCA] camps. Both of us grew up with a terrific family structure. We started meeting kids who didn’t have an example of a family like ours and were struggling in the chaos of their lives. We would set down ground rules and put them on a schedule. They quickly adjusted and we saw a real change in their behavior by Friday morning. What most surprised me was some of these kids would cry and not want to leave, saying it was the best week of their lives.
We started the conversation of what it would look like when we did something like this – when we were 50 years old. In 2006, when our daughter, Tomy John, was 4 years old and our son, Champ, was 6 months old, we thought, “Why not do this right now?”
How did you execute the plan?
At 33, I decided to start the program, and the landscaping business would fund it. I found this 50,000-square-foot building and bought it. We worked the landscape business and our crew helped work on the building. In December 2006, I decided to sell the company. I sat at my table and watched other companies pick up my equipment, and it was gone within seven days. It was very scary and very freeing at the same time. We had about 18 months of capital to work with.
Was there a time when you were sure you would fail? Did it happen?
When I was in the Air Force, people pushed me further than I thought I could go. When I left the Air Force, I thought I was Superman. But when I got to Clemson [to play football], I realized that I was a subpar athlete – I was two steps behind everyone else and two inches shorter. After three weeks of practice, I never thought I would set foot on the field. But the coach had me play in nearly every game – fullback, outside linebacker and on all the special teams.
What keeps you up at night?
It’s the 14-year-old girls who are pregnant and having children. We need to start helping that child from “day zero.” The “day zero” happens and we may miss working it. If we start to work with a child at six years old, they’re already six years behind and it’s nearly impossible to catch up. We have a limited number of days in our lives to do good stuff, and I wake up every morning thinking time is my enemy.
What is the most rewarding mistake you’ve made?
The Frazee Dream Center is also my most rewarding mistake. It was something that I didn’t plan: We had no vision of what it would look like or how to fund it after 18 months.
If I had to do it again, I would take a year and plan. I would do it how we do it now, not how we did it nine years ago. It was a huge undertaking to get into with such little knowledge about what poverty is, who these kids are and what I am capable of. In the beginning we thought were going to have it all fixed in two years.
The rewarding part is that we see kids’ lives change daily, and we had more than 1,000 volunteers last year. It’s changing their lives as much as the child’s.
What’s next for you?
We have 140 kids in the after-school program and we have 700 mentor volunteers in Anderson and Greenville counties. Our goal for 2015 is to have 1,500 mentors in Mentor Upstate, which is run out of our center.
Greenville County has more than 20,000 elementary school kids on free or reduced lunch and probably 10,000 of those kids live in generational poverty. I can’t for the life of me figure out why we can’t have 10,000 people connecting with 10,000 kids with all the businesses and churches that we have around here. We’re working toward it. I hope in five years we have a majority of those kids in a [mentor] relationship with someone who has a little more time and a little less chaos in their lives.