Our Mission

Dreams for Change is driven by the desire to help San Diegans.

History & Mission

Dreams for Change was founded in May 2009 by Dr. Teresa Smith with the initial goal of meeting the needs of families and individuals who had been adversely affected by the financial downturn.

Through her work as a social service provider, Teresa came face-to-face with the new homeless – working families who due to an unanticipated life-changing event found themselves living in their cars with no idea of what to do next. To the outside world their lives looked the same. Children went off to school, parents to work, and the dog waited for them to come home at the end of the day – except, their home was now a vehicle.

The idea behind Dreams for Change was to draw upon documented best practices for addressing poverty and to apply those practices to meet the needs of this struggling population. The organization also sought to fill in the gaps of government and social services, to use out-of-the-box collaborative models to serve its clients, to operate with lean efficiencies, and to utilize innovative strategies for accomplishing its work.

The mission of Dreams for Change remains its guiding beacon: To respond to the needs of San Diegans by creating innovative and cost-effective programs to empower and stabilize the lives of underserved families and individuals.


Spring of 2010

Dreams for Change launched its first initiative, the Safe Parking Program. The idea for the program was developed by a combined student group consisting of graduate students from San Diego State University’s School of Social Work and California Western Law School, who researched and laid the ground work for the effort. Within the first year of operation, the program successfully served over 350 individuals, assisting 65% to secure permanent housing. Since then the Safe Parking Program has served 2650 individuals and families. The program uses an integrated service delivery approach that embeds financial education and counseling into the basic components of wrap around support services. The result is that participants gain the skills and income they need to live self-sufficiently.

Two Years Later

Two years after the inauguration of the Safe Parking Program, Dreams for Change launched its second initiative, Eat Better Today (EBT) that took the form of the FRESH mobile food truck. In addition to cash, Dreams for Change arranged for the food truck to accept EBT (Food Stamp) cards as payment for hot low-cost nutritious meals. In 2014, EBT expanded further and added the Senior Connections Program, which provides healthy discounted food, support services and activities for seniors in collaboration with Interfaith Community Services.

Today and Tomorrow

Dreams for Change continues to refine and expand its efforts. Several of our programs have been awarded prizes through the Social Innovation Challenge at the University of San Diego. Safe Parking Programs exist in 2 sites, serving 350 individuals per year. 115 homeless individuals and families participate annually in our comprehensive financial management and literacy program. 1500 low and moderate-income households are served through the Thrive San Diego program. Eat Better Today’s food trucks serve nutritious meals while providing employment training.

The vision for Dreams for Change is: All San Diegans have opportunities to build a secure future.

Message from the CEO

When we started Dreams for Change, we had a vision of doing something different to change the way San Diego treats and serves homeless families and individuals in our community. We wanted to deliver programs that were designed using the best practices known for addressing poverty. We wanted to fill gaps in a social service and government system that had many gaping holes. We wanted to be nimble, lean, cost-effective, and innovative. We wanted to work collaboratively. And we wanted to measure our outcomes in order to determine our impact.

Six years later, we are still a “new” organization however, our team is rich in experience in helping families and individuals achieve stability in their lives and in meeting the expectations we established for ourselves at the outset of our work. I am proud of our team – the volunteers, interns and staff – for the abundant skills they bring to us, for their heartfelt dedication, and for their commitment to treating each and every person we serve with the dignity and respect that provides the foundation for the success of our clients.

Just as we teach and coach our clients in the art of financial management, Dreams for Change works to model sound organizational management and operating principles. Through purposeful programming we bring a level of financial responsibility that strives to use every dollar and resource effectively. We utilize and embrace technology as a way to reduce overhead costs while providing quality on-site services. We capitalize on the power of community volunteers and interns who bring added resources and skills to our programming. We also draw on the strength of collaboration and partnership to minimize the duplication of services and to bridge services for clients across agencies and organizations.

We aspire to be an organization that makes a real and lasting difference in the lives of the people we serve. To that end, we welcome conversations, ideas and partnership opportunities for addressing the needs of homeless and low-income San Diegans. I hope you’ll contact me if you have any thoughts about how we can strengthen our work in service to the community.

Teresa L. Smith, PhD