Dreamer Glenn, owner of "Miss Prissy's" soul food restaurant at Salt City Market, started a foundation in honor of her daughter.

If Dreamer Glen knows one thing, it’s about turning pain into purpose.

Loss, grief, and sadness have been constants for the Syracuse native over the past two decades, but she has countered with an intense work ethic, passion, and pure love — a love for cooking and a love for helping others.

As a cook, Glen has taken these ingredients and assembled a positive outcome. That led her not only to open Miss Prissy’s, Glen’s catering business of 20 years which last year opened its first physical location at the Salt City Market, but they have also become the catalysts of the Nile Dayne Foundation, the nonprofit organization Glen founded this year in memory of her daughter.

Nile Dayne Johnson, born prematurely on Feb. 5, 2002, died 32 days later. 

The Foundation — which Glen considers the non-profit arm of Miss Prissy’s — has helped Glen find comfort and purpose in helping others as a way of honoring her daughter’s legacy, a way to cope with the pain of her loss.

“Even though it’s been 20 years, it never goes away,” Glen said.

Based on the role Glen believes education plays in creating a productive and active society, the foundation focuses on higher education. According to its website, the foundation envisions “a community that recognizes the importance of educational attainment and assures positive educational outcomes are accessible regardless of economic circumstance.”

Through scholarships, the foundation will provide financial support,  and information to make sound financial decisions. Overall, the foundation aims to support young people in Syracuse  through financial support and volunteerism.

While it opened recently, the foundation’s ideals have arrived in Glen’s values gradually throughout the past two decades, eventually becoming the purpose fueled by her pain. 

Over the years, Glen has grown frustrated with seeing kids denied the opportunity to attend college — or even have to leave school — because they lack the resources and finances college often requires. 

“We have bright kids in our society and I want to help,” Glen said. 

Glen wasn’t quite sure how to help until recently. She spent years in sadness. Nile’s birthdays are emotional, so she wanted to honor her 20th birthday and turn it into a joyous occasion. 

“It came to me all of a sudden and I asked God if this is what I was supposed to do to make the way plain and clear,” Glen said. “That He did and here we are.”

Glen aims for Miss Prissy’s and the Nile Dayne Foundation to work in sync, keeping her Grannie and daughter close to her heart. Whereas Miss Prissy’s has made her a local household name in the Syracuse community, the Nile Dayne Foundation is a chance to make a difference in the outcomes young people experience. It aims to influence public policy by advocating for expanding higher education opportunities, and it is driven by love, pain and distress.

During the pregnancy, Glen became ill, and needed to be home for an extended period of time. She needed to find ways to cope with the pain and make ends meet, so she turned to cooking, specifically cooking soul food, seemingly the one constant in her life.

Throughout that time, Glen rediscovered the power of soul food, something she learned as a toddler, when she learned to cook eggs from her grandmother, who was always known as Grannie to her.

It was a flashback to times with the woman who she believes taught her “how to be” and to the special connection with her grandmother. As her mother worked and finished school, Glen would mostly spend weeks with her grandmother and grandfather, who was an entrepreneur himself. He owned a bar throughout Glen’s childhood and opened a peanut business during retirement. She spent weekends with her mom. 

Glen said long hours cooking with Grannie and watching her grandfather operate his businesses led her to the restaurant industry and gave her the drive and hustle to own a cooking business and a nonprofit.

From cooking eggs as a toddler to the countless family gatherings, parties, and celebrations, Glen said, Grannie showed her the ropes.

“Everything I learned, I learned from her.”

It was that time with Grannie that taught Glen about the importance of helping others, a value that she never seems to lose sight of, even when the stakes are high personally, said Sara Tong-Ngork. Tong-Ngork is the owner of Firecracker Thai Kitchen, situated kitty-corner from Miss Prissy’s across the market.

Glen helps others in a niche way through scholarships or catering, but on a daily basis, she wants to make a difference any way she can, Tong-Ngork said. 

Tong-Ngork remembers the auditions to get a stall at Salt City Market. The day after the audition, one of their fellow applicants had a devastating house fire, and as Tong-Ngork heard of it the following day, she took her extra ingredients from the audition and prepared food to create a fundraiser for him. 

Then about halfway through the day, Glen surprised Tong-Ngork with a message saying that she was “sold out.” She bought the remaining dinners, asked Tong-Ngork to save a few for her family, and donated the rest.

“It was such a selfless gesture,” Tong-Ngork said. “And she did it without asking me to mention it or post to social media or any other ulterior motive. Not only did she help our fellow applicant, but also she helped feed the community that day.”

For Glen, it was just a simple way of supporting the community where she grew up – the community where she attended St. Lucy’s Elementary, Huntington Middle and Henninger High. It was a way of supporting a fellow business owner and community member, a reflection of what she strives to do with each meal and extension of the Nile Dayne Foundation.

Food — a good meal — brings people together. It brings happiness.

“That is what I like to see,” Glen said. “Sharing food is like sharing my culture, so although it is hard work, I love the results.”

Tong-Ngork said she admired Glen’s warm heart, infectious energy, undeniable passion, and sheer determination in defending her beliefs and loved ones.“There’s more to her than the reserved and stoic aura she has about her,” she said.

More than anything, Tong-Ngork said, Glen is genuine. Too often, Tong-Ngork said, people don’t get to know “the real her,” the person who goes out of their way to help others, the person who has been available to help every step of the way throughout the application processes and as their businesses launched, and the person with a great energy and sense of humor.

“Some days she’ll have me laughing from the moment I see her,” Tong-Ngork added. “Her food just makes you feel like a warm hug.”

Now, the seasoned entrepreneur hopes that she can achieve the premise of her foundation: encourage as many children as possible to “go, see, be and do.”

“I hope that in the future the Foundation can be a part of a larger village that helps young people,” Glen said. “I also hope that as people see what we are doing that they try to do similar things to help the youth in our community.”

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Follow Joey Pagano @JoeyFPagano.

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