DREAMS of Wilmington, although temporarily displaced by storm damage, strives to remain a secure environment for local youth in need
By Alisha Browne, CSB Web Developer and Marketing Coordinator
After experiencing damages from Hurricane Florence, a local nonprofit organization sought a temporary location which allowed them to open their doors back up to the youth they serve.
Created in 1996, DREAMS of Wilmington, Inc. serves more than 600 youth in need and their families each year with more than 60 literary, visual, multimedia and performing arts classes per week, free of charge. The organization is a recipient of the Coming Up Taller Award (2007) and the UNC Wilmington Razor-Walker Award (2012) for distinguished service to youth. “Our primary goal is to empower youth and teens through the arts. We make sure that if a student comes here with an artistic idea, we can make it happen, no matter what it is,” said Kevin Blackburn, Interim Executive Director of DREAMS and a UNCW Cameron School of Business alumnus (2012).Through participating in a corporate internship as well as being a member of the Cameron Executive Network during his undergraduate studies at Cameron School of Business, Blackburn gained valuable insight into his interests and passions that propelled him into his current position. After spending several years serving nonprofits such as the Brigade Boys & Girls Club, Blackburn built a network of professionals in the industry which lead him to a full-time position at DREAMS in 2017.
Director of Youth Ministries at Grace United Methodist, Kelley Ahlers, says, “After an experience like Hurricane Florence, children and teens need to find a sense of normalcy, to go back to the routines as quickly as possible. That routine for many children in our community is spending the afternoon creating and exploring with the staff at DREAMS. Our kids need to laugh, paint, dance, and sing as they work to bounce back from the trauma we all have faced.”
DREAMS of Wilmington has a relationship with more than 80 organizations in the local community that span over the last 20 years, a connection that is embodied by the “Forest of Dreams,” a 240-foot mural painted on a concrete wall just below the school’s yard. The mural was organized by Dr. Janna Robertson of UNCW Watson College of Education, who solicited 76 organizations and more than 600 volunteer painters to complete the project in 2016. The mural reinforces the spirit of community and commitment to the arts that DREAMS is proud to embody, according to Blackburn.
DREAMS Center for Arts Education sits in a residential area with a substantial proportion of households below the poverty level. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 53.2% of households with children and 69.2 % of single-mother households near the DREAMS facility live below the poverty line.
Some of the children in these areas suffer from not only financial hardships, but are witness to a history of abuse and other trauma as well. Affordable extracurricular programs like those provided by DREAMS are a form of therapy for youth in this environment, says Blackburn. “The arts are proven to improve literacy, critical thinking and academic performance, and they’re therapeutic.”
National studies would agree. According to a research study published with the support of the National Endowment for the Arts in 2012, “socially and economically disadvantaged children and teenagers who have high levels of arts engagement or arts learning show more positive outcomes in a variety of areas than their low-arts-engaged peers."
The students of DREAMS and their parents can testify first-hand on how this school’s programming impacts their lives. “We love being a part of the DREAMS family,” says a parent who has two daughters enrolled in the program. “My girls have learned so much there with the variety of arts programs, and they are always looking forward to spending time with their extended DREAMS family.”
DREAMS of Wilmington plans to use Grace United Methodist Church as their main location for the remainder of the year; the location for their fall showcase in December is still being determined. All normal programs will continue to be offered at this temporary location. Although the exact cost of repairs to the Center for Arts Education and the timeline for repair are still being determined, Blackburn hopes that they can move back into Fanning Street in January of 2019.
Those interested in supporting DREAMS of Wilmington can participate in several upcoming fundraisers that will benefit the nonprofit, including a chili cook-off at Waterline Brewing Company on November 3 and Encore Magazine’s 12 Tastes (or more) of Christmas event on December 13. DREAMS also accepts donations online. Kevin Blackburn can be reached directly at 910-228-7116.