When Alexandra “Alex” Leviner was in 4th grade, her mother won a General Mills’ contest and became “Betty Crocker” for the state of North Carolina. The contest was based on each nominee’s philanthropy work and original recipes. With a winner from each state, they then took a part of each face to make the Betty Crocker still seen on the side of General Mills baking mixes. “My mom is the mouth,” Leviner says. “[As a result,] as a child my sister and I were quite involved in giving back.”
Leviner was an active child-volunteer and nothing has changed since she’s gotten older. From volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, to “modeling” in the Domestic Violence Shelter’s annual fashion show fundraiser to teaching Saturday science class at the Cape Fear Museum. For her work Leviner has been voted Best Local Humanitarian twice by encore readers.
After a recent career move, now she has a lot more time to dedicate to volunteering. “I am still an active member of the Junior League of Wilmington and will be chairing a committee or two this upcoming year,” she tells. “I plan on continuing my service on the Communities in Schools Board of Young Professionals and my involvement in the Pounce Program at NHHS. I have also joined the New Hanover Regional Medical Center’s Pink Ribbon Commission’s fundraising committee and cannot wait for the Pink Ribbon luncheon this Fall!”
Leviner has worked for Wilmington-based nonprofits for more than four years, including Nourish NC. Though, as with most non-profit careers, she had less free time but did become an active member of the Junior League of Wilmington. “For any young woman, looking to make a positive impact in her community, I highly recommend looking into the Junior League,” she adds. “They are a great organization with endless philanthropic resources for their members. I also had the pleasure of becoming a board member of Communities in school’s Board of Young Professionals.”
Leviner says Communities in Schools NHC works in tandem with NHC schools to connect students with resources they need to keep on track and graduate. The CIS Board of Young Professionals also launched the “Pounce Program” at New Hanover High School, which allows members like herself to meet with students monthly and have mini-seminars on everything from workforce development to college prep. “It has been one of the most enjoyable volunteer experiences I had the pleasure of having in 2015,” she adds.
The new year came with a new position in the international freight forwarding and logistics field. She also is continuing to do marketing for a home-grown, local metal fabrication business. Nonprofits also should note: Leviner is actively seeking other board opportunities still.
“A lot of people don’t realize that any amount of philanthropic work you do will [have] a ripple effect,” she says of her volunteered time. “To me ‘giving back’ can be summed up in a simple quote: ‘We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.’”
Other nods go to Bo Dean and Jock Brandis.
The Cape Fear River Watch (CFRW) has had some pretty big wins lately in their advocacy work: coal ash is being cleaned up at New Hanover County’s Sutton Plant; the Flemington community has a new safe water supply (they’d been awaiting completion of a water and sewer plan by Cape Fear Public Utility Authority since July 2015); and CFRW’s legal efforts are leading to the clean-up of another coal ash storage area upstream from us, Cape Fear Plant, in Chatham County. “Our education programs are growing and improving and we are getting more people than ever out in the watershed for clean-ups, paddles and other activities,” adds Kemp Burdette, Cape Fear Riverkeeper.
Another win he and his team have been getting pretty used to is encore’s Best Environmental Group award. CFRW has won every year since 2010, except 2011, when Stop Titan (for which CFRW is a partner) took home the “e.” Burdette says CFRW is, without question, accomplishing its mission to protect and improve water quality of the Cape Fear River Basin through education, advocacy and action. From large-scale restoration projects, such as fish passage, and educating both children and adults throughout the community, CFRW is making real progress.
“We are holding polluters accountable, we are influencing policy at the local, state and national level,” he explains. “We are monitoring water quality and using that data to show where problems exist and solutions are needed. . . . And we are a liaison, building a relationship, between the river and our community.”
With its one major fundraiser, StriperFest, in January and several other smaller events annually, CFRW continues to grow its programs. They most recently hired executive director, Frank Yelverton, to help make their organization even more effective. However, what’s most needed is to increase their membership base.
“If people believe that our mission of protecting and improving the Cape Fear River (likely your drinking water source) is important, then we really need you to become a member of CFRW,” Burdette says. “The cost is minimal, $25 a year, and the only way we can continue to be successful is with our community’s help!”
One misconception folks tend to believe is that CFRW operates heavily on federal or state funding, of which they receive virtually none. “The money we raise to carry out our work comes from our community—from foundations, from members and donors, and from fundraisers,” Burdette lists. “We feel very fortunate to have the support of so many people in our community but we need to grow that support if we are going to continue to increase our effectiveness.”
Other top advocates acknowledged for fighting the good fight for our community’s environment are Stop Titan (which announced last week its win over Titan America, which will not be building a cement plant in Castle Hayne) and Surfrider Foundation.
DREAMS of Wilmington were encore’s Best Of beneficiaries for 2016. They also took home the prize for Best Nonprofit on the 2016 poll, according to encore readers. As a nonprofit who works to fill the void of arts education for at-risk youth, DREAMS offer high-quality, free-of-charge programming in literary, visual and performing arts, for students ages 8 to 17.
Founded by Tracy Wilkes in 1996, DREAMS has grown and expanded from its humble beginnings in a church on 5th Street to its own 8,000-sqaure-foot facility on the north side of downtown in the Brooklyn Arts District (901 Fanning St.). Since arriving almost two years ago, current executive director Matt Carvin has overseen the construction of their 5,000-square-foot Garage space, a multipurpose community arts center. The adjacent venue allows DREAMS and other organizations to host events, whether it’s a concert, theatre production or fundraiser.
Art teachers from around the community and volunteers inspire students in drama, dancing, music, filmmaking, visual arts, and more. Just recently they launched a community-wide effort to transform their grounds and its surrounding environment into a bounty of colorful inspiration (see cover).
“It all started with a dream,” Carvin says. “DREAMS is very interested in revitalizing and beautifying the wonderful community that we are a part of. We saw the 240-foot-long grey retaining wall alongside our property as an opportunity—just like a blank canvas—to work corroboratively with the folks in our neighborhood and beyond to reimagine North 10th Street and show the power of creativity and collective vision.”
Since the beginning of March, they’ve asked folks to pick up a paint brush and create a 240-foot-long and 8-foot-tall mural. Lush greenery, peppered by butterflies and other creatures, have transformed the wall, thanks to the help of more than 400 volunteers, 100 artists in school and 500 individuals to date.
“There has been tons of support from the local arts community, particularly art teachers in the public schools,” Carvin says. “Anne Sinclair from Hoggard, Happy Homestead from DC Virgo and Margaret Cooley from Noble Middle School, have been particularly dedicated. Also, of course, our DREAMS kids are involved, all of whom we view as stellar artists themselves.”
Though a lot of work has been finished, there is still more to go. DREAMS has set the completion date of April 30 and welcomes everyone to join in on Saturday mornings, 9 a.m. to noon. For those who can’t participate in the mural DREAMS always is looking for volunteers to help with the kids year-round.
“Folks can do anything from volunteering in the classroom to helping us expand and maintain our beautiful gardens,” he says. “We also take in-kind donations of things like art supplies—frames, paintbrushes, etc. That kind of stuff goes a long way with our kids.”
Anyone interested in helping can contact DREAMS of Wilmington at 910-772-1501.
Other nonprofits raising the stakes on give-back to our community are Junior League of Wilmington and Nourish NC.