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DAY DREAMIN’: The staff of DREAMS Center for Arts Education pose for their win for Best Nonprofit at the annual Best Of Awards Party. DREAMS was the beneficiary for Best Of 2018, and $8,000 was raised for the nonprofit, which will send 100 kids to camp this summer. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography


Dreams of Wilmington – 40% Votes

The DREAMS of Wilmington story began with Tracy Wilkes in 1996: It was her mission to create a youth development organization committed to transforming, empowering and inspiring the underserved youth of Wilmington through classes and programs in literary, visual, digital, and performing arts. After serving as the nonprofit organization’s executive director for 18 years, she stepped down in 2014. Her mission did not end there, though. DREAMS continued to support Wilmington’s underserved youth through its new executive director, Matt Carvin.

The nonprofit started its journey in the back of the Children’s Museum when Wilkes founded it in 1996. DREAMS was then moved to a church located on Ann St, before finally gaining its own center at 901 Fanning St. As the organization grew, so did the number of students they reached.

DREAMS is now able to provide arts programming to over 600 students in New Hanover County. The programming includes more than 60 classes per week through 30 teaching artists at 15 different sites in the Wilmington area, including places like city recreation centers and after-school programs.The way DREAMS truly helps, though, is by providing their programming free of charge to the students and families who benefit from them.

“Our youth will grow up to lead the future,” explains Kevin Blackburn, assistant director of DREAMS, “and they are the most susceptible to influences both good and bad. DREAMS is here to make sure youth, particularly those most in need, are receiving quality programming that simultaneously enriches their lives and empowers them to live a life of positivity.”

Some of the programs provided by DREAMS include ballet, guitar, photography, pottery, sewing, and jewelry making. The programs are art-based because DREAMS believes “every child has a right to self-expression.” More so, through self-expression they are able “to grow into the person that they are and wish to become.”

The teaching artists who educate students through the programs include both local and even award-winning individuals, like Fritzi Huber and Ben Billingsley.

Through DREAMS’ Youth Entrepreneurship program, students gain real-world experience where they can value, market and even sell artwork they create. The programs also help DREAMers exhibit works in local galleries, shops and community events.

“We hope to instill a sense of pride in our students, and build connections between DREAMers and their community,” Blackburn continues.

The current project for DREAMS is renovating their catering space into a fully scaled learning kitchen for students, with help from the Landfall Foundation capital grant. The renovation will help DREAMS provide new programming for sustainable living, and health and wellness.

Over the years, DREAMS has received multiple recognitions and awards for their support of youth in Wilmington, like 2008’s Coming Up Taller Award, the highest honor in the nation for after-school and out-of-school programs. They also were recognized by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. UNCW awarded the organization the Razor-Walker Award for distinguished services to youth.

Still, their greatest achievement has been the success of their very own students. Of the 600 students in New Hanover County DREAMS helps, 99 percent of them graduate and go on to graduate from high school and college as well.

“Working in a fast-paced, high-impact nonprofit can be taxing and full of challenges,” Blackburn says, “but seeing the success of our mission statement every day in the smiling faces of children as they come through the door every day renews you and makes it all worthwhile!”

The Carousel Center (29%) and Kids Making It (31%) top the nonprofit list of nominees as well.

SAVING TURTLES: Every summer the hospital on Topsail releases rehabilitated turtles back into the ocean. Photo by Shea Carver

SAVING TURTLES: Every summer the hospital on Topsail releases rehabilitated turtles back into the ocean. Photo by Shea Carver

Turtle Hospital and
Rehabilitation Center – 40% Votes

It’s easy to imagine getting help from a local vet when our dog or cat gets sick or injured. For some, it’s even likely to take a hamster, bird, snake, rabbit, etc. under similar circumstances. What animal we don’t typically associate with providing care for is sea turtles, but the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue & Rehabilitation Center is here to take care of them anyway.

The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue started with the Karen Beasley herself and The Topsail Turtle Project in 1996. At the time, the rescue was just a small group of dedicated volunteers who shared the dream of caring for sick and injured sea turtles. Their first patient was a sea turtle they dubbed “Lucky” who made their dream seem like more of a reality. Now, the small group of volunteers knew they needed a space to care for more sea turtles than just Lucky.

Topsail Beach offered to lease a piece of land to the rescue in 1996, but hurricanes Bertha and Fran stalled plans for some time. Finally, by the spring of 1997, the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue’s physical location found consideration once again and by October of the same year, the facility finished construction and began providing care for 40 different sea turtles.

Karen Beasley, unfortunately, passed away 1991, but her legacy lives on as her Sea Turtle Rescue continues to operate under the guidance of her mother, Jean Beasley. What began as a small, cramped and crowded practice in a 900 sq. foot space, though, grew into a 13,000 sq. foot building located in Surf City.

The rescue’s mission statement involves the “conservation and protection of all species of marine turtles both in the water and on the beach.” The group also dedicates work toward educating the public about the protection of sea turtles and providing an experiential learning space for students.

The rescue staffs and operates under volunteers, but the public is able to tour the facility starting every Thursday and Saturday after April 5. Admission is $5 for adults 13 years and older, $4 for seniors and military and $3 for children 12 years and under. Tours happen from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. on days the rescue is open to the public.

Karen Beasley’s Sea Turtle Rescue also provides up-to-date information about the sea turtles they currently care for on their website. Currently, information is available for patients Snookie and Lennie. Details about how others discovered the sea turtles and how the rescue treats them are also available for viewing. Pictures are even posted for copious amounts of aweing and cooing.

Another factor used by the facility in their efforts to educate the public about sea turtle issues is the tracker function. On their website, a tracker is available for select turtles to see where they are once they return to their ocean home. More information and viewable maps are available at

Karen Beasley’s Sea Turtle Rescue also offers the ability to “adopt” a turtle at the facility. Packages range from $25 to $250 and include adoption certificates, colored photos and information cards for your adopted sea turtle. Higher levels also provide plush sea turtles, Sea Turtle Hospital ball caps and logo shirts. More information is available at

Cape Fear River Watch (38%) and Surfrider Foundation (19%) are two other environmental groups that capture the hearts and minds of our readers.

HUMANITARIAN: Bo Dean – 47% Votes

What exactly does it mean to be a humanitarian? There are varying answers, but for Bo Dean, there is but one.

“Care about people,” he explains. “Be joyful, participatory, intentional, and ever mindful about the success/welfare/life of others.”

Being voted as a best humanitarian was the farthest thing from Dean’s mind as a child. Yet, as an adult, he has helped the community through numerous groups and projects. One group, in particular, is Access of Wilmington and its Miracle League program, where people of all ages and all abilities can come together for a fully inclusive opportunity. Dean worked as the director for the organization from 2012 until 2014 where he served as a project manager, fundraiser and spokesperson.

“It is way humbling and so very meaningful to know some folks feel this [about winning the award],” Dean mentions. “I know there are a lot more qualified and I work with a ton in public service every day who deserve this so much more, but what a cool platform to be able to share what I know about the good around us and the good folks who make our community and hopefully inspire others to do good and care.”

Being the Access of Wilmington’s director is not the only experience Dean has felt powerful about, though. In 1998, he graduated from UNC with a degree in Secondary English Education. For 11 years he worked as the program manager for UNCW’s Honors Scholars Program before taking a job as the director of development at Cameron Art Museum in 2011. Now, he works as a human resources analyst for New Hanover County.

“All the activities I have the absolute honor to be involved in touch people in ways that create better wellness better means to live,” Dean notes. “I have been given so much help in my own life, so much love and encouragement, but also so many powerful examples around me of how much a little time, a little giving, a little caring can mean so much.”

Other groups which Dean devotes time to include the Heart Association, Carousel Center, Coastal Horizons, The Kelly House, The What Clinics, and Nourish NC. He feels a strong pull toward such groups to help the community in issues like mental health, substance abuse, subsistence, and wellness for families and children.

One of the projects Dean hopes to see expand and grow in the future is Wilmington’s dedication to our public schools. Dean regularly sits on boards with the UNCW Watson College and SWAIN Center, and recently acted as a spectator to the D.C. Virgo Preparatory Academy laboratory school proposal. Previously, there was talk of shutting down D.C. Virgo, but now it will become “one of the most innovative public schools” in our region.

“Our children and their children not only deserve it, they need it,” Dean emphasizes. “I want everybody to focus on all our public schools. But this one, support it, nourish it. If we care, if we know our biases (and Lord knows if I got one finger pointing out I got three pointing back) and are willing to overcome and work through, we can do such amazing things. What keeps me going every day is that I have seen amazing things and I don’t expect that amazing, blessed, wondrous, phenomenal and powerful things won’t keep happening. We just have to be willing.”

Other folks who are giving back to ILM and who voters recognized on the encore poll are Jock Brandis (21%) and Judy Girard (32%).

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Best Of Wilmington

Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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