Since 1991, DREAM Center has provided services in:
Begun by four women in 1991 as the Alcohol and Drug Prevention Coalition in an old funeral home at the corner of Madison and Columbus streets, the DREAM Center of Whiteville has a different location, name and director, more diverse goals, and an ambitious challenge in the near future.
Now headquartered in another former funeral home a few blocks down Columbus Street, off Martin Luther King Boulevard, the DREAM Center is a vital part of the community with a dozen programs that enrich the lives of thousands each year.
Most of the center’s programs involve health and education. From bringing healthy babies into the world, to nurturing children and raising them drug-free, from balancing a checkbook to buying a home, center employees guide students through learning processes that empower them to achieve their goals and become successful role models for others.
The DREAM Center is a community development corporation (CDC), a type of non-profit organization that has a broad commitment to serve its community, and that can adopt a wide scope of programs.
Communities with qualified CDCs that are able to administer state and private grant programs enjoy the benefits of those programs, and communities without organizations like the DREAM Center have to pass up many grants.
Evelyn Troy has been the driving force behind the center since she took over directorship in the fall of 1993, taking a hasty retirement as assistant principal of Williams Township School.
“It was addressing a need that I recognized,” Troy said of her decision to give up a secure state job and jump into a career with a start-up nonprofit. “I felt I could make a difference.”
She quickly learned that operating a nonprofit is “like running a business.” She incorporated the center and sought out grants and programs. In 1994, she began the center’s longest-running program, IMPACT, a state-funded program that still tests for HIV and syphilis and educates on the diseases’ prevention and care.
In 1997, she oversaw relocation to the current location in a building donated by Arthalia Bennett Spaulding, and changed the name to the DREAM Center.
Many children throughout the nation suffer from malnutrition. During the school year, they eat at least one nutritious meal – lunch – each weekday, but during the summer break, that nourishment is often inconsistent.
In 1997, the DREAM Center brought the USDA Food Service Program to the county, arranging hot meals for hundreds of children each day – 19,000 meals in one summer – accompanied by a nutrition-based activity. Beginning this summer, Whiteville City Schools is managing this program.
The center partners with dozens of organizations, from churches and schools, to private and public organizations. It works with several Columbus County government departments, as well as ones on the state level and the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.
Troy is retiring this year, and the center’s board has installed another career educator, Carol Caldwell, to continue her vision.
“She says she believes she was born to take over,” Troy said about her replacement. “That everything she has done in her life has been to help prepare her for this.”
As the center completes its second decade, and enters a new era of leadership, Troy revealed her wish-list for the future of the center and the community. At least three programs could be expanded – Housing, Safe Haven and Nurturing Parenting – she said. She would also like the center to help more non-profit groups understand the business of running a nonprofit, and to grow their capacities.
A constant challenge for the DREAM Center is fundraising. Grants usually fund specific budget items to serve their interests, but other expenses are often left to the center. These include maintenance on the building, electricity, computers, telephones and other equipment, as well as marketing, annual audits and other expenses that burden all organizations.
Only the first floor of the two-story building is handicap-accessible, and the entire building is crowded with offices, classrooms and a computer lab. Major renovations or a relocation are inevitable, but not in current plans. BB&T employees in the company’s Lighthouse project are making much-needed repairs to the 70-year-old building, and Lowe’s is donating some materials to keep it a welcoming place for the hundreds of children and adults who visit each month.
The center will conduct a large awareness campaign to promote its programs throughout the county, and will begin with a fundraising event next month at the Whiteville City Schools administration building in Whiteville.