Q&A with Amber Bellamy: DREAM Center makes positive impact in community

Amber Bellamy did not know that after graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill she would come back home to work.

Bellamy, 39, is the executive director of the DREAM (Developing Resilience through Enrichment, Awareness, and Motivation) Center in Columbus County and has been there since July 2020. She has worked in the nonprofit sector for 15 years.

She wouldn’t trade the job for the world, she said.

The Border Belt Independent spoke with Bellamy about the DREAM Center and her time working there.

Q. Did you originally plan to return back to Columbus County after graduating? 

It wasn’t my plan to come back. I originally came back in 2008 because my mom was going through surgeries. I was here to help out with her and  started working at the DREAM Center, and then it was like multiple surgeries that kept going on. So I just made the decision to stay, and I actually fell in love with what I was doing at the DREAM Center.

Q. What is the history of the DREAM Center?

The DREAM Center started as the Alcohol and Drug Prevention Coalition in 1991. It was a group of individuals who came together to basically focus on the issues around alcohol and drug abuse. Then it later transitioned into the DREAM Center in 1997. The center relocated to its current location and expanded its services basically to focus on things that cause substance abuse, like poor health, lack of education, unemployment, poverty, all of those things.

Q. What is the mission of the DREAM Center?

The mission of the DREAM Center is to empower the Columbus County community toward a healthy and safe environment with a firm belief that the DREAM Center will provide the entire community a hand of hope.

Q. What are your goals and concerns when it comes to the center?

Right now my main goal is to expand our services. We are the Columbus County DREAM Center, and I want everyone to feel as though they’re being represented. I want people to know it’s not just a Whiteville thing, because our headquarters, of course, is in Whiteville. A lot of our services are here, mainly in Whiteville, but we also have sister sites in Bolton and Fair Bluff. We’re trying to expand to different areas, but our services are for everyone, so we’re trying to basically, right now, just build more of those relationships and be intentional in going to where the people are.

Q. Are there any challenges you have experienced while at the center?

Like our challenges being in rural North Carolina, resources can be limited. Funding can be limited for what’s to come, but some of the challenges or barriers that people have are plentiful. A lot of our challenges that we have are trying to get transportation. We are a large county. It’s 954 square miles and it can take people 30 minutes to get to us in Whiteville. Since we don’t have public transportation, it is a challenge. So that again goes back to us making sure we’re going where the people are. Grants come and go. The legislature changes the focus on what the needs are and changes where the money can go. So fund-raising is never ending. That can also be an all-hands-on-deck thing because we always have more needs than we have people, even if it’s just having people volunteer.

Q. Does the DREAM Center hold events in the community? If so, what are some events the center is known for having?

We’ve held community events, mainly health- or youth-related, and those have been collaborative efforts with the hospital or Mount Calvary Center for Leadership Development or Southeastern Community College. Those have usually been resource fairs or something health-related, where people can come and get information about their health. A lot of times, too, those are held at the DREAM Center to get a population of people there. We’re usually that hub for holding those events. Our new event would be the fundraiser we held last year called Black, White and Vinyl. It was based around us getting people together. Even though we have a lot of differences, one thing that we have as a commonality is a love for music. So just getting people to mingle and talk to people they don’t usually talk to, seeing people just have fun around music, but it also was a chance to give back to the efforts of the DREAM Center.

Q. Do you receive feedback from the community about the DREAM Center? Do people appreciate the impact that the DREAM Center is making?

I think they do. We listen to good and bad. That’s the only way you can grow. I think we get a lot of positive feedback. I’ve been at the DREAM Center for 15 years, so seeing some of the kids at the time coming in the program, or maybe a young mother, and now we have those children, their children, in our program. So that means that we’ve done something right. We’ve made some kind of positive impact. Or I may go somewhere and they’re like, “Oh, you work at the DREAM Center. I really remember going there, or Miss Troy was there, or Miss Carol was there.” Or, “I’ve heard a lot of great things about you, but I’ve never had an opportunity to come and see what you guys are all about.” Of course, we invite them over. So overall I think we get a lot of positive feedback. We provide services for youth and families, but everybody knows us for our youth programs, our safe haven programs, our summer enrichment programs. You’ve got to start young, and I think we’re making a positive impact there.

Q. What would you say is your favorite thing about being a part of the DREAM Center?

It changes a lot, but right now, my favorite thing is just hearing the children. I know that may sound a little weird, but just being at the office, and when three o’clock hits, the noise starts, but for me, it’s knowing that’s life. The kids are our life. They’re the lifeline of the DREAM Center. Hearing them have some kind of joy from their laughter or activities they’re doing, seeing the parents become more involved. Those are my favorite things right now because I know if we’re making this impact, I feel a little bit better about where we’re going in the future.

Q. Who would you say are your mentors or sources of inspiration that helped to get you to this point in your career?

It’s three women whom I will always give credit. One is Miss Phylisa Kelly. She passed away, but she actually is the person who first got me into doing leadership roles. She went to my church and she got me to start doing things, stepping out. I had to start speaking in front of people, and just seeing her in all the positions she was in and how much she helped people. She was my first inspiration. Since I came to the DREAM Center, Miss Evelyn Troy and Miss Carol Caldwell have been big shoes to fill. They were my predecessors. So just watching them, being able to go places, people knowing their names, knowing the impact they’ve made, having people still remember what they’ve done. I aspire to do that. I aspire to be able to make an impact on someone’s life.

Amber Bellamy assists an after-school student with her homework at the Columbus County DREAM Center. Photo by Les High