This column visits the faces of those who have benefited from the generous and tireless work of the nonprofits on the Mid Shore. Perhaps unknown to many of us, these individuals have had their lives transformed by the missions of these organizations and are giving back in unique ways to better our world. Amelia Blades Steward has been a freelance writer in our community for more than 20 years and offers a glimpse into the lives of residents on the Mid Shore whom she has met along the way.
The words of the generations before us can leave a legacy for our lives. Such was the case for Doncella Wilson of Denton, who held on to the words of her grandmother, who told her, “I wanted so much more for you.” Those words stuck with Doncella.
“I wanted to do better and be better. The dream is having a safe space for the community to come to,” Doncella states.
She and Paul Tue of Chestertown were colleagues at the Kent County Local Management Board where she was the Systems and Care Coordinator, and he was the Truancy Reduction Specialist. The two also were members of the Social Action Committee for Racial Justice and became heavily involved during COVID-19 with the food program – feeding children, families and seniors in Kent County during the pandemic.
Paul recalls, “When the schools shut down, we already knew that the population we were working with would be missing the best meals of their day – school breakfasts and lunches – so we stepped in to help meet the need by founding the Kent County Youth and Elderly Food Program in March 2020.”
As advocates during the pandemic, the two realized that they could address a bigger dream for the county – the need for a safe gathering space for youth and families to come together where they could feel safe, respected, and loved.
Doncella wanted to start a nonprofit to accomplish their goals. She decided to name it Minary’s Dream Alliance, in honor of both of her grandmothers– Minnie and Mary. She explains, “I wanted to pay homage to women who worked along Kent Narrows and the Chesapeake Bay as part of the seafood processing industry. These women worked hard and provided a much-needed increase in food supply and capital for the region. Nonetheless, they did not receive reasonable compensation nor accommodations for these efforts. They often lived in one-room, derelict ‘shanties’ with limited indoor plumbing.”
“What these women demonstrated was resiliency, strength, and dedication to providing for their families. The dream is now to honor their hard work by continuing a compassionate legacy of community advocacy.”
Doncella and Paul founded the nonprofit on May 18, 2020 with a mission to transform the lives of youth, families, and communities through education, resource development, and community engagement. Minary’s Dream Alliance’s goal is to work to improve the lives of families and youth in the Mid Shore region, particularly those families that are disadvantaged and underserved by existing institutions and organizations, and to promote equity, community, and improved educational and homelife outcomes.
At the time, however, they didn’t know where they could find a suitable location to carry forward their dream. The Frank M. Jarman American Legion, Post 36 in Chestertown was on the market, having experienced a decline in its veteran membership. When Paul and Doncella walked into the building for the first time, they immediately recognized the potential that this nine-acre property offered Minary’s Dream Alliance. Through the generosity of an anonymous Angel Donor, who offered a staged matching grant of up to $500,000 toward the purchase of the property and building endowment, Minary’s Dream Alliance now has the building under contract. The group has raised $250,000 thus far from the community to match the donation.
“It has been a complete dream that has come true, and we have not hit too many speed bumps along the way,” comments Doncella.
Paul adds, “We are a new nonprofit, but not new to this work.”
Both recognize the value “a sense of place” will play in the achievement of the nonprofit’s goals. The Frank M. Jarman American Legion, Post 36 was founded to focus on service to veterans, service members, and their communities. By embracing this legacy and reaching out to the underserved and disenfranchised in the community, they hope to provide a safe space and create a sense of ownership among the individuals they serve as well as their families and the community at large.
In addition to continuing the weekly food delivery of fresh produce, protein and shelf staples to homebound seniors, Minary’s Dream Alliance plans on creating the first Adolescent Clubhouses on the Eastern Shore. Club FEAR (Facing Everything and Rise) is funded through a grant from Mid-Shore Behavioral Health, Inc. to provide an additional layer of support for those affected by substance use disorder and their families. These gathering spaces for youth ages 12 to 17 will be available to youth across the Mid Shore in Kent, Queen Anne’s, Dorchester, Caroline and Talbot counties.
The Kent County Club will be located at the American Legion building that the nonprofit plans to buy with space opening in July. Youth can come and hang out between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. with structured activities, as well as free time. Through a partnership with Washington College’s Starr Center, they are creating a podcast studio for youth. With the building’s location on Morganec Creek, there will also be opportunities for canoeing, kayaking, and fishing from permanent and floating docks on the property. The indoor space even has room for a juice bar for the teens.
There will also be two unique offerings at the site this summer. Through the Chesapeake Heartland Community Curation Fellowship, youth and elders will be paired together to learn about the history of the region’s food. The pairs will share recipes and create meals from Minary’s nearby community garden, while also writing oral histories. Another partnership with Washington College’s Starr Center will offer a four-week Hip Hop Time Capsule Camp. High school students will get paid to participate in this internship experience learning the history of music and how music promotes advocacy.
Paul also provides Mindful Mornings, a motivational call for young men ages 6 to 17 on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 7 to 7:15 a.m. Participants receive encouragement, practice affirmations, and accept positive reinforcement. To participate, youth may call 669-274-9989.
Minary’s Dream Alliance also plans to host a Community Health Fair on July 10 that will include a COVID-19 vaccination clinic and a variety of screenings for community members. The American Legion building will still provide office space for the American Legion Post 36 and space for veterans to meet monthly, as well as continue as a site for the Blood Bank of the Eastern Shore.
Other plans include providing self-care and social skills development, internships and mentorships programs, and family engagement activities. The organization also hopes to rent the facility for birthday parties, weddings, anniversary parties, and other events.
“The community’s response to what we are doing here has been overwhelmingly positive. We had over 100 people at a recent Open House,” Paul states. “While this will certainly be a space for African Americans to feel welcome, it is not going to be a space exclusively for them – it will be a community space for everyone to come and gather.”
Both agree – the time is right for the community to come together around a project like Minary’s Dream Alliance. Financial contributions may be made by visiting minarysdreamalliance.org, by mailing a donation made payable to “Minary’s Dream Alliance” to P.O. Box 35, Denton, Maryland 21629. To donate via stock transfer, call 410-810-0800 to reach Valliant Wealth Strategies for instructions.
Delmarva DIVAS (Dedicated Involved Versatile Athletes)
Shore’s Elite Track & Field
Operation GLOW (Girls Learning Our Worth)
Extraordinary League of Gentlemen, Inc.
Board of Directors
Andrea Seals, President
Robert Thomas Sr., Vice-President
Christalyn Grandison, Treasurer
Mary Jordan, Secretary
Dr. Benjamin Kohl Jr
Arlene F. Lee
Alana Fithian Wilson