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Interview with Tracy Wilkes, October 30, 2006 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Title:
Interview with Tracy Wilkes, October 30, 2006
Date:
October 30, 2006
Description:
The wife of journalist and author Paul Wilkes, Tracy is the founder and director of DREAMS, INC, a Wilmington-based program that affords inner-city children and adolescents the opportunity to express themselves through dance, drama, music and art. Tracy, who earned her Masters in Social Work from Boston College, has seen DREAMS grow into a foundation with a Board of Directors, two full-time and many volunteer workers, and with close to seventy children between the ages of eight and seventeen participating in the program.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Wilkes, Tracy Interviewer: Jones, Carroll / Dail, Jennifer Date of Interview: 10/30/2006 Series: Southeast North Carolina Length 118 minutes

Jones: 30th, 2006. I'm Carroll Jones with Jennifer Dail for the Randall Library Special Collection History Oral History Program. Today we're speaking with Tracy Wilkes, Director of Dreams Incorporated; I hope that's right, the fulfillment of her dream to make a difference for those in need. Good morning, Tracy.

Wilkes: Good morning.

Jones: Can you correct me on what I just said or expand on it a little bit. I wasn't quite sure how to do that.

Wilkes: Well you have it perfectly. Sometimes we refer to the program as Dreams Center for Arts Education.

Jones: That's better, that's better. Would you tell us about yourself going way back so that we have an idea of really who you are, where you come from, such as where were you born, raised, something about your family, a little bit of remembrances of growing up.

Wilkes: I'd be happy to. I was born in Washington, D.C., and my mother was a junior in college and my father was in law school, he was a second year law student when they met and fell in love. And it was pretty tricky because, let's see, if I'm almost 55 this was-I was born in '52 so they met in '49. And my father was first generation Russian Jew, whose--my grandparents both came from near Dubna, which sometimes was Poland and sometimes was Russia depending on, you know, that line moving. My mother was kind of like Tracy Lord in Philadelphia Story, she's queen of the WASPS, and a real east coast, blue blood. And so these two fell madly in love eloped. And it was not good, it was not pretty. My father's family sat shiva, which is what Jewish people do when someone dies. And my Anglo-Irish, Scottish grandparents were heartbroken. And then I was born and probably by the time I was born the marriage was falling apart and my mother was very young, she was 20, 19, 20. And my dad was four years older. So when I was two, my parents divorced and I was raised by my mother's family, but was very close to my dad's family, saw my dad every weekend and it was an amicable parting of the ways. And my parents were very good about putting me first.

Jones: Well that's fortunate; you had a melting of two cultures.

Wilkes: Yeah, and it was very kind of confusing. I would spend the weekend with the Goshberg [ph?] side of the family and get back to the Boyle side of the family and say, so where's the bagels, where's the lox? And my grandmother, you know, Jane would be, "What are you talking about?" And--

Jones: Now did you live in the Washington, D.C. area?

Wilkes: No, oh no, no. My--when the divorce happened, my mom moved back with her parents in Ossining, New York, which is actually known for Sing Sing Prison. And we lived, we lived there and also in Cooperstown, New York. We had, my grandparents had a farm up in Cooperstown. And I actually graduated from Cooperstown Central High School, but that, that's a longer story. At any rate, my mom worked as an administrative assistant to Eric Sevareid and Walter Cronkite, she was a career woman. And so my grandmother raised me primarily, and--although I saw my mom every night, my grandfather was a lawyer for AT and T and my grandfather and mother would take the train from Ossining, New York into Grand Central which was about a 15 minute train ride. And my dad lived in--my dad was born in Stanford, Connecticut actually and he moved back and opened a general practice, a law practice. And his largest client was actually a developer, a construction company by the name of FD Rich. And it's kind of a cute story, not to digress too much, but the Rich Company was founded--they were Italian, an Italian family and it was founded by two--it was founded by a man who came over from Italy as a stone mason. And he would have been my grandfather's age. So these boys, these two Italian boys and this one Jewish boy all went to school together. And so--had been lifelong friends. My dad is now 80 and he's known these two men who are still alive since he was five. So it goes back. Anyway, he became a principal in the company and did a lot of the urban renewal and development of Stanford, Connecticut that happened through the sixties and seventies. Yeah, he's a pretty interesting guy.

Jones: Did you end up at all having any more siblings or stepsiblings?

Wilkes: Yeah, well yes. My father remarried when I was about four. He remarried a Jewish woman, very bright banker and they had three children. Unfortunately and I won't delve too deeply into this, but unfortunately, my stepmother had I think some difficulties with the concept that my dad had had a former life. So it was kind of a rocky road and I do have two sister--half sisters and a half brother, but I haven't seen them in years, and years, and years. And it's really two very separate families. However, my father has stayed very connected to me and to Paul, and to our two sons, Noah and Daniel. So I'm very fortunate, he really took his fatherly duties seriously.

Jones: That was fortunate.

Wilkes: Yeah. And then my mom remarried to a man who had two children. My mother--and they were married I don't know, probably for, I was 14 when they married, and my mom actually died at 51 from esophageal cancer, so. Yeah, I was 29 and she was 51 and there's not much to be said about, you know, that side of the family, but at any rate.

Jones: How about the grandparents from that side of the family? They seemed to have been your surrogate parents.

Wilkes: My mom, yeah mom's parents. Well, you know, as often happens, once the marriage was over the in-laws or ex-in-laws really were quite good friends, especially the two women; my grandmother Jane and my grandmother Ruth really respected one another and admired one another.

Jones: So you had some stability that way.

Wilkes: Oh, yeah. The grandparents were extremely, extremely important. I had a pretty rough adolescence and I went to boarding school to North Hampton School for Girls, which actually is no longer, but it was the prep school for Smith. And I somewhere in my sophomore year I got expelled and for, you know bad things which I really since this will be--

Jones: Now this would have been in what, the sixties early sixties?

Wilkes: Well, I graduate high school in seventy, so mid sixties.

Jones: So this was during a period where this was probably not uncommon?

Wilkes: No, and I was--well no it was uncommon (laughs) but I was sort of a rebel with and without a cause. And I was, you know, pretty wild which continued through my adolescence. And I was really the problem, nobody quite knew what to do with me. And I, again without going into a lot of detail, I did have some pretty--I was facing some pretty serious familial issues that impacted me negatively. So after that, I lived very briefly with my father and stepmother and that was not a good situation. Finally I went back to my grandparents, who had now been retired living a peaceful life in Cooperstown and here I was, you know, at 16 and they were really remarkable people. They took me in and they were in their sixties, late sixties I guess, maybe even older than that. But it worked out well for me to be back in a very stable environment. And--but, you know, Cooperstown is a--I don't know if you've ever been there, but it's a really beautiful place. But we lived nine miles outside on a 100 acre farm. And so it was socially awkward for a new kid coming into a pretty closed society. And it was--I guess I was a junior in high school when I got there, and it was at that moment or that time, that year that I developed my passion for theater and for creative writing. And I had two teachers who were, you know, well aware that I was a pretty unstable kid and they grabbed me by the back of my neck and said here, you're going to get involved in this. So I did. I got involved in Community Theater, theater in the school and I say, you know, art saves lives. And for many of us it does save our lives. And, you know, I had been a kid in rebellion. I mean I was a juvenile delinquent, I did terrible things and I'm not going to tell you any of them.

Jones: Good. (Laughs)

Wilkes: But that was sort of the beginning of a turning point. Once I had an avenue and a way to express myself, I really was better. And I was involved and engaged in life giving things. And you know, I did grow up during the era of sex, drugs, rock and roll, and it was a tough, tough time.

Jones: Well this is what I was referring back to a moment ago, I'm sure it was limbo for everybody.

Wilkes: It was a very rough time and, yeah, the whole fabric of the society was turned inside out.

Jones: So you had two influences that helped mold you to what you finally became evidently. The tug of war between the times and then these two teachers recognized an avenue for you to pursue which you took to and helped you develop. Would you say that was true?

Wilkes: Yes, I also was--even though my upbringing was somewhat tumultuous, I was a well loved kid. You know, it may not have been perfect and there may have been problems and there may have been issues, but the--you know I had a big extended family and--

Jones: There was somewhere to go?

Wilkes: There was somewhere to go. And I really felt, especially felt my grandparents on both sides really, you know, I was the, you know, I was the apple of both grandfathers eye. And one of my fondest childhood memories was my father's father was a tailor and he owned a dry cleaning shop right on Main Street in Stanford, Connecticut. And I used to love to go and be a mannequin in the window. It had big glass plate windows and I thought that was just the coolest, funnest thing to do.

Jones: Did you miss anything in this time, a way of life or a close, I mean aside from some of your inner turmoil, was there--do you think things are missing now or-- whether it's for you or whether it's for family as a closeness. You talked about you had a safe haven but after that certain things, you had all these influences but you know, there is no--I don't think anymore there's anymore of the Cleaver Beaver type.

Wilkes: Oh yeah, well mine was hardly that but I guess I miss it for my children. Because as neurotic and screwed up as both families were, and believe me they were. The--I had this, you know, aunts and uncles and grandparents. And my kids really grew up in the nuclear family. It was Paul, myself and the kids. And we moved, you know, we weren't in the same town we'd grown up in. And so I--I often worry about my own children that they really didn't have aunts and uncles and, you know, Paul is from Cleveland, but left many, many years ago and he does have--he's the youngest of seven and one is deceased. But all the others are either in Cleveland or Chicago or Florida and it's not a close knit family. I being an only child between that one union really--and since I have no contact with my siblings, you know, they're no aunts and uncles on that side. And, you know, Paul's parents died long, long time ago. And my mother died a long time ago. So I think I worry about my kids and now we have filled that gap through friends. You know, we have good, close friends that took on my children as aunts and uncles.

Jones: Those are good friends that do that.

Wilkes: Yeah, yeah, they are.

Jones: I want to get on to you as you grew older, college.

Wilkes: I started--well my grades were so terrible by the time I graduated--oh, I got an itchy nose--from high school, and my father said, "Look, you're going to go to college and you can try it. If after a year it doesn't suit you then, you know, your life is your own." But I knew that I would have to apply to a junior college because I just didn't have the grades. So I looked around and I was kind of an orphan in a way because by this time my mother had some serious mental illness. And so she was always not a big part of my life. And my dad was kind of consumed by his other family. So when it came to making decisions, you know, I just--I, you know, made them on my own. And--oh, but I still consulted with my grandmother a bit.

Jones: Let me see if I can make this clear. Did your family, aside from your father, who encouraged you to go on to college, do they have the feeling, particularly from your mother's side that well for a girl it's not that necessary you're going to get married.

Wilkes: Oh no. My grandmother was born in 1900. And she was one of the first graduates of Albany State Teachers College. And my grandfather was a lawyer and there was a premium put on education. On both sides, my mother and my father's side, so there is no--I was, I was the rebellious one, you know, and I'm not going to college, you know, what--it was just unheard of, you know, that you would even think of not going. So I chose Chamberlain Junior College in Boston. Well once I got into college, I loved it. I just--I mean I was so happy, I was an A student and, you know, Chamberlain was too small, too small a school. And by this time I had pretty much decided that I wanted to major in theater. And so I applied to Emerson College, which of course is now really a big deal. It's so funny because Emerson started in the 1880's as a ladies elocution school. And then it developed into one of the best speech therapy and speech pathology colleges and then it developed a very good theater program. People like Norman Lear and Carol Burnett and The Fonz are all graduates and it goes on and on so now it's very, very hard to get into. It was--when I started in '71 it was difficult but, you know, you had to audition. And I auditioned and I got in. I loved it. I absolutely loved it. I loved being in Boston, it was so much fun. And--

Jones: It's a good city.

Wilkes: Yeah, it's a wonderful city. And I had a double major in theater and communications and long about the end of my junior year, you know, I looked in the mirror and I said, "God, you know, you're cute and you've got some talent, but you're not beautiful, you're not a genius, and you're not connected, you need to think about what you're going to do, because chances of you making it as an actress are going to be pretty slim."

Jones: Pretty tough for someone that age to do that realistically and say "Hey, this is where you are."

Wilkes: You know I kind of saw the handwriting on the floor, never mind the wall. It was--I was talented, but there were a million kids as talented as I was. And I saw that I did not have the fire in the belly. I wasn't willing to go to New York and wait tables. And I just--and I knew that about myself, I knew I didn't have it.

Jones: So what happened?

Wilkes: So I graduated--oh in between all of this, I had developed a very serious back problem. And so I actually didn't graduate, I didn't get to walk. I got my diploma, but I was flat on my back. And it's very funny because I didn't go to my high school graduation either. Because I failed typing and I needed every credit so I had to go to summer school for typing, and then in August I finally got my diploma. So here once again, I'm not attending my graduation. So I went back to Cooperstown to try to recover and ended up going to Canada for an injection of chemopapain which was supposed to shrink the disk, blah, blah, blah, it goes on and on. But that back issue has been a light motif since I was about 20 through my life. Anyway, I got myself together, it helped a little bit. I moved to New York City--

Jones: And you were basically on your own, living your own life at this point.

Wilkes: Oh yeah. Yeah, moved to New York City, stayed with a friend in--right off the Bowery on the lower East Side and started looking for a job and decided that I still wanted to stay somewhat tied to the entertainment business. And this was a bit of nepotism, but my dad knew a lawyer who was an attorney for Ted Bates Advertising. And Ted Bates had just bought a small ad agency that did all of the advertising for films on the West Coast and the East Coast.

Jones: Owned by Pat Sylvester Weaver.

Wilkes: No, it was Diener Hauser Greenthal and Ted Bates had bought Diener Hauser Greenthal. Well I lied and said I could type. Now remember that I just told you that I failed typing in high school so my typing had not improved. But I--they hired me as a typist. And I got into what they called the bullpen, which is where all the media work goes on, the buying the magazine time the airtime and all that stuff, space and time. And there are these three gorgeous, young, savvy, African American women who are in the typing pool and they're all going to go far. And you can, you can just know that and they all type about 90 words a minute, and I sit down (laughs). Luckily, one of them, Sharon Osborne just looked over and said, "You don't type, do you?" I said, "Well I'm a fast learner." And she said, "Okay." And so she really tutored me in typing and gave me other things. And by the--I really did very well, I'd learned to type very quickly. One of the--and this is interesting, one of the young women, while I was still there became an assistant account executive for Paramount. And this would have been now in 1974, I guess, and this was unusual for a woman, this was really a man's world, let alone a black woman. So, and she remained a friend of mine for many, many years, and went on to do great things. And at any rate, I worked my way up; I became a media buyer and then decided that somehow I should go into package good--I was getting pushed by my dad and some other people. My stepfather who was in advertising, you know, you might really enjoy this, why don't you look at the packaged goods sides of it. So I worked for a series of ad agencies. But I guess my claim to fame was when I worked for--by this time I had switched from media into account work. And I went to work for a agency called Boselle and Jacobs [ph?]. And Boselle and Jacobs was a middling size ad agency. And they had two accounts that they gave to me and one was Wyler's Lemonade and one was Schmidt Laboratories. Well, Schmidt Laboratories manufactured condoms. Ramsey's, NuForm, Excita and they had at the time about a half a million ad budget and it was spent in the back of Playboy and Penthouse. They didn't go in for any of the really pornographic magazines. And it occurred to them, you know, some genius said, "Gee, you know, we now know through our market research that the birth control decisions are for the most part made by the women. And we are not advertising toward, you know, we have no way of reaching women." And so I was hired to revamp their ad campaigns to . . .

Jones: Smart.

Wilkes: . . .very smart. So it was very strange though because it was all men. There were--I was the only woman and, you know, we'd sit around with boxes of condoms and talk about the pros and cons--

Jones: Now did you find it difficult talking to them about that kind of a subject at that young age? Or because of your past, did you find that well this is a job and I'm going to do the best I can, I don't care whose there?

Wilkes: (laughs) Yeah. I was always--I've always been sort of more of that mold than the--shy.

Jones: But you had to be in that ilk.

Wilkes: Yeah. So I said, okay. If you recall now, this is now '76,'77,'78, somewhere in there. Women were getting off the pill in droves. There was that whole big pill scare. And so I thought this is an opportunity to really focus in on women and really show them that they have an option. So I came up with an ad campaign that was filled with efficacy and it had a shot of a woman, a black and white photograph and her face was sort of silhouetted, you know, very artistically done, big, big face. And it--and the headline was, "Coming off the pill, things you should know." And it was an ad for condoms. And now where were we going to run it, you know? The very, the very first women's magazine that accepted condom ads was, of course, Miss Magazine. But then we broke the barrier and we got into Women's Day, Redbook. Ladies Home Journal never went for it. But we did manage to get into most of the magazines targeted at women. So, you know, it was kind of like mom's apple pie with Wyler's lemonade and smut. You know, it was very strange. I had to make sure that I had the right meeting, you know, that I wasn't bringing condoms advertising to a lemonade meeting. So it, it was kind of like being a split personality. After several years in packaged goods I decided I really hated it, you know, it was the stupidest damn thing. Oops, sorry about that.

Jones: That's the real you, it's alright.

Wilkes: It was so stupid, you know, you're--it was fun for a while, and I was quite good at it. But I wanted to go back to entertainment. I thought if I'm going to stay in advertising, at least let me have a product that I really care about. And most of these products I didn't care about. So I got a job with a boutique agency called Ash/LeDonne. And they did most; they did about 90 percent of the Broadway advertising. And so I went in, my first account was Resorts International and that was when it was the only hotel-casino in Atlantic City. And I worked with Superstar Theater, I wasn't really doing the casino part of it I was doing the theater part of it. And then I worked with Alvin Ailey and worked with Radio City Music Hall, ran campaigns for their Christmas Spectacular and their Easter show and all that stuff. And worked with a couple of Broadway producers; the Neiderlanders, trying to think of who else, there were a bunch of them. And that was fun, and it was almost everybody that worked in the agency was young, and the two owners were very young.

Jones: How old were you about this time?

Wilkes: Now let's see. I will tell you, I was about 27. I had met Paul, yeah. I had met Paul when I was 25 so I was about 27.

Jones: How did you meet? You were in a certain element, so how did you meet?

Wilkes: Well, for those of--for those of you who don't know Paul, Paul at this point in his career; he had been married for 13 years, he had been separated for about seven, and he was writing for the New York Times, he was writing for New York Magazine, he was publishing books, he was making films, he was hanging out with a very impressive literati crowd. Kurt Vonnegut came to his birthday party, you know, he was a man about town. And because he'd been so repressed as an adolescent and even through his marriage, he was also a wild man and a womanizer beyond the--and handsome. Oh, really just magnificent looking.

Jones: The kind that spelled danger to you.

Wilkes: Well yeah, exactly. And I'd had boyfriends, and I actually--okay, so this is--we're going to go on kind of a circuitous route, but. Up in Cooperstown, my best friend had a brother. And that brother was at Amherst College when I was at North Hampton. He was about four years older than I was. And I--once I had graduated from high school there was a period of time that I'd come back to Cooperstown for Christmas or something and this man and I struck up a relationship and actually started going out. And he then went off to Stanford to business school, but we stayed in touch and when he came back, we continued to date. And he moved--he stayed in Boston, I moved to New York. And we had this kind of long distance relationship. And one Saturday night, I walked into an Upper East Side bar, only to see this man with another woman (laughs). And so that was kind of the end of the relationship. We remained friends because we were such close friends even before we'd gone out. Anyway, the woman that he was with was very, very bright, knew that I was not going away because I was a friend and so decided to neutralize me and become my friend, which she did. Well she had dated Paul Wilkes, okay, way before Brett. Oh, I shouldn't be using names. Anyway, way before-- you might want to, you might want to, I don't know if you can edit, but anyway, so she-- this woman was half Japanese, half Jewish. She was a war, a bride baby. And the most magnificent looking woman and also very, a very material girl, she's going to be, you know, she became a stock broker. I give her a lot of credit, she had bought herself her own, her first fur coat. But she was interested in money and power. And when she met Paul, Paul at that time was doing a profile for the New York Times Magazine on Sam Lefrak, the man who built co-op city, which was that big middle class housing development after World War II in New York, and he was a gazillionaire. And so when Cathy met Paul, they were out on Sam Lefrak's yacht and you know she thought, oh this guy, you know. Well she became, you know, quite aware that he was a freelance writer and though he kept company and rubbed shoulders with, you know the wealthy and the elite. Indeed this was not who he was. So she said to me now, fast forward to, you know, several years later after she and Brett got together and we had broken up. She said, "You know, I've got a guy for you, and we're going to have a Halloween party, and I really want you to come."

And I was like, yeah, yeah, yeah, right. "Well I'm bringing a date," said I. And at this time I'd been seeing a Brit who was a photojournalist and working in this country. And so I liked him a lot and we went to the party and there was Paul. And I took one look at him and I said, "He is so arrogant and he is going to be so much trouble." And what is she thinking of that I would like this guy and (laughs) so, but there was something irresistible about him. He was so bright and quick and all of the things that I said. But also, there was something about him. He just, I don't know what it was. Well I guess there must have been something about me too because this was on a Saturday night and I went back to my apartment with my friend and at eight o'clock on Sunday morning the phone rang. And it was Paul. "Hi, good morning, how would you like to come over for a cappuccino and could you pick up the paper on your way?" I did not hesitate for 30 seconds. I looked at my other friend and said--hung up the phone and said, "I am so sorry, but I have a sick friend and I have to leave right now." So even though there was, even though there was this kind of warning, flashing warning signs that--

Jones: The danger is often--

Wilkes: Danger, danger, danger, but then being that, being that kind of dangerous girl that I was, you know that had not all gone away. So I went over and I was 25 and then there were five tumultuous years before we married, when I was 29. And I, you know, he was a piece of work and we broke up a lot of different times but the best break up line I have ever heard was the--like this is like the fifth time we were breaking up, and he said, "Look, I don't know how to tell you this, but I think I have a monastic calling, and I think I want to be a Trappist Monk. And I am moving to Spencer, Massachusetts to live near a Trappist Monastery, and I'm really sorry." And--

Jones: I have to interrupt you here since I know a little bit about Paul, more than a little bit. Did you ever see in him that there could have been that calling to do just this?

Wilkes: Oh yes. I mean the fact that he wasn't a priest--he was always torn and may still even be torn. And I think that--I think that's what really made me fall in love with him. That there was this depth of yearning and spirituality and real belief that I found so attractive, course you didn't see that right away, that was a, you know, funny, funny thing. I was raised Episcopalian and--

Jones: I was going to ask you.

Wilkes: Yeah, and then I fell away from the church, you know, as we do in college. And then when I moved back to New York, I was kind of looking for a church, and I went to some of the Episcopal churches and they--it wasn't resonating with me. And I lived in Greenwich Village at this point, on Jane Street. And there was a little Catholic church on Waverly Place, which is roughly Sixth Avenue and Tenth, and Tenth Street, maybe Eighth Street. And I stumbled in there one morning, I just said well I'm going to try this. And I had no, no reason to go to a Catholic church, I had not--didn't know anything about it, but I had--actually I had a really good Catholic friend and I spent some time with her family. And I had been in--to mass and it seemed very much like my Episcopalian service. Well I got to this church and I, the first thing I do is, you know, there's a nuclear, anti-nuclear war protest sheet going around and I signed that. And then I'm looking around and this church is really eclectic. It has kind of the lace curtain, Irish, a la Kennedy-esque type of families. It's got a large homosexual population, it's got street people, it's got almost every kind of person you can imagine, and I thought, oh, this is the church for me. I loved the diversity. And so I started going. Well unbeknownst to me, Paul Wilkes went to that church, but we did not meet in that church.

Jones: But when you were married, were you married in the Catholic Church?

Wilkes: Yes, I converted.

Jones: You had already converted before? Was this a condition of your marriage?

Wilkes: No, no, no. Well, yeah, no not really. I was on my road to conversion, but realizing that it was very important to Paul, incredibly important to him, so there was going to be no choice, you know, had I--but if the truth be told, I was just starting to get back into my spiritual life. And had I fallen in love with a nice Jewish boy, I probably would have become Jew, so, you know, I was comfortable with God. My understanding of Christ has developed over the years. And so now I cannot say the same thing. But back then I was a pretty, pretty amenable girl.

Jones: That's very interesting anyway. Because you, from what you said, you'd been around enough people, enough cultures to finally come to terms somehow with what you felt comfortable with.

Wilkes: It's true. The funny thing though is that living in New York City most of my adult life, or a lot of my adult life, my name was Tracy Goshberg [ph?]. Everyone assumed I was Jewish. It came as a big surprise when I would say, no I actually go to the Episcopal, you know, whatever. So my identification with my Jewish roots was in many ways greater than my identification with my more, with my Anglo-Irish side.

Jones: Did you and Paul live in New York City after you were married?

Wilkes: Yeah, we did. Well, so when Paul said I'm going to the monastery, what he did do is he bought a small piece of property with a house that abutted the monastery grounds. And he lived like a hermit for a year. During this time, my mother became very, very sick. And he--I guess he was coming to New York to see his agent and he heard through the grapevine that my mother was very sick and he called me. And he said I know you don't want to hear from me, but I heard about your mom and I'm so, so sorry. And you know, could we please get together, you know, can we have a cup of coffee or a drink or, you know? And at this point I was involved with someone else and I felt pretty safe. And so I said, sure why not, and so I met him. And--

Jones: Finito. That was it.

Wilkes: No, I kept myself together and he went back to the--back to his place. But then--and now this is about in June or July I guess. The man that I was seeing announced that he was going to Greece and he--I was not going. And so, I was, you know, very annoyed. At the same time I had made plans to take two weeks and go to Fire Island where I went. That's that little skinny island off of Long Island, and I'd gone out there a lot of summers. And so I get a call from Paul right around the same time, "I've got to see you, I must see you. I have to see you." And I said, "Well that's impossible, I'm going to Fire Island." And he says, "Well I'll come, I'll come to Fire Island." I said, well you know there's no phones, there's no way there's no, you know, how am I going to know? And he says, "Tell me the date you're going to be there and I'll just, I'll just come." And so there's something inside of me that instead of saying no, that it's not going to work out, I said well, you know, if you want to, never really thinking that he would show up. So how did I--so I go out to Fire Island and I guess he must have contacted me before I got out there and said well I'm coming on Tuesday and blah, blah, blah. So there was only one ferry a day, you know, you had to drive to Patchogue, Long Island to get on the ferry and so he's, I guess I told him he'd be there on a Tuesday. So I went to the ferry and there he was, with an entire garden. He had been gardening and he brought--and he had a leg of lamb because he'd grown sheep, it was crazy. He had all this stuff with him. And so that really was the end. We spent, let's see; it was the second week, so he was only there for a week and I went back to work, he went back to his cabin. We--I was--it was very romantic, but I was still very, you know, like I don't know where this is going, but it's fun. So two weeks later, he shows up at my office in Times Square, knocks on the door, did not tell me he was coming, knocks on the door, walks into the office. And at one point many years ago I'd said, you know, one of the times he was breaking up with me, and I said, "Don't ever, ever come to my door unless you have blood test and a ring, don't ever." So anyway, he shuts the door, and he's got this long box with him, and I thought, oh he bought me a necklace or whatever, he'd been on Cape Cod visiting friends. And I opened the box and there was a blood test with a ring through--you know, the blood test put through the ring.

Jones: How could you resist?

Wilkes: And he got on his knees and asked me to marry him. And I said "What?" you--he said, "Will you marry me?" I said "I don't know, but I'm working now. And I've got these ads that are closing for the New York Times, so could you please get out of my office?"

Jones: Now were there people around when this happened?

Wilkes: No, no. But I shared an office with Ron, who was my boss and he was a great guy. And so Paul left and Ron came back from lunch, because the whole thing was around lunch time. And I said, "God, the damndest thing just happened. Paul Wilkes just walked in here and asked me to marry him." And Ron said, "What are you waiting for, let's get the champagne." And we always had champagne around this place. So he opened a bottle and--

Jones: Was Paul still there?

Wilkes: No, he's back at my apartment, yeah. And so I called him up and--or no he called me from the apartment and he said, "What are you doing?" And I said, "We're celebrating." And he said, "What are you celebrating?" And I said, "We're going to get married." And so that's how, that was how I accepted his proposal. And (laughs) and it was a very, very stressful bad time because my mother was dying. My mother died a month before the wedding. And she didn't want me to cancel it and so it was a crazy time, it was an absolutely crazy time but--

Jones: Maybe that's a good time because you needed Paul.

Wilkes: Yeah, and it was--I was so touched. I'm going to tell this very quickly. When I was 10 years old, I went to see the movie Gigi. And I did not fall in love with Louis Jourdan, I fell in love with Maurice Chevalier. And I had these vivid dreams every night for like a month that he was my grandfather and I would wake up and he wouldn't be and I was beside myself. Well my mother was dating a Scot, a Scottish guy who knew--the craziest thing, he knew Maurice Chevalier's portrait painter. He was a friend of his. And so I got Maurice Chevalier's address and wrote him a letter when I was 10. And I got back, this is 1962 and I got back this lovely picture of him and it said, "Thanks to little Tracy for a very charming letter, my best and love, Maurice Chevalier." Then, when I was 14, he came for a one man show at the Saint James Theater and my mother bought me tickets for my birthday and we went in and we saw him and we went back stage and I met him and, you know. Then the night that my mother died, I was going up to Ossining all the time and so I went up and at--there was a thing called million dollar movie in New York, and this was five in the afternoon and my mother was very conscious, you know, I had no idea she was actually going to die that night. I got in bed with her and we were flicking, you know, looking at what was on TV and Gigi was on TV. And what a gift, you know? She, she and I sat and held hands and watched that movie and I went back to the city at about eight o'clock that night, maybe nine and at three in the morning I got a call from my stepfather that my mother had died.

Jones: So you sat with her? You got that chance.

Wilkes: That was my last memory. And so, you know, everybody was at her funeral and then a month later everybody was at my wedding. And there's a beauty or symmetry in that, because there was really the whole circle of life.

Jones: That's true.

Wilkes: And so we were able to grieve together, but we were able to celebrate together. And that was a real gift for me. So as awful as it was trying to deal with, you know my mother's illness and plan a wedding and that was, you know, really--Paul was amazingly helpful. And so we married on January 16, 1982 and there was a blizzard, of course there would be (laughs). I don't know, I think God was, I think, sending us a message. And my dad, it was a lovely wedding, but my dad right before we were going to walk down the aisle said, "You don't have to do this." (laughs) I said, great. My father's always had kind of a love-hate relationship with Paul. Paul being right in the middle age wise. My dad is 80, Paul's 68, and I'm--I'll be 55, so we have three generations when we're together. And, but actually they're actually, they love each other very much.

Jones: Well I hope so. When you and Paul were married and you lived in the city, and obviously you were among working in a crowd and collected friends from a certain type of milieu, and he was almost there in the same type of thing. Was he not, I mean, writing and creative people. Was it easy to join forces with both groups of friends in your lifestyles or not?

Wilkes: Not really. Well, we were more--I had work friends. And then I had a couple of close girlfriends. I would say that we probably spent more time--and then we had mutual friends that we've met together. Once we got married, we probably saw less of both sets of friends because we were so sort of besotted with one another. And we both have a need for solitude. And while--and it's kind of interesting because we were both so gregarious and extroverted but we both have this very internal life, so we need-- we don't need a lot of--

Jones: Outside forces.

Wilkes: Outside forces. And--

Jones: Haven't you been told, certainly in the business you're in now, that that's often the way it is. Even the most popular comedians have a side to them where it's not exactly brooding, some cases it has been, but they need to get back to their inner self to sort things out.

Wilkes: Yeah and that's, I think that's why we've gotten along so well, is that we're very similar, where our makeup is really similar. I mean it's also been why we fight like cats and dogs too but, we had wonderful friends. We, you know, but we enjoyed each other's company more than anyone else. So we liked spending time just by ourselves. And--

Jones: How did you happen, couldn't we just fast forward this because I'm curious, from that atmosphere of a high powered creative atmosphere of many changes whether it's weather or anything else. What was the road that brought you into Wilmington, North Carolina?

Wilkes: Yeah, I'm--we are going to fast forward to that.

Jones: Well take your time on that because this, that was, how long have you been here first of all?

Wilkes: 13 years.

Jones: 13 years. So at least they had I-40 coming in here. It's a different place.

Wilkes: Yeah, oh yeah. And what happened was that we were living in New York and I became pregnant with our first child. Oh and let me say that we kept Paul's little house next to the monastery and we went there on weekends during the summer.

Jones: Now what was the name of that town?

Wilkes: Oakham. Oakham, Massachusetts. The monastery--

Jones: Is this where he ran for office?

Wilkes: Yeah. Oh no, no, that's Hardwick. But it's all the same, all the same vicinity and the monastery is in Spencer. Anyway, so when I became pregnant with our first child, I knew early on that as much of a career woman as I was that when I had those children I wanted to raise them and I didn't want to work. And--because why have them? And I just really felt strongly about it. And I also felt that I wanted my children to have a very different kind of upbringing. And I'll address this a little bit later. But, so Paul, while he has done well has never made a tremendous amount of money. I mean it's not the kind of--unless you're you know, a best-selling author, especially, especially journalists. I mean the--it's just not the same kind of money that there is in fiction. So we knew that we needed my income to make it if we wanted to stay in New York. And Paul hated New York at this point. He had become so much the monk, that he gave me two years of being in New York as a married couple. But I knew it was a huge personal sacrifice for this guy. He was not happy. I mean we, at this point had moved to Park Slope in Brooklyn and we had a brownstone, two floors of a brownstone. And it was pleasant enough. But I--that year had changed him, radically and had made him way more the hermit than, you know--he'd gone deeper into himself. And the whole literati, you know, literati, glittery, you know, out every night drinking at Sardi's or whatever, you know, that--

Jones: Well, that has to end anyway.

Wilkes: Yeah. And it did not hold the appeal. And even--and he was more less social than I was by that point. And so it seemed like the best thing to do would be to pull up stakes and move to the country. And people--you know, friends have always said, have you lived Paul's life? Have you done things because of Paul? And you know, the answer is no. I've agreed with what he's wanted. But it's fit very well into my plan.

Jones: So you did it with your eyes wide open.

Wilkes: Yeah, I think so. I think so. Now, I don't think--

Jones: Were you comfortable accepting this? Or was it an experience, something that you had to gradually get used to?

Wilkes: Oh, I had to--well, I'm--I wonder if I'm just really spineless or if I'm just the most adaptable person in the world? I adapt well to any situation. Put me in a sunny spot, water me occasionally and I grow. And he's way more complicated. And luckily I'm not. So when he said let's move back to--let's go and live there full time. I was like oh, boy. Okay. But I was into my nesting phase, I was pregnant. So we indeed moved up to this little tiny house, realized after a couple months that we better start looking for a bigger house because there was going to be no way that a baby and a freelance writer were going to coexist in this small cabin. So we started looking around and we found a gorgeous old--(phone rings). Is that going to bother the taping, that sound?

Jones: Your phone?

Wilkes: Yes.

Jones: We've got about five more minutes and then we're going to put another tape in because we're nowhere near done.

Wilkes: Okay well we will be.

Jones: We can stop now.

Wilkes: Yeah, why don't you stop? I'll turn this off.

(Tape Change)

Wilkes: So in 1984, I was six months pregnant, maybe. We moved to this little cabin that I talked about in Oakham, Massachusetts. Realized that we needed a bigger space. And so started looking and found a really gorgeous, old, about 1840, 1850, big old farm house. And moved in when I was about nine months pregnant. And, maybe, eight and a half months, because I remember being on the wooden floor scrubbing, and, you know, on my hands and knees. And . . .

Jones: Inducing labor . . .

Wilkes: . . .realizing that that was probably good. And it was just a beautiful, beautiful old farmhouse. Most of it had been restored, except for the attached barn. And so the first baby came, and that was Noah, Paul Noah. And then, two years later, the second baby came, and that was Daniel. And, you know, life was pretty idyllic. I loved not working. I loved being at home. But, boy, I was not idle. I canned and froze, and froze and canned, and canned and froze some more. We had huge gardens--

Jones: Pioneer woman.

Wilkes: Yes. We heated with wood. We had sheep and chickens. And so we raised meat birds, and we had lairs. And, you know, it was a far cry from Madison Avenue and the life I had led. But I was, kind of, a farm girl, from living in Cooperstown. So it wasn't a total foreign experience, by any means.

Jones: That was a good thing.

Wilkes: That was a good thing. And, at this point, I don't know what was going on with Paul's career. But this was before his New Yorker profile on Father Greer, which really put him back on the map. But there was this period of time when that man couldn't get published in the Penny Saver. And we were looking at what we made one year. We made, like, $20,000 and somehow lived on it. But it was because we were so self-sufficient. And we didn't buy any--you know, we had all of our own food. And it was a wonderful time. And I think the best memory I have from that time is my bedroom faced a farmer's field. And that really tracked the seasons for me. You know, I would see those first shoots come up. I would see, you know, the harvest in the fall and then, the winter blanket of snow. And just, really, when I think of that place, I think of that view out that window. And so now, the kids are around, I don't know, two and four, maybe, three and five. And I started to feel like okay--

Jones: You've done this.

Wilkes: I've done this. This is great. I love this. But now, let's rethink what you're going to do. Obviously, you're not going to go back to Broadway Advertising. And, you know, we lived in a town of, like, 500. I mean, it's a tiny, tiny little town. And at this point, Paul was a Selectman. That was when he became a Selectman. And so I started to really think about what is it that, you know, I want to do, as a second career. And I had always done tons of volunteer work. I had a passion and an interest in psychology, sociology and anthropology. And so when I started thinking, "Okay. What career combines all those things?" And I came up social work. I mean, it has a psychological component, and it has an anthropological component and, certainly, a sociological component. And I'd always admired Jane Addams, and I had read a lot about Hull House. And I came, on my father's side of the family, all the women were service women. I mean, whether it was the Alter Guild or the old age home, or whatever it was, I came from a legacy of giving back.

Jones: That's instilled in a lot of people.

Wilkes: Especially, my mother's side of the family. And so, you know, it, kind of, came very naturally to me. And so then, it was, okay. How am I going to be a mom, go to school? How am I going to do all of this?

Jones: Did you discuss this with Paul at the time? He knew you were getting (inaudible) . . .

Wilkes: Yeah, yeah. And so I started to look into schools in the area or, you know, in the Boston area again. And Boston College had a part-time social work program that you could do in three years, instead of two. And even better, the program, for the first two years, was housed in a local college only about 30 minutes away called Anna Maria, a small Catholic college. So I could take all my courses at that college. And then, my final year, I had to be on the B.C. campus. And I, also, had to do an internship. That was pretty wild.

Jones: I bet. Two kids.

Wilkes: The first two years were okay, because it was part time. But--

Jones: Was Paul, sort of a surrogate--I mean, he was mom and dad both.

Wilkes: He was so--well, not for the first two years. But the last nine months, oh, my gosh, I never saw my children. I was working. Well, my internship started my second year. So I was pretty busy that year. But the third year just about killed all of us. And I want to tell you that Paul Wilkes is the least complaining human I have ever met.

Jones: How fortunate for you.

Wilkes: And never, no strings attached. He is a giving, giving person. And he never made me feel guilty, not one time. And let me tell you, I mean, there's a lot going on in his life right around this time, too. And we had childcare. I mean, we had help. But nevertheless, he literally, you know, took over for me.

Jones: So this must've really freed up your mind to be able to do what you set out to do.

Wilkes: It did. And it was just--he was so supportive. I still look back on those . . .

Jones: That's wonderful.

Wilkes: . . .years and wonder, you know, how he did it and never lost his temper. So guess what? I did go to my graduation this time; right? So I had not been to a graduation since sixth grade--or eighth grade, I guess. So this was exciting. And I graduated with a Clinical Masters in Social Work in 1991.

Jones: From?

Wilkes: Boston College.

Jones: From Boston College.

Wilkes: And at this point, I was totally enamored with Jane Addams. And I had a hard time deciding to be a clinical social worker, because I wasn't really interested that much in the therapeutic part of it. I was more interested in the policy. But if I had gone on the administrative policy route, I would never be able to practice as a clinician. So I had to go in the clinical, because I knew I was, probably, going to do some clinical work. So my first job was part time. And I was an outreach social worker, working with the very poorest of the poor. And the only thing I can compare it to is, kind of, Appalachia. It's the back roads and hills of Central Massachusetts, where there's enormous pockets of poverty. And, you know, it was funny, because before I moved down here, friends would say, "Well, how are you going to deal with the redneck thing, you know?" I said, "Redneck?" I drive up to a trailer, with a coon dog tied up outside, and guns against the-- you know, what's the deal? It's what I've been doing for the last, you know, several years. So I really liked that work. It was very challenging. And I might, in a day, do a 40 or 50-mile radius. I would stop and, you know, sometimes, it was family therapy. Sometimes, it was teaching a young mother how to clean a toilet. Sometimes--

Jones: Did you really feel that you were making a difference with these people?

Wilkes: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. I mean, yes. I did. And I, also, ran a mother's group. And I think that's, maybe, where I made the biggest change. But these are insular communities. And they have problems like incest and just stuff that is--

Jones: But that was generational.

Wilkes: Or substance abuse.

Jones: That had been going on for a while.

Wilkes: Yep. Yep. Substance abuse issues. And I liked the work a lot. And--

Jones: It takes a special person for that.

Wilkes: You have to really . . .

Jones: It does.

Wilkes: . . .like people. You have to like the people.

Jones: And you have to have heart.

Wilkes: Yeah. And if you--well, this is where the whole spiritual thing comes in, because--

Jones: This was your mission.

Wilkes: If we are to really do the teachings of Christ, then, you must find the Christ in everyone that you meet, no matter how awful. You must find that. And if you, also, believe in the tenet that God didn't create any garbage, then, you know, you have to be respectful. And that these people deserve as much help or as much of a chance as any of us. That doesn't mean that I haven't lost my temper and didn't lose my temper. I worked for another organization where my sole job was to confront fathers who had sexually abused their daughters. And to bring closure to get these guys, some of them in prison, to be able to apologize to their girls.

Jones: Did that take a lot out of you?

Wilkes: Yeah, it did. It almost killed me. That was really hard. That was really, really hard. But again, you know, you have to want to do the work.

Jones: Somebody has to do it.

Wilkes: You have to want to do the work.

Jones: But you were trained to do this?

Wilkes: Yeah. So I was really a family therapist. That was what I enjoyed the most, and on the clinical end of things. And then, in 1993, New England got hit with numerous blizzards. I mean, it just seems we would, you know, get dug out and another one would come. And Paul's career was going very well at this point. I think, he was teaching at Clark, and he had done a couple of profiles for the New Yorker. And he had a couple of books in the works. And, you know, things were pretty great. And in the middle of a snowstorm, he looked across the table and said, "Do you want to get old here?" And I said, "Well, speak for yourself, you know, I've got a long road ahead before I'm old." And he said, "No. Seriously, are you happy here?" And I said, "Yeah, I'm very happy here." And he said, "Well, I'm not." And Paul also gets a bug every ten years. You know, the fact that we've been in Wilmington 13 years, I'm waiting.

Jones: I was going to say how long has it been now?

Wilkes: Well, he's going to India for two weeks. So he said, "You know, the winters are killing me." And that part of it was getting old.

Jones: Oh, yeah, I can imagine.

Wilkes: I mean, you know, life was hard, rough. You know, we had animals. We were still doing the, you know--

Jones: That whole thing.

Wilkes: The farm thing, yeah. So I said, "Well, what do you have in mind?" And he said, "Somewhere south. Somewhere where it doesn't snow." And we that night, took out a map and started tracing our finger down the coast, and literally found. We'd never heard of Wilmington. And so we said, "Well, let's go visit." So we went alone--

Jones: I mean, your finger stopped at a place you'd never heard of.

Wilkes: Yeah.

Jones: And say, "Let's go there?"

Wilkes: Well, let's go visit. It was let's go visit.

Jones: Let's go visit.

Wilkes: So, I guess, we took the kids the first time. And we stayed at Shell Island, and we loved it. We loved it. And then, we found out that there was a good Catholic elementary school. But we waited a year. And we moved here in 1994. So, I guess, 12 years. Wait a minute. Been here 13. And we did not put our farm on the market. We rented it. Because we were, you know, terrified that we'd come down here and hate it. So anyway, we moved here, and the rest is history. We loved it. We're still here. We did sell the farm. And--

Jones: Did Paul feel he could do his work from here?

Wilkes: Yeah, he--

Jones: He could his work anywhere.

Wilkes: Yeah, and that--

Jones: He could do his work anywhere.

Wilkes: Yeah, and plus--

Jones: But you couldn't?

Wilkes: Sure I could. Everybody needs a social worker. You can get a lousy paying job in social work anywhere. So, also, U.N.C.W. was interested in Paul teaching. And he's always taught part time to take the chill off the water, you know, food on the table. And I had interviewed with Southeastern Mental Health Center, and they wanted me. So it was great. And I want you to know that through all this, I never worked more than 20 hours a week. Which probably is why I could do the work. But it was very important for me to be a mother and to, you know, be there for the children. So I went to work at Southeastern. And I did not like it. This was when managed care was starting to come in. And I felt like I was working on an assembly line, and the beat was, "Fix it, fix it, fix it." And I don't believe people can be fixed that way.

Jones: You were assigned case loads and they wanted answers that night.

Wilkes: Yeah, and they were ridiculously high caseloads. And I felt, for the first time in my social work career, having only been three years, you know, that I wasn't making a difference. And that the system was broken, and that I didn't know what I could do to fix it. But I really didn't feel like I was making a difference. I'm sure on some level I did. So in about--it was 1996, a colleague, Judy Wall, who was the Clinical Director over there, she knew my interest in the arts. Because I always maintained my great, great interest in all of the arts. Anyway, she came in with this article, and she put it down on my desk. She said, "Look at this. Isn't this fabulous?" And it was two District Attorneys that were married to one another, who had started a program in L.A., called City Hearts. And the woman was an ex-ballerina, before she became a District Attorney. Anyway, they started a dance program for adjudicated Hispanic youth. And they used dance. Well, that--

Jones: As an outlet?

Wilkes: Yeah. And that was it. I read this article, and I said, "Okay. I want to do this." So Judy and I got together, some like-minded people. And I was still working. You know, this was all now volunteer. And we got together a great group of people, and we sat in my living room one summer, week after week. And we knocked out our mission and our goals and objectives. And we were smart enough to have gotten an accountant and a lawyer. And they helped us go through the 501 3C process. And--

Jones: I've got to stop you a minute. The people you got together, were they all in the same type business you were? Or are they . . .

Wilkes: No.

Jones: . . .people you've met?

Wilkes: People I've met that were--

Jones: That you gathered together.

Wilkes: Yeah, people that I had met and gathered together.

Jones: Okay.

Wilkes: And I really knew nothing about starting a non-profit, but I learned. You know, I read. I did a lot of reading. And I figured it out. And I figured what you needed. And there were some very smart people. I knew I needed smart. So as Jack Kennedy once said, you know, "Surround yourself with people smarter than you are. They'll always make you look good." And that's, kind of, the story of DREAMS. So I was the Chair of the Board. We had formed a Board. We'd gotten our 501. We had our first funder, was the Junior League. And they, also, funded the Children's Museum the same year. So we made a deal with the Children's Museum to be able to use three rooms in the back of that old rippy building.

Jones: On Martin Street?

Wilkes: Yeah, and we started with a dance teacher. Oh, I knew that I--

Jones: What year was this?

Wilkes: '96. And I knew that we knew that we wanted to serve economically disadvantaged young people. And that we wanted them to have a first class experience. And to that end, we knew we wanted to hire professional artists, teaching artists.

Jones: Now, were you in a position to hire or were you asking them to donate their time?

Wilkes: No. We paid them right from the beginning.

Jones: Did you have an age group for the kids?

Wilkes: Eight through seventeen. And we broke it down 8 through 11 and then, 12 to 17.

Jones: And did you have a name for it then?

Wilkes: Yeah, yeah.

Jones: Same one?

Wilkes: Yeah, DREAMS. Yeah, and--

Jones: This is your dream.

Wilkes: And, actually, DREAMS stood for something. And I can never remember it, because it's been so long. But it was Dance and Drama, Reaching out, Arts--I can't do it.

Jones: That's all right.

Wilkes: I had it.

Jones: It's a great name.

Wilkes: But I can't do it.

Jones: It's a terrific name.

Wilkes: So we started with the four disciplines, music, drama, dance and visual arts. And we had four teachers. And we had ten kids in each of the classes. And we had 40 kids.

Jones: Now, again, the object here was to reach the children through this medium of Arts. Were you looking for them to express themselves that would help them?

Wilkes: It was a two-pronged approach. One, we really, if you believe that an Arts education is part of the overall education that one should receive--which I am a firm believer in. Then, there were a lot of poor kids out there who were not getting an Arts education. Because in 1996, the school system was into that budget crunch, and we all know what happened to music class and art class. And all that stuff got cut way back. So we thought, well, you know, for middle and upper middle class folk, you know, they could afford to send their kids to a guitar lesson or to a painting lesson or to a theatre lesson. But for poor kids that was not an option. So one level it was a social justice issue. Then, here comes the therapist. And the therapist says that the Arts are a fabulous youth development tool. And for kids who are at risk, and who are, you know, facing so many risk factors, that involvement in the Arts serves as a protective factor. And so it was social justice. It was youth development and it was artistic excellence. And those were, kind of, the three aims that we had or the three goals that we had to fulfill. And so it was never art for art's sake. And we believed, and I believe, that if you engage young people in the act of creating something beautiful today, they will be less apt to engage in acts of violence in the future. So we saw it as a protective thing. Because a lot of our kids, you know, grew up in Creekwood, in the public housing. And they were at risk for getting recruited by gangs and to sell drugs. And they were living in violent--you know, you talk about kids. We've all read the Robert Cole studies about kids growing up in battle zones, Northern Ireland or the Middle East. Well, kids living in Creekwood are growing up in a battle zone.

Jones: Did you have anybody--? This is interesting and very necessary, and I'm glad you're telling me. Was there any consideration given to, for example, in our art to have a child, let's say, draw a picture of what they perceived themselves to be? And then, I ask you for a reason. In San Diego County, our daughter was born with Cerebral Palsy. And from a very young age, they would start this, where they would say, "Draw a picture of yourself." And they found that many of these children would draw pictures of themselves without the limbs that were affected. And it was getting over that perception that you are whole. And I'm thinking, today I'm hearing it more and more that this is becoming, whether it's music, whether it's art, to engage these children, as you're doing, into things of beauty that they are capable. That they make something of themselves.

Wilkes: Yes, absolutely. We never call it art therapy, for a lot of reasons. We don't have any trained art therapists on staff. However, of course, it's therapy.

Jones: Sure it is.

Wilkes: And the kids that we serve are kids who are failing in school. They're caught up in a negative feedback loop, and they can't get out. And all of a sudden, they realize, "Wow. I can play a drum . . ."

Jones: How did you get this underway and get to the kids to come in and do this?

Wilkes: Okay. Well, because I was a social worker, I knew that I could get-- we started really working--our first kids came through the Department of Social Services. And most of them had backgrounds of abuse and neglect. And we were swamped. I mean, we had waiting lists immediately. And then, I went to every school in New Hanover County and talked to every guidance counselor. And so our referral sources, to this day, are Southeastern Mental Health Center, Department of Social Services, New Hanover County Schools, and the Juvenile Justice System. We started working with juveniles that were caught up in the justice system.

Jones: How were you funded?

Wilkes: Well, I hate to say, because I would like to see the numbers be a little different. 80 percent of our funding comes via government and private funding . . .

Jones: Grants?

Wilkes: . . .grants. 20 percent is donor based. So we're growing. Hopefully, I would like to see that reversed. I would like to see 80 percent donor support and 20 percent foundation support.

Jones: Well, your most recent fundraiser, I understand, was a good success.

Wilkes: It was a wonderful success. And so, you know, for a couple of years, I functioned on a volunteer basis as the Chair of the Board. And then, it became apparent that we really needed a part time Executive Director. And so we started--and this is about eight years ago, I guess, maybe, seven or eight years ago. And we started advertising for the job, and we interviewed people. And it dawned on me that I wanted to do it. I wanted to do it. I was tired, you know, I did not want to be with Southeastern. And I knew that I would be the right person for the job, at least, for the initial--yeah, I'm still here. But, you know, so I applied--

Jones: It was your baby. I mean, you gave birth to it.

Wilkes: I did. And I applied for the job, and the Board was delighted. You know, I had solved all the problems.

Jones: How do you select your Board?

Wilkes: Well, now, people are actually asking to be on the Board. In the old days, I would have to beg people. You know, people that I thought could really bring something, I would say, "Please, please, be on the Board." And they'd, kind of, roll their eyes and say, "Okay." I will say it. We have one of the best Boards in the city. They're on the Board for all the right reasons. And so--

Jones: Men and women?

Wilkes: Mm-hmm. Yeah. The other funny thing about DREAMS is, when I started it, you see, I was, kind of, new to town, too. And I only had poor kids in mind. I didn't have a color. And I didn't know much about Wilmington. And, you know, six months into the program, I'm, kind of, looking around. But, oh, I did know that I wanted a very mixed, in terms of cultures. See, I'm from the northeast, where when we talk about diversity, it's not just color diversity. But I, now, understand what that is. Diversity here means black and white, but I didn't know that. And so six months into the program, I look around, and I'm thinking, we're pretty African-American. I had hired, oh, Hiroshi, the potter, was working for me at that time.

Jones: He's so terrific.

Wilkes: He's marvelous. I'd hired an African-American painter. You know, we were very diverse in staff, which was a good thing, and Board. But, you know, I'm thinking, gees, you know, I think that we need to become very well versed in African-American artistic culture and heritage. Because one of my passions is to connect people to their artistic roots. And if 90 percent of our program is black, then, they need to be connected. These kids are Euro--

Jones: To their own heritage.

Wilkes: They're Euro to death. I mean, you know, the Arts in school are European. And, you know, they're a lot of dead white men. Now, not that that isn't a good thing, you know? Because the dead white men are genius. You know, Shakespeare, I mean, da Vinci, you know, I'm not arguing that point.

Jones: Well, they were our roots, yeah, basically.

Wilkes: Yeah, but it's not their roots. And so one of the light motifs through DREAMS has been to connect people. And now, we have Latino kids, so, you know, these poor, you know, white southern teachers are learning, you know, how to Samba. And anyway, but it enriches all of us, because we learn so much about other people's cultures. But that's an aside, but something that was important to me, personally. So I told you, you know, four classes, forty students, four teachers.

Jones: That was then?

Wilkes: Mm-hmm. We now run 66 classes a week. Twenty of them are at--

Jones: Where are you located now?

Wilkes: Sixth and N, in the old Union Missionary Baptist Church. And the way we got there was one of our Board members was a congregant at Union. And when they built their new house of God upon on Princess Place, she worked with us and with the Reverend Nixon, so that we could rent the old space. Which we share with a Hispanic Latino--that's redundant. A Pentecostal is what I meant to say, Latino church.

Jones: You now have how many? Say this again. First tell the year.

Wilkes: We do 66 classes a week, 20 of which are held at the center. But the remainder are in the community. We have weekly classes in most of the public housing recreations centers, along with low-income neighborhood centers, like the Martin Luther King Center, Maids Park. We also are contracted by various schools to provide . . .

Jones: I was going to ask you . . .

Wilkes: Yeah.

Jones: . . .is there any space in some of these schools?

Wilkes: Yep. And there was an initiative started about four or five years ago, called 21st Century Community Learning Centers. Which came, the money came, it's Federal money, and it comes from the education department. And some of the, like, the YMCA and the YWCA, and Community Boys and Girls Club, have become these learning centers. And we've been incorporated into their after school programs, which has been terrific.

Jones: Do you have, like, Community Boys and Girls Club, every year, they have a dinner?

Wilkes: Yeah.

Jones: And it's wonderful. My husband and I are so thrilled with what's going on there, because the kids get all dressed up. And when you go for the dinner, sit at round tables, they're your host and hostess. So you sit, and you have a chance to talk to them. And do you do somewhat the same thing when you have your annual affair? Do you have the kids there, so that we can see?

Wilkes: This year, yeah. In fact, I shied away. We always had this event called Cabaret. And this was just our sixth year having it. And Cabaret came out of local jazz musicians' and singers' desire to support our program, because they saw the work we were doing. And so we would get some of the best talent, and they would put on a show. And Paul emcees it every year. And we'd always focus on, maybe, three or four of the young people to present them and their talent. Well, over the years, a lot of people said to me, "You know, we'd love to see more of the kids." Well, as they said this, all I could think about was logistical nightmare. Logistical nightmare rehearsing--you know, this isn't just sitting at a table. This is rehearsal after rehearsal. And, you know, kids living in poverty, it's a chaotic, poverty is chaos. And so it's really tough to get these kids to rehearsals. You know, they don't have transportation. We don't have a van. But anyway, this year, I said, "The hell with it. We're going to do it." So I got 16 kids. It almost killed me, but they put on the show of a lifetime. We were honoring Betty Cameron, who has been a great supporter. And, also--

Jones: I'm sorry she couldn't be there. But Swana was there, right?

Wilkes: Well, and on Saturday night, Betty came over. Paul's out of town, but Betty came, and she and I, and her niece, Ann, and her nephew, Pat, watched the DVD. We'd had it filmed, and she loved it. So we had our kids and parents sitting at tables this year. And they were the show. So it was really spectacular.

Jones: That's good for them, too.

Wilkes: Oh, you could just see them growing, standing a little bit taller, as the night progressed.

Jones: Tracy, where are you going with this program? Where do you envision, where do you want to go? And just talk about that.

Wilkes: Well, I want a building. I mean, I'm really facilities focused right now. I think that the groundwork is, you know, it's got a very strong foundation. And I'll tell you when I really realized this was I received a Z. Smith Reynolds Sabbatical Award. If you don't think this was the scariest thing I have ever had to do, other than let my two boys go to college, this was the third scariest thing.

Jones: Excuse me. You were scared to let your boys go to college?

Wilkes: Sure. Yeah, they were . . .

Jones: They were your babies.

Wilkes: . . .my babies. And they were leaving me. And, you know, I mean, one part of me was really glad, too. And, you know, here's the door and don't let it hit you in the you-know-where. But--

Jones: Well, you are a mom.

Wilkes: I am.

Jones: I thought I was a mom.

Wilkes: And so yeah, I mean, I was excited for them. But it was also traumatic for me. Well, when I got this award, I had asked for four months off. And when I got it, because I didn't think I was going to get it, they had picked five people in the state. I never, in my wildest dreams, thought that I was going to get the Sabbatical. Had I really thought I had a chance, I probably wouldn't have applied.

Jones: Now, this is a grant?

Wilkes: Yeah, Z. Smith Reynolds is very, very smart. And they have this--

Jones: They are.

Wilkes: It's, kind of, a dubious award, because you get it for being burned out. And it is open to non-profit leaders, and they give five a year. And they give you $15,000, and they tell you to take between three and six months off.

Jones: Did you write for the grant, or did you have somebody else do it?

Wilkes: You have to write for it. You have to write this big essay. But you have to have your Chair of the Board, and you know, it has to be an organizational . . .

Jones: (inaudible).

Wilkes: . . .decision. And so my Board was so supportive. And, you know, they said, "You really need this." And I was. It was killing me. You know, I had high blood pressure. I mean, all kinds of things were happening. And so I got the thing and then, it was, like, (gasps) "I have to leave DREAMS? What? Four months?" And I had been dealing with the succession issue in my own head anyway. But I was thinking, "God, if things go badly, it means I've done a lousy job. And if things go well, they may not need me." You know, so it was this--but my heart's desire was that things go well. Because that's the measure of an organization, when the big mama can go and the organization, not only survives, but thrives. Then, it means that it's been built the right way. And, you know, so I was, kind--

Jones: And you came to that conclusion.

Wilkes: Well, I got--

Jones: Or are you still wrestling with it?

Wilkes: No. I got back at the end of May. And it was fabulous. The Board stepped up to the plate. The staff stepped up to the plate. So when you ask me where I see this going, you know, I am now convinced that it will be here 20 years from now. That it is not one-woman show. That there are many faces to DREAMS. And that my role, I wish I weren't working as hard as I'm working. But I see myself beginning to back off a little bit. I'd like to not, you know, have to wash the toilets anymore. And I'd like not to have to, you know, do the banking. And I'd like not to--and so I'm, you know, handing those over. We've been able to hire a few more people on a part time basis.

Jones: How many people do you have working on (inaudible)--?

Wilkes: Two full time and two part time. And then, we have about 25 artists.

Jones: And you've got volunteers who come in? Painting and all.

Wilkes: Oh, yeah, we have wonderful volunteers.

Jones: Really?

Wilkes: Most of our volunteers are U.N.C.W. students.

Jones: Are they really?

Wilkes: Uh-huh. And they're superb. They're really, really good. And then, I have a few--we haven't really--I want to very much start to work with the RSVP group and older--

Jones: I was going to ask you about the retired people who have got a lot of smarts.

Wilkes: Skills and time and smarts--

Jones: To mentor and such.

Wilkes: Yeah. We do have a program that I just started about a year ago. It's called Cultural Mentor. And it's, kind of, like a big buddy. But a person can have a mentee. And all it means is that once a month, you take a child to a play or the Art museum, or the movies. Yeah, and it's terrific. Or twice a month, you know, it's really up to--but the very least is once a month. Or to the library or whatever. And we have several cultural mentors. And so that's been really a great way to expose kids.

Jones: How many kids are coming to you now?

Wilkes: In the center, we have between 60 and 70. And then, outside, you know, kids that have our classes, we probably serve well over--we can go a little longer. We serve, probably, well over 500. And so I see DREAMS continuing to grow. I'd like to see us in our own space. I'd like to encourage intergenerational activities. Because I think the young can learn from the old, and I think the old can learn from the young. And I think that that's something that's--I almost majored in Gerontology. So that's still a huge interest of mine. And I see us going, pretty much, along, I don't see any drastic changes.

Jones: Just continuing.

Wilkes: Just continuing. And I would like to be more of a full service after school program. I will always have the Arts be the focus. But what I find that we do more and more of is tutoring, because kids come in maybe a little early.

Jones: I have one last question for you. And you're so enthusiastic about this. It's great. Will it be different for you to step back? Or will you stay on with this and grow with it and add to and, kind of, mother hen it? And, also, Paul, this is a part of both your lives, is it not?

Wilkes: Oh, yes.

Jones: So is there a stop time? Will you always be there, be the dalliger [ph?] queen, sort of?

Wilkes: I'd like to be. That's what I'm aiming for. Less work. But, you know, it's a good question. Because when I think about it, I think, okay. Well, if you weren't working at DREAMS, where else would you want to work? And there is no place else. And, certainly, I mean, I'm 55. I'm young. I've got a lot more years of service and working. But first and foremost is the health of the organization. And I'm not sure Founders are meant to be long-time Executive Directors. Because I think that someone can come in and really shake it up in a way that I may not be able to. Although, the Sabbatical really helped me, and I have this fabulous Board, but I don't know, yet.

Jones: Are you happy doing what you're doing?

Wilkes: I'm still very happy doing what I'm doing. And again it's--

Jones: That's part of it.

Wilkes: If there's anything that I'd like to change immediately or in the next year, I'd like, you know, fewer hours. I'd like to spend more time with Paul. And we're, kind of, you know, creating it as it goes.

Jones: And a year from now, we'll try to get back to you and see where you've come.

Wilkes: Okay.

Jones: Tracy, thank you so much.

Wilkes: It's been great fun.

Jones: This has been . . .

Wilkes: Well, thank you.

Jones: . . .very educational, very interesting. And we're proud to have someone like you here in Wilmington doing this work.

Wilkes: Thank you so much. It's been fun.

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