Women to Watch Awards Finalists- Nonprofit

Meet the 2022 finalists


Laura Bullock 2Laura Bullock

Director of Community Engagement,

Vigilant Hope

Through Vigilant Hope, Laura Bullock has streamlined a process for people in need in Wilmington to have food, clothes, a place to shower, health and sanitary products, access to health care, and more. She works with a team of people at the faith-based group to build community and outreach for services. Often in charge of Saturday morning breakfasts, Bullock leads by example with the volunteers who help. Bullock speaks to organizations about poverty and helps organize the Poverty Simulation experience, designed for participants to better understand poverty and homelessness. “I really want to help churches and individuals get involved in creatively addressing our affordable housing crisis,” she says. “I am worried about the increasing number of our neighbors who are living on the streets, sometimes simply because there is no home available for them to rent.”

Gabriella Desouza 2Gabriella de Souza

Executive Director, Friends of Wilmington Skateparks | Teacher, Cape Fear Academy

As a teacher, Gabriella de Souza understands students and their desire for expanding their own passions and hobbies. That was behind her motivation for starting Friends of Wilmington Skateparks. She worked with the city to get a timer installed for lights at the Greenfield Grind Skatepark to increase safety. “The skateboarding community is the only sport community I have ever encountered where you can show up to the park and not know anyone at all yet have them fully support you and cheer you on to learn a new trick,” she says. “Being a voice for the Wilmington skateboarding community, and seeing them get so excited when we get things done is truly the highlight of my work.” The group is hosting a Skate Film Festival on October 15 at Satellite Bar & Lounge. It is also partnering with the city of Wilmington to build a mini bowl for beginning skateboarders at Greenfield Grind Skatepark and plans to raise funds for the project.

Ashanti Gibbshines 2

Ashanti Gibbs Hines

Program Director,

StepUp Wilmington

In her current role as a program director at StepUp Wilmington, Ashanti Gibbs Hines has helped find over 200 jobs for StepUp Wilmington program participants and continues to design programs that help them succeed. She has worked with the nonprofit that focuses on employment opportunities for more than six years, starting as a life skills case manager and moving up to a leadership role. “I am an eyewitness to Ashanti’s effortless show of inclusive leadership and empathetic sentiments toward StepUp Wilmington’s staff, board members, colleagues, participants, and all those she encounters,” a former program participant says. Gibbs Hines was awarded the YWCA’s Rachel Freeman Unsung Hero Award in 2018. “What I enjoy most about my work is being able to develop ways to support our community in eradicating poverty,” she says. “Connecting folks with careers that pay a livable wage is an intricate part of restoring human dignity and creating strong, sustainable communities.”

Catherine Mcdowell 2Catherine McDowell

Executive Director,

Roots of Recovery

A former occupational therapist, Catherine McDowell founded Roots of Recovery after the death of a friend “due to the lack of secure housing and services in our area for homeless women with children,” she says. The nonprofit is dedicated to rebuilding the lives of homeless and in-recovery women, providing long-term housing, education, job skills, counseling, mentorship, and any other assistance necessary to get lives back on track. In just over five years, she has gathered the resources and people to purchase land, rehab three separate residences (with a fourth underway), build gardens to provide healthy meals for residents, open a computer lab for education, job searches and entrepreneurship, and create an extensive support network of peers and mentors for women in the community. “The focus for Roots in the coming year,” McDowell says, “is to expand our housing and begin building an additional twenty tiny homes for women with children.”

Kathryn Polk 2Kathryn Polk

Executive Director,

Global Connections 

Hurricane Florence, numerous wars, uprisings, and other disasters around the world, as well as the closing of Wilmington’s refugee support group, inspired Kathryn Polk’s 2018 founding of Global Connections, a refugee support center. Raising more than $20,000 and serving over 150 refugees from countries as far away as Burma, Afghanistan, Columbia, Ethiopia, and Iraq, Polk has also managed regular community awareness events at local universities and collaborates with more than thirty local organizations to serve refugees. Not only does Polk run the support center, but she also runs a thrift shop – organized and operated by both volunteers and refugees. Since the recent arrival of Afghan refugees, Polk has volunteered over forty hours a week and plans to collaborate with other nonprofits to start an urban agricultural farm for refugees to run. On a separate project, Polk also serves as program coordinator for Garbage to Gardens, a school composting program.

To view the Women to Watch Awards Finalists main page, click here.

To view more of photographer Daria Amato’s work, go to dariaphoto.com

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Categories: Women to Watch