Newsletter Signup | Subscribe to Magazine

Faces of dreams come true

If you need a reminder that the world is a beautiful place, we have three locals who are living proof.

Story by Barry Kaufman + Photography by Lisa Staff

It’s easy to be cynical at times. And in cynical times it’s easy to view optimism as a type of severe character defect. We roll our eyes at their starry-eyed hopefulness. We call them Pollyanas and dreamers. We encourage them to get their heads out of the clouds.

But deep down inside we envy them because we know it takes strength to stay positive. Dreams can be a horrible burden to carry around until they come true. And in that sweet moment nothing else matters. It’s a moment of pure karmic perfection that will only ever happen to those who dare to dream it. 

Here you’ll find three locals who dared to dream and lived that moment when the universe rewarded them with a dream come true.

Ayaks Castellanos

This Honduran immigrant built his family’s dream home through sweat equity.

Ayaks Castellanos is the construction manager for Hilton Head Regional Habitat for Humanity. He and his family moved into their Habitat home in The Glen in 2017.

Each of the homes in The Glen on Marshland Road, with their tidily manicured lawns and vivid pastel facades, tells a story of giving and grace. Each one represents a dream come true. As homes built by Habitat for Humanity, they reflect the great selfless impulse of humanity’s brightest hearts. 

Nobody knows this better than construction manager Ayaks Castellanos, because as a resident of The Glen, he’s living that dream. 

“I’ve been so blessed,” he said, adding with a laugh, “and my commute is like a minute if I get caught in traffic.”

Castellanos and his family moved into their Habitat home in 2017 after putting in their 400 hours of sweat equity. Having grown up on a job site where his dad worked construction, and displaying a seemingly bottomless well of can-do spirit, he impressed the construction manager at the time. 

“I knew a lot of construction, but a lot of it was the people,” he said. “The volunteers really took me in. They understood the mission.”

They wanted to bring Castellanos in then, but at the time he had a job running a 400-acre equestrian plantation. Two years later, however, his boss at the plantation passed away. The time seemed perfect for Castellanos to take the reins in his community and help others as he had been helped. 

“It’s very rewarding because not a lot of people get a chance to do what I do: provide for my family and make an impact on my community,” he said. “It’s almost like a calling. To me it’s personal because I knew what these homes mean to these families.”

And in the final analysis, that’s what it’s all about. “This whole journey, working for Habitat and starting where I started, it hasn’t been easy,” he said. “And you can’t do that without God and family.”

Castellanos isn’t just stopping with his own home and his own neighbors. As an advocate for the Lowcountry Immigration Coalition, he’s working with people who experienced the same trials in coming to America that he faced as a Honduran immigrant 21 years ago. ]

“I’ve lived here for 21 years, and there are still moments of culture shock. I want to help people adapt the best they can,” he said.

And in between raising a family, helping new neighbors build their dream and giving support to his fellow immigrants, he still finds time to be a leader within the community. “Everyone comes to me when they have questions or need something. I don’t mind it. That’s what it’s all about,” he said. “That’s what makes it a community.”

(Click the thumbnail images below to view larger)

Tamekia Ford

This innovative teacher is living her dream, helping at-risk students find success.

Tamekia Ford grew up attending the Boys & Girls Club of Hilton Head Island, where she was named “Youth of the Year.” Today, she is a state reading instructional coach, head track coach and head basketball coach at Whale Branch Middle School. In 2018 she was a finalist for Beaufort County Teacher of the Year.

We all have that dream job that occupies our mind growing up. We fantasize about becoming a movie star when we’re older, or an astronaut, or a firefighter. 

For Tamekia Ford that dream job was to be a teacher.  And in this case, the term “dream job” seems inadequate next to calling teaching what it always was for her: destiny. Beginning at an early age she served as an in-home tutor to her brother, Henry, helping him overcome a learning disability. By middle school she was leading a mentoring group called “Little Flames,” an offshoot of the Torch Club. 

“Most of the kids… had a hard time focusing and being engaged,” she said. “They just didn’t have the stamina to read and be engaged.”

This was despite her own struggles, which saw her reading below grade level through her elementary and middle school years. And then in middle school her science teacher tried something different and altered the trajectory of this young woman’s life. 

“My teacher started incorporating movement and music into the lessons,” she said. “I became extremely passionate about doing that.”

Fast forward a few years, and that methodology of engaging students through rhythm, music, movement, sounds and rhymes has become a cornerstone of her work. Through years in the classroom and then now as a State Instructional Coach, she has rewritten the rule book on reaching students who have difficulty learning.

These students (and their teachers) dance. They sing. They create clever raps about the branches of government. And along the way they learn at a higher level than they otherwise might have.

“There is a ton of research that supports how this musical engagement and innovation in the learning environment is connected with academic achievement,” she said. “I’m a firm believer that an entertained learner is an engaged learner. Anytime I’m able to have fun and make it educational… it really taps into a different part of the mind that’s not tapped into on a day-to-day basis.”

She followed this research through an academic career that saw this at-risk student earn a teaching degree from the University of South Carolina Aiken, a masters in divergent learning from Columbia College and a doctor of education degree from South Carolina State University. And urging her on every step of the way was the community she called home. 

That support was what led her to bring her considerable academic acumen back home to Beaufort County. “That was a priority for me, to go back and give back to the community that had supported me so much,” she said. “Especially with my mom being a single mom and losing my dad to lung cancer at an early age, that was extremely important.”

It’s an incredible journey and one that continues with every student Ford inspires.

“I believe when you do things with love, the results are endless and unimaginable,” she said. “Miracles happen.”

(Click the thumbnail images below to view larger)

Caroline Mayers

This determined and spirited teen is realizing her cheerleading dreams. 

Caroline Mayers always gets the crowd fired up as a member of the cheer squad at Hilton Head Island High School.

Sometimes all a dream needs to succeed is a chance. For young Caroline Mayers, that chance first came when her parents made the decision that she would not be defined by the Down syndrome she was born with. 

“For a long time we knew what she was capable of, and I battled for years to have her mainstreamed,” said her mother, Kathleen. “I told them, ‘Somebody just needs to give her a chance.’”

Caroline took that chance and ran with it, proving herself more than adept at taking on the challenges of mainstream high school. A National Honor Society student, Caroline rose to the occasion and then some. Along the way she made a host of friends and proved a lot of doubts about her wrong. It would wind up being a common theme. 

Blessed with an outgoing, vivacious personality, Caroline found herself making friends with the cheerleaders at Hilton Head Island High School in her freshman year. Watching her new friends practice, Caroline found her next dream. 

“It just seemed so fun,” she said.

Like her mom said, somebody just needed to give her a chance. That someone was Annette Lee. The teacher was the one who had originally approved Caroline’s request to be mainstreamed at the school. She also happens to be the cheer coach and encouraged Caroline to try out. At Hilton Head High, making the cheer team isn’t honorary or token placement — you have to earn a spot using a point-based system. Caroline first tried out for sideline cheer and scored enough points to make the team. Soon Ms. Lee asked, ‘Would she be interested in competition?’”

The little girl who had already proved what she could do in the classroom had proved again what she can do on the field.

“People for years just thought I can’t,” said Caroline.

She’s showing she can, and in achieving her dream she is showing others the path to achieving their dreams. As part of the cheerleading squad, she not only helped the team place third in their division in a recent meet at University of South Carolina, she also gave a rousing speech telling her teammates “Don’t let anyone steal your spotlight.”

“My story is always just be true and give love, and love will always be there,” she said. 

Caroline’s next dream is to attend college in pursuit of a future as a videographer or event planner. She has her eye on Georgia Southern but knows that the future is what she makes it. “If I reach my goal, if I make it or not… I’m happy,” she said. “I’m so lucky.”

And those she inspires are lucky as well because Caroline Mayers doesn’t back down just because someone tells her she can’t.

(Click the thumbnail images below to view larger)