An impressive crowd came out on a holiday-week evening to show its concern - and share its ideas - about Charlotte's needs crisis, the Observer's Mark Price reports.
Organizers of a public hearing on Charlotte's charity money crunch were expecting a modest crowd Tuesday night, given the fact that it was hastily arranged and fell during one of the biggest vacation weeks of the year.
But that expectation was proved wrong when a standing-room only crowd of 225 people showed up at Little Rock AME Zion Church on North McDowell Street.
Not a quiet crowd, mind you, but a talkative one - filled with ideas and ready to engage panelists who included former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt, Mecklenburg County General Manager John McGillicuddy, Crisis Assistance Ministry director Carol Hardison, Latin America Coalition executive director Angeles Ortega-Moore and Charlotte Observer editor Rick Thames.
The topic was both simple and complex: How can Charlotteans work together to meet basic human needs in a difficult economy?
Solutions offered were equally simple and complex, including a suggestion by Gantt that Charlotte should be willing to consider higher taxes.
The observation that drew the most applause came from Hardison, who noted that Charlotte has had more than one strategic plan for arts and cultural programs, but not one for human services.
"When Carol said that, it really changed the whole dynamic of the meeting," said Maria Hanlin of the Mecklenburg Ministries, which co-sponsored the meeting with the Community Building Initiative and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Community Relations Committee.
"What I heard tonight was a call to action for such a plan to be created, and I think many of the people who can make it happen were in the room."
In the crowd were three members of the county commission, along with some city officials and many county employees. A raise of hands showed at least half of the crowd was made up of staffers or volunteers from the city's charities.
The meeting was purposely scheduled June 30, because that's the last night of the fiscal year. Starting today, nearly 100 local charities are faced with tens of thousands of dollars in budget cuts from local government, foundations and United Way. Programs for critical needs were largely spared from deep cuts, but at the expense of those that mentor the young, assist the elderly and teach job skills to the unemployed.
Among the first to arrive at the meeting was Deborah Ivey of Charlotte, who says it was a job skills program that got her back on her feet 20 years ago. She came to the meeting looking for ways to help.
"I'm here because I'm part of the solution," she said. "I believe we have to start somewhere, and I'm ready to do whatever I can to make it happen."
That thought was repeated often through the evening, and even later, out in the parking lot of the church, where people continued to talk after the doors were locked.
"I kept hearing one thing, over and over tonight," said Willie Ratchford of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Community Relations Committee. "It was a message that no one of us is as good as all of us working together."