Monday, August 31, 2009

Foundation keeps boy's memory alive

Tyler Scott was only 5 1/2, a charmer with bright eyes, but in his SouthPark area neighborhood he was known as "the workerman."

If his father, Howard, was mowing grass, Tyler was right behind him. Fall afternoons were his favorites -- he could spend hours blowing leaves into a pile.

Yet his mother, Dana, said Ty was never happier than when he put on a hard hat and double-wrapped a tool belt around his tiny waist -- loaded down with a hammer, screwdrivers and drills -- and he was running through the neighborhood near the Harris YMCA looking to drive screws into boards, or nail them together.

But suddenly in late January 2006, the workerman fell playing basketball. That night, he couldn't use his arm. His trademark smile began to droop. His parents took Tyler to his pediatrician, but got no answers.

Suddenly the Scotts were on a strange whirlwind of tests and specialists until an MRI showed the boy suffered from brainstem glioma, a horrifically aggressive brain tumor -- inoperable and untreatable, all words no parent ever wants to hear.

He died Feb. 8, 2006, nine days later.

To deal with his grief, Howard Scott started Tyler's Treehouse, a foundation named for the treehouse Tyler saw in a design book and asked for when he got out of the hospital.

Since then, the foundation has raised $165,000 for research on Tyler's form of cancer at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., where the boy spent a couple of days before he was airlifted back to Charlotte so his three brothers could say goodbye.

On Sept. 12, the foundation is hosting its annual Tyler's Treehouse 5K and 1-mile fun run and walk. As with the previous runs, the course is through Tyler's neighborhood, starting at Olde Georgetowne Swim Club on Whistlestop Rd., where Tyler learned to swim, down his old street (St. John Lane) and past his old preschool.

They'll have a golf tournament in October to raise more money.

"The fundraising events help," Dana Scott said. "It feels like we're making a difference in Tyler's name. What we went through is the most horrific thing any family could go through. You feel the pain every day. But by doing this, we hope another family doesn't have to suffer.

"And it does help keep Tyler's memory alive. We will never forget him, but it hurts when other people start forgetting."

By the way, that treehouse was built in the Scotts' backyard (pictured above with Tyler's family). It is 230 square feet, with bunks, lights, a TV and video games. All the labor and supplies were donated.

The boy never got to use it. But brothers Chase, 13, Bryce, 11, and Aiden, 6, and friends from the neighborhood do all the time.

Fitting for a workerman, who when he was taken off life support breathed for another 8 hours -- a full work day.

Fundraiser runs on Sept. 12

The Tyler's Treehouse 5K and fun runs is Sept. 12 at the Olde Georgetowne Swim Club, 7930 Whistlestop Rd. near the Harris Y. The 5K starts at 8 a.m., and fun run/walk at 9 a.m., with a party at the club afterwards.

To make a donation and for information on the foundation press here.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Jazz fan fights cancer with show for mom

Last August was the first time in several years that jazz promoter Tammy Greene didn't have a blow out birthday party featuring some of the country's top jazz musicians.

For three years, Greene helped book jazz acts at the Jazz Café when it was open in the Arysley Town Center. So, her birthday party that was a must-attend event.

"We always just have a good time," she said.

Last year, she spent her birthday in a hospital room with her dying mother. Greene's mother, Bernice, battled problems related to heart disease throughout the year. Then she was diagnosed with breast cancer in July. Doctors removed the cancer, but her mother's condition never improved.

A few days before her birthday last year, Greene received a call from her brothers telling her to come home immediately. She drove to Philadelphia immediately. Her mother, Bernice, was glad to see her. Greene said her mother worried her daughter wouldn't make it home in time. On Aug. 31, Greene celebrated her birthday in the hospital with her family. The next day, Bernice Greene passed away at age 74.

To honor her mother, Greene will resume her birthday tradition with a new mission to raise money to fight breast cancer and heart disease. On Saturday, she will host Jazzin' For a Cure concert at Utopia Soundstage. It will benefit the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

Greene has always donated to the foundation and participated in the annual walk/run, but after losing her mother Greene is committed to doing more.

"I'm going to tie my passion together for jazz with Susan G. Komen," she said. "When it's somebody in your family it's a whole different vibe."

Jazz for a cure, Saturday
Jazzin' For The Cure features band Innertwyned and saxophonist Paul Taylor. Proceeds from the concert will benefit the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Two shows: 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Saturday. Utopia Soundstage, 10210 Berkeley Place Drive. or 877-993-8499

Thursday, August 27, 2009

United Way and the Levines' challenge

Good thing Leon Levine bought four new suits recently. He's been in the news lately and needed them as he and wife Sandra make one high-profile announcement after another about gifts from their Leon Levine Foundation.

The latest came today, a week after announcing a $9.3 million scholarship program at UNC Charlotte. Now their foundation is giving a $1 million challenge grant to the "Community Care Fund" of the United Way of Central Carolinas to create a rallying point for the fall fundraising campaign that was launched today, two weeks early.

As new United Way President Jane McIntyre explained at a new conference, the Levines' foundation will match any amount raised over last year's $21.7 million, up to $1 million. The agency's new goal is $22.7 million, so if the campaign gets there, that'd be at least $2 million over last year to deal with the huge needs that continue to spiral in the uncertain economy.

Yet the Levines surprised even McIntyre and United Way board chair Carlos Evans when they announced that their family also had decided to give a personal gift of $100,000 to the campaign.

McIntyre and Evans said they hope the "Levine Challenge" will rejuvenate giving again and help repair the agency's damaged image, crippled for more than a year by what many saw as exorbitant pay and benefits paid to former United Way head Gloria Pace King.

In the furor, donations to the last campaign fell by almost a third and many members saw their funding cut by 40 percent.

The Levines say their grant is a powerful vote of confidence for McIntyre and the work Evans has already done to overhaul the agency. McIntyre said the Levines' name will draw more people to the campaign.

Both Levines applauded the agency's recent changes: cutting expenses, slashing the board from about 60 people to 18 to 24, and making the board's business more transparent.

And they liked the notion of placing the focus on the Community Care Fund, which supports more than 90 nonprofits across the Charlotte region.

Leon Levine called the United Way "the pillar of Charotte charity."

"It was stuck in a nonstop story of scandal and failed expectations," he said. "Millions raised but far less than half of that going to help the needy in Charlotte. We became concerned about the welfare of our neighbors and the validity of the best vehicle to help."

McIntyre said that all money that goes into the community fund is used to help those in need.

"The fund is the essence of what United Way has always been about -- neighbors helping neighbors," Leon Levine said.

In recent months, the Levines have given to many cash-strapped charities, making front-page headlines.

They say they don't give to anyone unless they check them out. Sandra Levine said she's concerned that an awful lot of people are "being punished" for the mistakes of a few at United Way.

They feel they've checked out the new order at United Way and like what they see.

"The time has come to move on and try to make this campaign as successful as possible," Sandra Levine said. "The Community Care Fund is going to do a lot of good and help a lot of people."

Realtors help shelter the needy

Realtors make their living selling houses. But this week they demonstrated their belief in the notion that everyone -- even the neediest among us -- deserve a roof over our heads.

Through a new grants program, the housing foundation for the Charlotte Regional Realtor Association awarded a total of $10,000 to five organizations that are trying to make a difference, each addressing unmet needs in their communities.

The association, with 7,000 Realtor members in Mecklenburg and Iredell counties, says it is dedicated to creating housing opportunities, promoting homeownership and educating its members to be leaders.

The grants provided anecdotal evidence to those claims.

The five are:

Wesley Community Development Corporation: Was awarded $2,500 to help with pre-development costs for a three-bedroom home to be built in Cornelius to house three mentally disabled adults.

Latin American Coalition: Will get $2,500 for its foreclosure prevention workshops and training for immigrant families. The funds will also support staff in assist Latinos who are at risk of losing their homes.

Urban Ministry: Awarded $2,000 for the agency's Substance Abuse Education and Recovery drug-treatment program. The money specifically will be used for phone lines that clients can use to secure stabilized housing and employment.

Salvation Army: Is getting $2,000 for its Center of Hope to buy bus passes for female residents seeking permanent employment and housing.

Hope House: Will get $1,000 to help build a children's recreation room at Hope House, a transitional facility for single women and women with children in Huntersville.

It's an impressive first effort. In the current economic strife, every dollar helps fill a critical need.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Running program seeks to transform boys

Ashley Armistead was alarmed. She'd taken sons Grant, then 3, and Connor, 2, to play at a friend's. And while she and other mothers talked, the boys were colliding toy trucks into the furniture and poking holes in the Sheetrock -- without remorse.

The mother who owned the house, just shrugged and said: "You know: Boys will be boys."

Not Armistead's boys. "It rocked my soul," she said. "There seemed to be no reigning in of the behavior, or belief that it could be reigned in.

"The behavior is so engrained it's stifling."

Back then, she was a cardiac rehabilitation nurse and in her free time volunteered as a coach for "Girls on the Run," the running program started in Charlotte and based in schools that's designed to boost the self-esteem of girls.

Armistead looked around for a similar program for her boys. There weren't any. So she and a cast of volunteers started their own, loosely modeling it after Girls on the Run, designed to comprehensively nurture the whole boy: body, heart and spirit.

They call it "Let Me Run," which last month achieved 501(c) status, which makes it a nonprofit looking for funding like most other nonprofits.

"When I was a nurse in cardiac rehab we had this comprehensive approach to health ... and I thought how crazy it was that we didn't bring prevention down to boys," she said.
The program, designed by runners, psychologists, physical therapists and exercise physiologists, tries to get boys to embrace the notion that it's OK to have emotions and to feel vulnerable. They teach that anger isn't the only acceptable emotion for boys and men.

Let Me Run has a running component to build endurance and strength. But it also works on relationships and redefines competition, "to encourage others, not just beat the other guy," Armistead said.

Last spring, the program was in six Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools with 15 volunteer coaches. She hopes to have it 10 schools this fall and 20 by next spring. Eventually, she and Let Me Run's board hope to franchise it into other cities.

"Boys are too competitive; I see that everywhere in the traditional box," said Armistead, whose son Grant is 11 now, Connor 10. "If they don't win the race, they feel they were a failure and that the race was a failure.

"We've got to change that."

To get the program's point across, Charlie Engle is speaking 7 p.m. Saturday at the U.S. National Whitewater Center, 5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy. Engle is the Greensboro native and ultramarathoner who with two other runners ran 4,500 miles for 111 straight days across the Sahara Desert to raise awareness for the need for fresh water.

Their story is told in the powerful documentary, "Running the Sahara." He's replaced alcohol and drug addiction with running. Engle will talk about how running and physical suffering saved his life. He's donating his time to raise money for Let Me Run.

The event, in the center's raft barn, is free, except for parking. Donations will be appreciated.

On Sept. 15, the group is hosting a talk by Harvard psychiatrist William Pollack, an internationally respected authority on boys and men. Pollack is the group's board chair. He will speak at 7 p.m. at Trinity Episcopal School, 750 E. 9th St. near uptown.

If you want to help Let Me Run, make checks out to Let Me Run and mail them to 9240 Tresanton Dr., Charlotte NC 28210.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Neighborhood blog helps near and wide

Nichole, mother of three in the Steele Creek community in southwest Mecklenburg, has long been inspired by this Ghandi quote: "Be the change you want to see in the world."

To that end, she and her family have donated to a variety of charities, their main interests: Cancer, the homeless and children. Those interests stem from her father dying of brain cancer; their desire to feed the hungry and supply food and other necessities to the homeless; and their ambition to raise awareness about catastrophic illnesses in children.

Noble work, but she longed to do something bigger -- and came up with a community help blog ( to raise money and supplies for the neediest of charities in Charlotte, and needs of her neighbors.

"We are not affiliated with a church; we are just a family that believes in the greater good and that it is imperative to give back and help people in need," Nichole wrote The Cliff in an email.

She doesn't want her last name used -- but names are not the point. Her blog is. It's an example of what people are doing to reach out and help, even in the smallest ways, with energy and pluck.
Her blog has become a community-wide effort in Steele Creek. A friend and neighbor, Melissa, signed on to find volunteer opportunities.

Each month, they and other neighbors search for charities in need through government Web sites, and ask around the community for anyone who needs help. Their current project is gathering household items, clothing and other supplies to donate to the Charlotte Emergency Housing, a shelter for the homeless.

Recently, the neighbors got together and packed up 40 bags of food for Stand Up for Kids, an organization that provides guidance, food and supplies for homeless children -- only to find that the Charlotte chapter had dissolved and their donations went to the Raleigh chapter.

"This is important," Nichole emailed. "Our local homeless/street kids are not getting the help that they desperately need." She's part of the program support team responsible for collecting items for the organization. Volunteers are needed as "street outreach" leaders to help find and stabilize these children. If anyone is interested they can contact Crystal here.

She laments that many people don't donate to charities because they feel their "small efforts" won't make a difference. "The wonderful thing about our projects is that every little bit counts," she said. "If we all just give a little, we can make a big impact."

She's inspired by another quote, this one from legendary basketball coach John Wooden: "Don't let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do."

Monday, August 24, 2009

Gift to Pfeiffer University helps sick children

Somewhere in the news release sent today was a story of passions meeting needs.

The main theme: A retired Charlotte-Mecklenburg school teacher had given her alma mater, Pfeiffer University in Misenheimer in Stanly County, a gift of a little more than $100,000 -- a tidy sum in these uncertain times for any nonprofit, school or charity.

What's neatly bound in this story is the confluence of passions and desires that overlap and intertwine one another.

The donor, who wants to stay anonymous, is a NASCAR fan -- particularly of Richard Petty.

The famed racer and his family have had a long relationship with the school. Petty is a longtime Pfeiffer trustee, and regular donor. One of his grandsons, Austin, had attended Pfeiffer. After another grandson, Adam, was killed in 2000 practicing at New Hampshire International Speedway, Pfeiffer established a scholarship to honor him.

The donor also has a compassion for children with special needs.

Petty's son, Kyle, a NASCAR driver, and Kyle's wife, Pattie, started a camp in 2004 for terminally and chronically ill children, in Adam's memory. Their camp, Victory Junction Gang Camp, is on the family land in Randolph County, and it provides an environment for kids to temporarily forget about their illnesses.

So the donor wanted to endow an internship that will allow Pfeiffer students to work with and learn about children with special needs at Victory Junction.

That fits one of the university's missions of developing servant leaders.

"It is truly a circle of influence that will have a generational impact," Pfeiffer President Chuck Ambrose told The Cliff. "There are multiple beneficiaries."

The donor, who retired to Lake Norman after 30 years of teaching, came to Pfeiffer with her offering. Pfeiffer brokered the relationship between her and the Pettys.

Kyle Petty was overjoyed that Pfeiffer will be sending student interns: "Counselors and volunteers have a tremendous impact on the lives of the children we serve. The time, the energy, the smiles are priceless. We are thankful and look forward to a long partnership with Pfeiffer University."

The gift follows a $1 million donation from the estate of Winston-Salem banker William White, who died last December.

"Both gifts are helping us through some challenging economic times," Ambrose said. "Because of all the passions involved, what a great gift this second one is for Pfeiffer, what a great gift it is for Victory Junction -- and for the donor."

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Don't-drink challenge helps charities

On a Sunday early last February, Dr. James Howell, senior minister at Myers Park United Methodist Church, threw out a challenge to his 5,000-member congregation with little notion about how it would respond.

He asked members to give up drinking alcohol for the 46-day period of Lent -- when many Christians sacrifice a vice before Easter. He also asked them to take the money that they would have spent on alcohol during that time and put it in the church's "Spirit Fund."

"The way he framed it was that as a culture we probably drink too much, and that there are those of us who are guilty of using alcohol -- particularly in these financially stressed times -- as a substitute for God," said Kevin Wright, the church's mission minister. "In essense, he was saying that sometimes we turn to the wrong spirit, when we should be turning to the holy spirit."

They have no idea how many took up the challenge. But after Easter, the "Spirit Fund" was spilling over with $29,290.81 -- $5,000 from an anonymous donor.

Thursday, the church cut a check for $25,901.64 and mailed it Hope Haven, the converted motel on North Tryon Street that is an addiction recovery program for the homeless (a room is pictured above). A second check for $3,389 was made out to the Charlotte Rescue Mission, another recovery program, to repair the boiler system.
"It was money just out of the air; it was delightful and exciting when the church called me," said Judy Marshall, Hope Haven's vice president for development. The charity lost $160,000 in United Way money; $60,000 would have been used for family and children programs.

"We're all looking for ways to sustain our services and keep them going at the level that we're used to. It's a challenge that we're addressing and the money from the church sure helps in a big way," Marshall said.

Howell and Wright were surprised at the response to the challenge. In no time, Howell was fielding emails and phone calls from members moved by the gesture.

"We aren't saying at all that alcohol is evil," Howell said. "Although one lovely lesson from this exercise was that dozens of people learned they drink too much, depend on it too much to be social or to have fun, or to cope with difficulties."

A "handful" of members entered recovery programs, Wright said.

Howell told the congregation that he understood that the current economic strife is stressing people.

"But he said if you turn to alcohol in excess, it can go too far," Wright said. "It can have a harmful impact on families and children."

Leigh Ann Smith, 34, and her younger sister, Lynsley Smith, 32, are both church members with a family history of alcoholism.

They took on the challenge. Leigh Ann failed a week before Easter. She'd run a 10K in Charleston, and found herself with friends sitting on the rooftop patio of a restaurant. The temptation was too great. She ordered a glass of wine.

"I've always been very cautious about what and how I drink, so I thought it'd be no sweat to make it through the challenge," said Leigh Ann, who limits her drinking to a couple glasses of wine on weekends. "It surprised me that it was more important to have that glass of wine than to meet the challenge."

Still, she gave $100 to the fund.

Her sister, ever competitive, said Howell's challenge made her proud of the church. She had no problem going 46 days without a drink, even at parties.

Two things surprised her: She found those not drinking at parties has more substantial conversations -- "we cut through the chit-chat" -- and she discovered two friends struggling with alcohol were in Alcoholics Anonymous.

"It created a neat sense of fellowship," she said.

And it's doing some good on many levels.

Downward facing dog for a good cause

Giving comes in all forms.

For Karen Williams, it comes in forms of bodies twisting and stretching into exotic-sounding postures -- for good causes.

Williams owns Yoga For Life, a studio on Morehead Street (Mary Lou Buck is teaching a class there in photo above). Since March, she's held benefits there on the first and third Fridays to raise money for a different cash-strapped charity.

She calls the events "Yoga Matters," with participants paying as much as they can afford for a 75-minute class and a talk from a member of the particular organization that is being helped. Williams donates the space. Teachers donate their time -- all the proceeds go to the charity.

The next benefit is Friday at 6 p.m. Yoga for Life has two studios, and there'll be two teachers for beginning and intermediate students.

"It's important in the yoga community that we give back," she said. "What I love about 'Yoga Matters' is that it gives back on so many different levels. It gives back to the students. It gives back to the community and to the organizations that are so financially challenged in this economy."

Friday's benefit is for Circle de Luz, the organization that helps young Latinos in Charlotte through extensive mentoring, programming and scholarship funds for education. Previous recipients include: Seigle Avenue Partners, Catawba Lands Conservancy, the humane society, Jacob's Ladder and the Girl Scouts.

Some students have written checks for $50, others have dropped a couple of bucks into the donation basket.

Didn't matter to Williams -- every little bit helps.

If you want to get in a good stretch, and help struggling charities stretch their resources, head to Yoga for Life on Friday at 6 p.m. They're at 1410 W. Morehead St.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A day to celebrate Alec and his dad

Bill and Karen Ellis married in 2002. Karen had a son, Alec, who Bill instantly fell in love with. He was adamant that Alec become an Ellis -- the boy already called him "Dad" -- and the couple began the adoption process.

The next year, son Ray was born. But in 2004, when Alec was 7 and the adoption was dragging, doctors diagnosed Alec with leukemia. That began two years of difficult treatments at Blume Pediatric Hematology and Oncology Clinic at Charlotte's Presbyterian Hospital.

In 30 days, Alec (pictured above with mother Karen and brother Ray) was in remission. Treatments continued. On a day when he was to receive a huge dose of chemotherapy, a frustrated Bill called the adoption lawyer and told him to come to the clinic so he and Karen could sign papers and finally get the process in motion.

In November, 2004, Alec became an Ellis.

By early April, 2006, the worst of Alec's treatments were over. "We thought we might be able to return to a somewhat normal life," Karen said.

Two weeks later, on April 18, Bill collapsed and died.

He was the one who hung Christmas lights in the van to keep everyone's spirits raised, or thought up family outings to keep their mind off their troubles when Alec was in treatment.

"It was hard on all of us -- especially Alec," Karen said.

Alec is 12 now. Sunday was the 5th anniversary of his remission, the threshold where doctors consider him virtually free of cancer with less frequent blasts of chemo.

So Karen held a big celebration at Carrigan Farms in Mooresville, where there's a rock quarry and swimming hole. All of Alec's friends, relatives and a few of his caregivers at Blume came. Karen served a cake with a screen-printing of Alec's leukemia cells and a red circle around it with a big red slash. "Alec had asked his doctor for a photograph of his leukemia so he could throw darts at it," his mother said.

But the day wasn't just to celebrate Alec -- but Bill, too.

Karen asked all the guests not to bring gifts for Alec. "He doesn't need anything," she told them. Instead, she asked them to make donations in Bill's memory to the Blume Clinic.

"Bill thought a lot of everybody at that clinic," Karen said. "I do, too. They've been just amazing to Alec."

Monday, she'll deliver $1,500.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Anthony Adams holding grand lemonade event

It's been a memorable summer for Anthony Adams.

He's the 7-year-old cancer survivor who has set up lemonade stands all over the region to raise money for research so other children will have a slimmer chance of getting the disease.

To date, Anthony (pictured above at one of his five lemonade stands) he's served up 22 gallons of lemonade, 20 dozen Rice Krispies treats, 10 dozen brownies and a like amount of cookies to raise $1,145.08 for his favorite charity, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

To boot, he's been served up a little fame, with stories in the newspaper, and on TV. People tend to know his story when they see his lemonade stand and have stopped by to buy a cup of lemonade and to thank him for his compassion.

Tuesday, Anthony's partnering with Persis-Nova Homes to put on his Grand Lemonade Stand Event at one of the company's developments, Stillwell Village on Babe Stillwell Road in the Birkdale community near Huntersville.

Persis-Nova is grilling up hamburgers and hot dogs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Anthony will be doing his thing.

Christine Plaisted of Persis sent out 1,500 invitations, among them all the real estate agents the company works with. It's the company's way of giving back, and everyone's invited -- though there's a limited supply of food and T shirts that Persis will give the first to support Anthony and his cause.

Anthony's carried on with his stand because "he doesn't think it's fair that kids get cancer," said Christie Adams, his mother and biggest cheerleader. "He also understands that he is helping make a difference by giving back."

Yet for all his giving, he's getting something back.

"He's delighted to be famous," his mother said.

So if you want to support Anthony one last time before school starts (he will be setting up a couple lemonade stands on weekends in the fall), head over to Stillwell Village. Directions to the event: Take I-77 north to exit 25 and turn left toward Birkdale. Turn left on Babe Stillwell Road (just past Blythe Landing) and Stillwell Village will be a half-mile on the right.

Now that school is days away, send The Cliff your favorite stories about life on the Lemonade Brigade circuit. What did you learn? What were your favorite moments? How much lemonade did you sell and how much money did you raise?

You may be famous, too.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Levines' generosity felt at Pat's Place

A story in last Sunday's Observer told you about Pat's Place needing to urgently raise $100,000 to continue its service of providing a sanctuary for sexually abused children.

Because of funding cuts, the charity's fifth annual Barbecue and Bluejeans fundraiser next month is more crucial than ever to meet its demanding operating costs (the current budget is $425,000), executive director Anne Pfeiffer told the Observer.

Now The Leon Levine Foundation has performed another rescue mission -- donating $50,000 to Pat's Place.
"It's not a dream," Pfeiffer said today. "The $50,000 from the Levines will help ensure we exceed our goal. They're amazing."
Pat's Place still has a goal of raising $100,000 from the fundraiser.

As The Cliff reported in an earlier post, the foundation, established by Family Dollar Stores founder Leon Levine and wife Sandra (pictured above), has been on a giving spree lately.

Seems every time they hear of a nonprofit threatened by the current economic strife, they jump in with the foundation's substantial assets -- about $200 million -- to perform a rescue mission.

"The Levines have always been generous and tried to help," said Tom Lawrence, the foundation's vice president and spokesman. "But they understand that in today's unique and challenging economy, their philanthropy has become even more important.

"My sense is that they really enjoy it. The community has been very supportive of them and the business that Mr. Levine created. They recognize the importance of giving back and this is their chance -- at a time when it's really needed."

The Levines rescued Charlotte's Hope Haven -- the well-known addiction recovery program for the homeless -- with a $50,000 grant in April to help repair a leaky roof. In May, they donated $25,000 to the financially strapped Charlotte Symphony to cover its bills. In June, the foundation committed $1 million to help Teach for America put 225 college graduates in high-poverty Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools.

And last month, the foundation decided to advance Central Piedmont Community College the first $300,000 of a $2 million gift that it was supposed to begin paying in 2010. That decision came after Levine and foundation officials read that CPCC has been hit hard by rising enrollment and budget cuts.

Lawrence said that Leon Levine is intricately involved in deciding who gets his foundation's money. Levine retired as head of Family Dollar in 2003, and now at 72, is turning his foundation work into a second career.

He stays informed of the agencies that need help that the "foundation has partnered with in the past," Lawrence said. "The focus tends to be agencies that have we know have a strong impact on the community and that make a difference. In most cases, we know the folks involved, we know their impact.

"Mr. Levine really drives the process. He's involved in every level of the decision-making. He enjoys seeing the positive impact that his money brings; he does enjoy giving it away."

Now, it's Pat's Place and the children it helps feeling his generosity.

"We're not able to serve all the kids we need to serve because of financial constraints," Pfeiffer said. "Their grant gets us much closer to that goal. They are so generous and we couldn’t do what we do without them, as many other organizations couldn’t."

Sight-seeing turns into do-gooding

John Nance didn't just want to show his relatives Charlotte, he wanted to pack some do-gooding into all the sight seeing.

Two weeks ago, he got a spur-of-the-moment call from his mother, Sue, in south Florida, informing him that she was bringing his two nephews, Matt Nance and Joey Raffel, and niece, Julie Nance, to Charlotte. They were coming the next day for the weekend.

Quickly, Nance transformed into tour director.

He has a counseling practice, and supervises counseling and chaplain interns at Presbyterian Hospital. One of his interns is Tayuanee Dewberry, executive director of Right Moves for Youth, the nonprofit that works to keep at-risk youth in school.

"I knew they have needs for school supplies," Nance said. "I wanted to take my guests on a trip through Charlotte that was purposeful and meaningful."

He decided they'd all (they're pictured above) ride the Lynx light rail from uptown toward Pineville, and he'd turn the trip into a charitable adventure. Knowing his nephews and niece had spending money, he asked them each to take $5 and buy as many school supplies as they could -- that ultimately they'd donate to Right Moves.

"They completely bought into it," he said.

At the rail's last stop, Nance turned them loose in an Office Max.

They bought penny folders, boxes of pencils, 10-cent paper refills and whatever else they could find on sale, going through check-out lines multiple times. All counted, the five left the store with 10 bags of more than $85 worth of school supplies that cost them $23.30.

"When we got home, they looked like trick-or-treaters rifling through their bags of candy," Nance said. "It took three of us to carry it all into Right Moves for Youth."

The outing was fitting for his family. Nance's parents were Methodist missionaries: "It was a continuation of what we usually do," he said. "I come from a family of caregivers."

Since then, his nephews and niece have called Nance to thank him for the visit. Each remarked that they found the school-supplies challenge a highlight of the trip.

"Anybody can do something like this," Nance said. "It may seem small, but the Right Moves for Youth folks were very appreciative. They told us, 'you'd be surprised, but many kids go to school with nothing.' So every little thing helps.

"Our family, like most families, has been struggling in this economy. But even in our struggles, we can still reach out."

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Beer games to help fight breast cancer

Angela Mirarchi's feels extraordinarily blessed by her family's good health. No one has cancer, or any other catastrophic illness.

She wants to celebrate that good fortune by walking 39 miles in two days -- to help those who aren't so lucky.

On Oct. 24, the 29-year-old Charlotte banker is going to walk a marathon (26 miles, 385 yards) and a half-marathon the next day, all to raise money for the Avon Foundation Breast Cancer Crusade.

The crusade provides for screening, support and treatment for medically under-insured women and men. Charlotte's Avon Walk is one of several across the country.

"I feel intensely lucky that my family has incredible health," Mirarchi said. "And I thought there's got to be some way to give back for my good health -- to help others."

It will be her second Avon Walk. Her entry fee: $1,800.

That's where her friend Nicky Green comes in.

Green is a purveyor of fun. To raise Mirarchi's admission, she's organized "Save Second Base -- the Sequel" on Aug. 22, an afternoon of beer games and parties at three uptown Charlotte bars. She's calling for 20 teams of four (ponying up $65 per team) and as many supporters as the government-regulated maximum occupancy will allow to make a donation at the door for beer specials and a chance to help the cause.

Doors open at 2 p.m.; games begin at 3.

It all starts at Connolly's on Fifth, 115 E. 5th St., where teams will compete in Beer Pong (bouncing ping pong balls in cups of beer) and "corn hole" (tossing bean bags through holes) and then move up the street to Buckhead Saloon, 201 E. 5th. There the teams will play Flip Cup, a game that involves grown people trying flick a plastic cup 180 degrees. The awards and post-games party will be at 7 p.m., at Howl at the Moon, 210 E. Trade St.

"We wanted to get all of Angela's fundraising done in one night," Green said. "It's all fun, but we're making sure everyone knows it's for a good cause -- it's a win-win for everyone."

Mirarchi has always active and likes playing sports like volleyball, but was never a walker. Green told her not to worry about raising her entry fee -- just walk.

"So I've been walking, walking and walking some more," Mirarchi said. "Walking last year's Avon was completely exhausting, but one of the most exhilarating and fulfilling things I've ever done.

"Once I got done, I decided then that there's no way I'm not going to do it again. I felt very special to be a part of it."

'Lunch and Learns' help unemployed

Being out of work can wear on the psyche.

The Rev. Elizabeth Hyland knows that. In April 2008, she was laid off as chaplain at Lake Norman Regional Medical Center in Mooresvile, and hasn't worked since.

So she started volunteering for the Charlotte Presbytery's community disaster relief resource team.

Hyland classifies the tens of thousands laid off in Charlotte as economic and human disasters. In an effort to help, she's been organizing "Lunch and Learn for the Unemployed," a series of free lunches for those out of work or underemployed to learn coping skills -- and to keep a grip on hope.

The next lunch is Wednesday at Kannapolis's First Presbyterian Church, 210 Vance St., from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Lunch -- with door prizes -- and the program of three speakers is free, paid by the Presbytery.

The two previous "Lunch and Learns" were well-attended. The gathered did learn about coping and holding onto hope. But perhaps the best lesson: The realization that they're not alone.

"Some people had been out of work so long they were depressed, and didn't think anything could help," Hyland said. "But many said they left with a renewed sense of hope and encouragement -- not feeling quite so alone."

Some of the other speakers, too, have experienced the "anger, shame, fear and guilt" of unemployment, Hyland said.

"We all come out of personal experiences to do this speaking," she said.

The lunch in May drew about 65 people; 90 showed up to a second on July 31. One man attended both and is registered for Wednesday's, Hyland said.

"It's sad that so many folks are having to attend," said Debbie Wilkinson, who heads registration for the lunches for the Presbytery. "Some of these people have been out of work for two years and feel like they're at the end of hope.

"But we see them leave empowered and energized."

The speakers Wednesday will be Hyland, job/life coach Jeannie Fennel, and Brant Piper of Presbyterian Samaritan Counseling.

Hyland said the lunches have been so successful they want to do more -- at least two more before year's end. They'd like to do others, but the Presbytery can't afford them. "They have budget constraints, too," she said.

So if you'd like to sponsor a lunch and door prizes to help good people get back on their feet, call Hyland at 980-622-5780.

Meanwhile, if you'd like to attend Wednesday's lunch in Kannapolis call Wilkinson at 704-535-9999, ext. 213. Or show up at the door at 10:15 a.m. and register there.

You might leave a new person.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Boys organize talent for good causes

The next time you think the current generation of teenagers is lazy and self-consumed by clothes and Facebook chats, please remember the trio of Sam Markiewitz, Emory Walls and Carson Mattachini.

They are 13 and live in the same Grey Gate neighborhood in Matthews.

For four years, long before the current budget crisis facing charities, they've spent part of their summers producing a neighborhood talent show to raise money for a cause.

Their first show raised money for an organization that buys better helmets for the troops serving in war zones. The last three they've made personal, raising funds for Multiple Sclerosis (Sam's uncle has MS; Emory knows someone with the disease) and juvenile diabetes (they all know schoolmates with the disorder).

And last month's show honored neighbor Sue Falco, a 39-year-old survivor of colon cancer.

"She's a nice lady and our friend, and she's trying to raise awareness of colon cancer, so we wanted to help her," said Sam, who lives two doors up from the Falcos.

To drum up interest for their show, they put together a flier with facts about colon cancer. They lined up the talent among friends in the neighborhood and at South Charlotte Middle School, where they go to school.

Fifteen acts (the cast is pictured above) showed up for the June 27 show at the Quill Lane cul-de-sac: Rappers, dancers and musical acts of singing and guitar, violin and trombone and saxophone playing. They got items donated to raffle off and sold concessions. Admission was a minimum $5 donation. Some gave up to $100.

"It was fun, and we could give back to the community at the same time," Emory said.

In the end, they raised $1,100 -- the money will go to the local Colon Cancer Coalition and efforts to bring a "Get Your Rear in Gear" 5K race to Charlotte to raise awareness that Falco is helping organize for next spring.

To date, the boys have raised more than $5,000 from all four shows.

"These three teenagers are just exceptional young men," Falco said. "They didn't just throw together a talent show, but they worked very hard to learn about colon cancer. Their flier had facts and figures about colon cancer to educate the neighbors and everyone they invited.

"They're raising awareness as much as they raised funds."

In full disclosure, Sam and Emory said when the boys started thinking about putting on a talent show, they'd planned to keep the money for themselves.

Parents intervened, as parents often do, and suggested the money go to a cause.

"We thought it was a good idea," Sam said. "I don't think if we did it for ourselves that as many people would have come. This was a better deed, and it made our show more meaningful."

Emory agreed: "We don't need the money. Other people have real problems that are life-threatening. So they need the money, instead of us just wanting it for stuff we don't need."

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Student sparking dreams with book drive

It doesn't take long to realize that Brandon Smith is a upstanding teenager with a big heart and talent for math and science.

He'll be a senior at South Mecklenburg High, and though he's pondering a career in engineering, he's loved books since he was a toddler listening to his parents read stories that carried him beyond Charlotte.

He wants that for every kid, no matter their condition.

So he's spent the summer orchestrating a drive to collect as many books (K-5 grade levels) as he can to donate to two dozen Teach for America teachers who'll be presiding over classes at high poverty Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools during the approaching school year.

Last count, he's stacked and boxed about 1,500 books in his family's dining room.

In case you're wondering, this is not some community service project to satisfy a school requirement -- his school has no such requirement. Brandon's doing it because he believes every child ought to have the same opportunities no matter where they go to school.

And books, he said, can spark a dream.

"I love that you can get lost in books, and that they can take you other places," Brandon, 17, said. "They open up the imagination; they're just fun."

Teach for America teachers are recent college graduates who commit to two years in classrooms at urban or rural high-poverty schools. "I looked at the program and loved what it is doing," he said. "Since they weren't necessarily planning to teach, they have a need for books."

Brandon (pictured above) has seen the disparity in resources from school to school. He went to Huntingtowne Farms Elementary, a high-poverty school (at least three-fourths of students get lunch aid) where his mother works as a teacher's assistant, and then moved to Carmel Middle School.

"The biggest thing I noticed was that while the teachers at both schools were so great, the resources readily available were different," he said. "I want to see kids at high-poverty schools get the same education and the same resources as a school like Carmel.

"I felt I could put books in the hands of teachers who can put them in the hands of students who need them the most."

He said he gets this yearn to give back from his parents and his church, First Baptist uptown. With the church, he's gone on mission trips to New York and Chicago to help with back-yard bible schools in slums. And to New Orleans last year to aid the rebuilding effort.

He's also fully aware that he comes from a comfortable, supportive family and doesn't have to worry about his next meal, or bullets flying through his neighborhood.

Brandon started planning his drive in May, when school was still in, and collected a couple hundred from classmates. Then he made a pitch to his church and neighborhood association in south Charlotte.

Some offered up donations, and Brandon approached bookstore owners to buy books at a discount. He and his family and friends have gone through each book to make sure they're in good shape and "appropriate." They've begun to sort them by grade. He hopes to parcel out the books to teacher before school starts, but will continue collecting probably through September.

"I was taught to go out and make a difference however I can, and to give back to the community whenever I can," Brandon said. "I can't change the world, but I can do this one thing that might spark an idea in a child."

If you've been meaning to find a good spot for that box of books gathering dust in the attic, give Brandon a call at 704-608-6797. He'll put them in the proper hands -- and minds.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Story behind Marine Mud Challenge

For Aaron Harper, raising money to help families of wounded Marines and sailors is near and dear.

Nineteen years ago, he was one of them, a young Marine injured when an Iraqi rocket blew up near him just as Operation Desert Storm, the first war with Iraq, was beginning to unfold.

In his haste to grab his gear and seek cover, Harper ruptured a disc in his spine that unleashed a degenerative condition requiring 12 surgeries on his back. During those surgeries, his mother and sister wanted to help, and made visits from upstate New York to the hospital at Camp LeJeune.

"It was very expensive for them to come down," he said. At 23 in 1993, the Marines granted him a medical retirement.

That is why he helped organize the Marine Corps Coordinating Council of Greater Charlotte, a group that hosts fundraising events for organizations that help families of the wounded and injured.

Last Saturday, they put on their third annual Marine Mud Challenge (see photo above, courtesy of Treasured Events of Charlotte), a 5.5-mile obstacle course with mud pits that gave participants a glimpse of what it's like to train as a Marine.

More than 500 paid $25 each to run the course, all but 10 percent civilians. You may have seen photos of the event in this space earlier this week. The runners, in teams of four, were mostly from the Charlotte region, but some came from as far away as New Jersey. The event is patterned after a similar mud challenge at Camp Pendleton in California.

It was held at Belmont Abbey College, much of it along Brother Paul's cross-country trail. The runners were told there were 30 obstacles, but there were really 36. "We wanted to show the runners a little of what it's like to train as a Marine," Harper said. "They're always throwing in more obstacles than advertised."

The course included two mud pits, including one 700 feet long. Yet because of the rains last week, Brother Paul's trail had turned to mud.

The 500 runners were down from 600 last year.

"Probably because of the obstacles we added this year," Harper said. The council brought in Marines to "yell at -- I mean motivate -- the runners. They chewed on them."

But they still took in about $30,000. After bills are paid, they'll be sending nonprofits here and in the Camp LeJeune area about $24,000 to help families of wounded warriors. Some of the money will be kept locally for former Marines struggling financially.

"When a Marine or sailor is convalescing, they can't leave to go to their families," Harper said. "The families have to go to them. Some can't afford it and can't go. So this money goes for a real good cause."

Calendar raising funds for AIDS orphans

So you think your little girl is as sweet as a strawberry parfait. Or your son bears an uncanny resemblance to Elvis.

Now you can show it to everyone -- and do some good.

Child and maternity photographer Mimika Cooney wants to put them on a calendar to raise money for Mothering Across Continents, the Charlotte charity that finds local ways to help South African children orphaned by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Cooney's calling her calendar project "Tasty Treats & Movie Stars." There's a reason she's raising money for MAC. She's a mother and grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa and has seen first-hand children made motherless by the disease.

"Since I am a mother I know how important that role is in a child's life," she said. "My heart's always been with babies and children. There are so many children with huge needs in South Africa. I believe we can help one child at a time.

"I was very excited to find a local charity like Mothering Across Continents trying to do something about it."

Cooney began her calendar casting call Tuesday, and received 22 applications. The call will go through Aug. 15.

Here's how it will work: You can apply to have your baby or child photographed for the 2010 calendar, babies newborn to 15 months as "Tasty Treats" like a banana split or strawberry parfait, and children 18 months to 7 years as movie stars like Audrey Hepburn or Brando. The costumes are provided at Cooney's studio at Photo Lyrical Photography in Waxhaw.

Photo sessions will take place during the first two weeks of September. Cooney is intentionally being flexible with newborns, and will take them if they're due by Sept. 30.

If your application is accepted, the photo session will cost $100, every dime of it going to Mothering Across Continents. As a thanks, you'll get an 8-by-10 glossy of your choosing from the session. Photo Lyrical will select 30 for an online vote to be on the calendar. The top 10 vote-getters will assuredly claim a spot. Eight more will be chosen to fill out an 18-month calendar.

Cooney will print up 1,000 calendars that will sell $10 each, every dime of that also turned over to Mothering likely next January.

It's a fun way to raise money for an important global effort. And who knows: Maybe your son will be the next Brando.

To apply go here, or call Photo Lyrical Photography at 888-344-0894.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

On collaborating and human services

If nothing else, representatives from five elected bodies in Mecklenburg County agreed on one thing today when it comes to delivering health and human services: They're all interconnected and need to collaborate more if we're to dig out of this charity crisis.

Officials from the county commission, Charlotte City Council, Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board and the mayors of two towns, met over lunch today to begin the conversation about building a battle plan to help attack growing social needs such as homelessness and health care.

The conversation was called last month by commission Chairman Jennifer Roberts after some of Charlotte-Mecklenburg's top leaders declared a need for a coordinated plan to help fill gaps created by the city's banking crisis and funding cuts for nonprofits at a time of growing demands.

Her co-host was commissioner Dan Murrey, chair of that board's health and community services committee. In addition to the elected officials, representatives from foundations and nonprofits joined the round-table-like discussion.

Roberts and Murrey liked what they heard.

Much of the talk focused on not jumping to solutions, but taking time to collect data on what might work. That process would include hearing ideas from ordinary residents, looking at plans created by other cities, and perhaps dusting off local research already compiled but sitting on shelves somewhere.

Some elected officials suggested centralizing organizations to cut down on duplication. But mostly the message was: coordinate a plan that doesn't require more money -- even after the crisis is over.

"We all recognize that ... that elected officials in our cities and towns don't work in a vacuum," Roberts said. "We each have fewer resources. What we must figure out is how are we going to leverage what we each have and how are we going to find out the best practices that work?"

Murrey declared the group in fact-finding mode that could take months. He said today's larger group will break down into smaller conversations and share information.

"We recognize that it's critical for us to buy into an active engagement with these other elected bodies if we're going to accomplish what's best for the community," he said. " ... This is a long-term process, not a short-term negotiation.

"But we had to do something to get the conversation going. Now we've got to keep it going."

That's the hard part.

Levine foundation on a giving spree

The Leon Levine Foundation has been on a giving spree this summer.

The latest recipients, announced late last week, are the Charlotte Mecklenburg Senior Centers, Inc. (a $10,000 grant), the Salvation Army's Boys and Girls Clubs (a $15,000 grant) and HealthQuest of Union County ($10,000), the non-profit that provides pharmaceutical assistance to low-income residents in that county.

In recent months, the foundation established by Family Dollar Stores founder Leon Levine and his wife Sandra has made it a habit of rescuing non-profit organizations strapped for money and swamped with growing needs.

A sampling: In April, the foundation gave $50,000 to Charlotte's Hope Haven -- the well-known addiction recovery program for the homeless -- to help repair a leaking roof. In May, it donated $25,000 to the financially strapped Charlotte Symphony to cover its bills. In June, the foundation committed $1 million to help Teach for America put 225 college graduates in high-poverty Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools.

And last month, the Levine family decided to advance Central Piedmont Community College the first $300,000 of a $2 million gift that it was supposed to begin paying in 2010. The decision came after Levine and foundation officials read that CPCC has been hit hard by rising enrollments and cut budgets.

The first installment will provide for 150 more classes and serve 3,000 more students who would have been turned away. Lately, the school has drawn more students who can't afford four-year colleges and the laid-off in need of training for new careers.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Brave souls get muddy for Marines

More than 500 people participated in Saturday's Marine Mud Challenge at Belmont Abbey College. The race raised $20,000 for the families of injured Marines and sailors and the families of local Marines. (photo by Treasured Events of Charlotte)

Lemonade stand becomes the charity

Here's a twist to the Lemonade Brigade: Wendy Roberts and friends (see above photo) from St. Mark's Lutheran Church turned their stand last Thursday into the charity.

Instead of selling lemonade to raise money for a charity, they gave it away -- to Charlotte's homeless.

All summer, Roberts has been coordinating "Servant Sundays," an effort to show the church's children that many other people are living lives much different from their own. They've stuffed book bags with comfort items for foster children, they've assembled toiletry kits for the rescue mission.

And in July, they helped launch "The Wall" mission that feeds the homeless Sunday afternoons at a wall where many homeless people congregate uptown. Congregants donate $1 each Sunday to pay for the food. They cook it in the church kitchen and serve it at The Wall to whomever needs a hot meal.

"We thought everyone can give up a cup of coffee a week and give a dollar," said Eric Timm, the church member who started The Wall ministry. "We felt that if you look at homelessness, you can't solve the problem, it's too great. But you can scale it down and make a difference in someone's life."

Roberts had been reading about the Lemonade Brigade in The Cliff and wanted to incorporate the idea into her mission.

She decided that rounding up children on a Sunday afternoon for an hour to sell lemonade for a charity was too difficult, so she asked a couple of friends to help her make and serve lemonade at The Wall.

In no time, three generations of volunteers -- children to grandmothers -- stepped up to help.

They went last Thursday about 11:15 a.m. In just over an hour, they served 125 people nearly 10 gallons of lemonade, 14 dozen cookies, 50 Popsicles and about 25 Klondike bars.

"We are striving hard to expose our children to the reality of life's struggles and to instill in them a caring and compassionate spirit of servanthood," Roberts said, whose 6-year-old son, Jace, helped with the lemonade stand. "Many of our children are so sheltered they don't realize what other kids are going through. We're trying to open their eyes."

There's nothing complex about her idea. Anybody can do it. Roberts would be the first to tell you.

"You just have to take the first step and do it," she said. "Certainly some of the things we've done seem like a drop in the bucket. But remember, the simplest thing -- sharing a smile, a kind word -- can change someone's day. The little things can mean the world to someone else.

"Don't go out there with the attitude that you're going to fix the problem with a glass of lemonade. But, at least for one day, that glass may have made a difference in those people's lives."

Serving it apparently made a difference for some of the young volunteers. Back at the church that afternoon, a 14-year-old girl told Roberts the lemonade stand was "one of the best experiences of my life."

They're already thinking about setting up a soup and hot chocolate stand at The Wall next winter.