Thursday, October 29, 2009

Celebrating 100 years of commendable service

In the prehistoric year of 1909, 100 Charlotte business and religious leaders each pledged to chip in $25 a year and established Associated Charities to help what was then called "the floating needy."

They delivered food baskets by horse-and-buggy. They took people coal and wood to stay warm and cook by, and made sure they were adequately clothed.

Their work is a reminder of how Charlotteans have long reached out.

Over the next century, Associated Charities evolved its services depending on the needs -- for years it was an adoption agency and once home to Big Brothers Big Sisters -- and underwent four name changes to become United Family Services.

Now United Family Services is one of the city's longest-running nonprofits and it is on the brink of evolving again -- dramatically expanding its primary service.

The agency runs a 24-hour domestic violence hotline and provides counselors to work with people about to lose their homes. But it is chiefly known for its 29-bed shelter for women and children who are victims of domestic violence.

The facility is 30 years old, and in disrepair. The past year, it served 617 women and children, but had to turn away 2,000.

"There simply were't enough beds," said Libby McLaughlin, the nonprofit's development director.

So on Nov. 7, the agency is hosting a centennial celebration and kicking off a capital campaign for $10 million to build a new shelter with 80 beds.

The event at the uptown Westin hotel is called the "Aperture Gala." The campaign is being co-chaired by retired Springs Industries CEO Crandall Bowles, and Mecklenburg County Commission Chair Jennifer Roberts.

United Family Services will share land with the Charlotte Rescue Mission, and collaborate on services such as security and parking.

Eighty beds would allow clients to stay at the shelter longer. At present, 30 days is the limit.

"That's a band-aid that we're able to offer women," McLaughlin said. "We'd like to be able to keep them for three months to a year, to allow them access to safety and to become self-sufficient before they return to the community.

"It's a lot easier to get a new beginning if you have time on your side."

Want to go? The Nov. 7 "Aperture Gala" begins at 7 p.m. at the uptown Westin. There will be a photo exhibit by Charlotte photographer Lisa Holder, and photos and journals by shelter clients. Tickets are $200 a person; sponsorships are also available. To buy tickets or for more information, contact Elizabeth Connor at 704-367-2799. If you can't go, but would like to donate to the new battered women's shelter, click here, or send a check to United Family Services, 601 E. Fifth St., Suite 400, Charlotte NC 28202.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

McIntyre back on the campaign trail

Jane McIntyre feels like she's back on the campaign trail.

In many ways the former school board member is.

It's a different kind of campaign, one she believes is critically important if the least among us are to receive the help they need.

In August, McIntyre (pictured above speaking yet another crowd) took over the embattled United Way of Central Carolinas and immediately hit the trail to repair the agency's 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 last year's United Way campaign fell by almost a third and many agencies saw their funding cut by 40 percent.
So McIntyre is running, every day, her focus on the current campaign.

"There's a lot at risk here," she told The Cliff. "People are hurting. Agencies are trying hard to serve many more people than they've ever served with less dollars. United Way has to be an effective conduit to drive more dollars to these community agencies."

That's the message she'll take next Wednesday to a joint lunch meeting of the Charlotte chapters of the International Association of Business Communicators and the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

The topic: Sharing her operational and communication strategies for turning around a very troubled and very public organization.

Since McIntyre took United Way's reins, the only times she's said no to an invite is when she had to be some place else. So far, she's spoken to 70 groups about the efforts to overhaul the agency. She makes herself available to media. Often, she runs to three to five appearances or interviews a day.
"I read a survey that said, 'We need to hear directly from the person now in charge,'" she said. "That was very clear. Well, here she is."

Her message is consistent -- she uses no notes -- but tweaked to "keep it from becoming boring."
"I'm not bored with myself yet," she said. "But I worry that people will get bored with the message -- I don't want them to say 'I've have read that 10 times.' So I seem to always have something new to tell them.
"The demands of this campaign are very similar to a political campaign. You want to answer questions consistently. It's easy if you talk to people straight."

Her focus on the United Way campaign is singular. She's cancelled vacations, or cut out-of-town visits short to stay in the region to get the message out. "There's too much to be done here," she said.

Wednesday, the professional business communicators and funders will hear her message and the importance of transperancy and straight talk.

"The cuts to agencies were substantial, and I strongly believe that many agencies cannot sustain another round of cuts," McIntyre said. "... So it's truly a chance of a lifetime to change the business model of United Way and to have a positive impact on a great many people."
Want to go? The lunchtime program runs from 11:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. at the Academic Center at Johnson & Wales University, 801 W. Trade St. Cost: $20 for IABC and AFP members; $35 for nonmembers. RSVP by Monday at 5 p.m. by clicking here.

Shucking for the blind

Michelle Woodward, Penelope Powell, Bob Scheffel, Nasser Razmyer shucked oysters for teh Oyster Roast at Mez at the EpiCentre. The roast raised $500 for the Metrolina Association for the Blind (MAB) earlier this month. Attendees feasted on steamed and raw oysters on the half-shell, a shrimp boil, gumbo, and sandwiches.

Bobcats sport tux and sneakers at gala

Bobcats Sports & Entertainment president and chief operating officer Fred Whitfield, Presbyterian Hospital president Mark Billings and Carolina News14’s sports director Mike Solarte hosted more than 500 guests at Time Warner Cable Arena on Saturday for the third annual "My Hero Gala" black tie fundraiser to support the Bobcats Youth Foundation and the Presbyterian Hospital Community Care Cruiser. The gala featured Bobcats players, coaches and executives in tuxedos and basketball shoes, with music by the Urban Guerilla Orchestra and a live auction. Awards were given out to education advocate and school volunteer Carlenia Ivory, healthcare provider Dr. Herbert Clegg and Bobcat Raymond Felton.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Walk raises a bundle for breast cancer

If you were out last weekend, you probably saw them -- more than 1,100 people in a sea of hot pink walking, running, jogging through the streets of Charlotte to raise money for the accessible treatment and cure of breast cancer.

And boy, did they ever raise money: A stunning $2.3 million during the two-day event.

The Charlotte race was the last of nine races throughout the country for the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer series.
Each participant spent months raising $1,800 for the honor of walking or running a marathon or 1 1/2 marathon over two days. Corporate and individual donations drove the total to $2.3 million. The money goes to organizations supporting five areas of the breast cancer movement: Awareness and education; screening and diagnosis; access to treatment; support services and scientific research -- all with a focus on the medically underserved.

The Charlotte event drew people from four countries, 39 states and Washington, D.C. There were 114 breast cancer survivors and 138 men.

Lisa Middleton, a 3 1/2-year survivor, came from Houston, Tex.

At the closing ceremony at Frazier Park uptown, she told the participants: "We walked this weekend for those who were too sick to walk for themselves, for those who will one day be diagnosed and for those we lost ... Some things in the world are universal -- like love, the power of healing and the will to survive."

Mark Hurlbert, director of the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade, also presented grants totaling $750,000 for research at four Carolinas universities. They include:

UNC Chapel Hill: Awarded $300,000 for a research project that will help doctors understand who is at the highest risk for breast cancer recurrence.

Clemson University: Awarded $195,000 for research that seeks to develop new ways to improve reconstructive surgery following a lumpectomy. It involves a novel application of drugs to reduce tumor recurrence or metastases.

Duke University: Awarded $130,000 to support outreach to underserved and low-income women in Raleigh, Greensboro and Charlotte and to provide patient navigation services to women diagnosed with breast cancer.
Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston: Awarded $125,000 to support a patient navigation program that improves access to screening, diagnostics and treatment for underserved people in the Columbia area.

Beyond Charlotte, there were Avon walks/runs in Houston, Washington, D.C., Boston, Chicago, the Rocky Mountains, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York.

The nine races drew 20,000 participants and raised $52 million. In the scheme of things our total was a small chunk -- but not bad for little ole Charlotte.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Pooling forces to keep people afloat

The Biblical figure Noah is known for keeping his people afloat. That's what the creators of the Project Noah task force hope to do in Charlotte's Jewish community.

As the economy soured, the city's rabbis began hearing from congregants who'd lost jobs and who have gone through savings – and didn't know how they'd pay the next month's mortgage. Some needed home repairs that they couldn't afford, or counseling, or food.

Jewish organizations came to the rescue, but with varying results. So the organizations inside and outside of Shalom Park, the campus of Jewish organizations and synagogues off Providence Road, formed a task force to present a united response to needs created by the deepening recession.

"We wanted to build something together to have a greater force … and keep everyone afloat," said Stephanie Starr, executive director of Jewish Family Services, which is leading the effort. "It is so hard to get people to reach out for help. There is something ingrained in us, as Jews, that we have to take care of ourselves."

Project Noah is reaching out.

In a letter to Charlotte Jews, task force chair Karen Knoble asked Jews to practice "gemilut hasadim" (the giving of loving kindness like feeding the hungry) and extend a hand to someone "in need or feeling anxious."

"No one is immune," Knoble wrote. "In fact, many of those hit hardest are middle-class, white-collar employees who have traditionally supported others in need."

She's right. No one's immune. So the task force is rounding up carpenters, plumbers and electricians to volunteer a few hours to repair homes; accountants to help with finances; lawyers to explore legal matters and counselors to provide stress therapy.

The task force has joined arms with churches – such as St. Gabriel Catholic Church and Myers Park Baptist Church – to create workshops on managing money, or learning to use public networking like Facebook to enhance a business or job searches. Its BYOB (Be Your Own Boss) will discuss opening a new business. Its Back2Work program places the unemployed in unpaid internships to learn new skills and network and give a reason for getting out of bed. The No Fuss Meals program plans meals on a budget.

The project has a Web site with a job board for employers to post open positions and the unemployed to find jobs.

"We are not only offering spiritual guidance, we are offering hands-on, roll-up-your-sleeves, practical solutions," said Sara-Lynne Levine, the task force's volunteer communications manager. "It's a comprehensive effort to get people help."

The services are limited to people in the Jewish community. The programs with churches are open to everyone.

"We only have a limited number of volunteers, at this point, so we're trying to help our clients first," Starr said. "As that list of volunteers grows, then hopefully we can help more and more people throughout the community."

For more information?
Go to for a comprehensive list of programs, services and activities. Or call Project Noah at Jewish Family Services at 704-364-6594.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Helping students go the distance

David Dunn calls it a "perfect storm" in academia, a converging crisis that could prevent many students at UNC Charlotte from returning to school in the spring.

As UNCC's vice chancellor for university relations and community affairs, Dunn is the go-to guy when it comes to lobbying state legislators on the university's behalf. He also heads up the school's outreach.

In September, after fall classes had already begun, the legislature did a number on the UNC System's 16 campuses, significantly slashing state funding for need-based financial aid – taking effect in the spring semester.

That means $1.5 million less in need-based assistance for UNCC. At the same time, 40percent more students applied for financial aid because many families are cash-strapped in the recession. That's on top of about 15,000 UNCC students already getting some level of aid.

"Even with the increase, we were able to provide the level of need-based funding for the fall semester," Dunn said. "But come spring, we're going to need to find ways to replenish $1.5 million, or a lot of kids are either going to be leaving school, or borrowing will go up significantly, or they'll take second and third jobs – or fewer courses."

One way is Saturday's first 4.NinerK run/walk, organized specifically to raise money for need-based scholarships.

Dunn's community affairs department came up with the idea and reached out to 40,000 alumni, 3,000 faculty and staff members and 24,500 students. As of last Wednesday, more than 530 people had signed up to run.

Organizers set a goal of raising at least $25,000, every dime going to scholarships.

"There is virtually no way we're going to make up a huge deficit of $1.5 million," Dunn said. "But this is real money that will help a lot of kids stay in school."

The event sends a statement.

"It tells students that the administration understands this crisis and we want to be proactive to alleviate the financial problems around that," Dunn said. "We want to help."

Devlin Horton plans to partake. He's a senior at UNCC, and couldn't have made it this far without need-based assistance.

His needs were substantial when he left his native Greenville, N.C., to enroll at UNCC as a freshman four years ago. When he was 15, his father had suffered a heart attack and doctors told him that continuing to work would kill him. Devlin had to work and go to school to keep the family going.

He couldn't play baseball, and had to forgo his prom because he couldn't afford to rent a tux. Just before he started college, his parents filed for bankruptcy.

"I always took it for granted that I was going to go to college and that it would be paid for," Horton said. "I arrived in Charlotte not knowing how I was going to pay for school."

Initially, an aunt co-signed a student loan, and then he started applying for financial aid. "I wouldn't have made it through college if financial aid hadn't been available to me," he said.

Since his freshman year, he has worked a paid internship in the legal profession, and held a leadership position on student government's judicial board. Now he's in the midst of applying to law schools.

He's also president of his fraternity.

Horton's set for next semester and will graduate in May. But there are plenty of Devlin Hortons still on campus who need financial help. You can help 'em out Saturday at the 4.NinerK.

But, in full disclosure, the course is a whole 5K.

Want to go? You can still take part in UNC Charlotte's first annual 4.NinerK run/walk and help raise money for need-based financial aid scholarships. Register at, clicking on the race logo, or just show up Saturday and register at UNCC's newly opened student union. Check-in and on-site registration begins at 7:30 a.m. Registration fees: $26 for individuals and $49 for a family of four. The Web site has directions, a map of the course and times.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Keeping it real for mayoral forum

Inside Providence United Methodist Church, Alice Bennett lays out the mission of Thursday's "We Are the Candidate" mayoral forum.

The forum is an opportunity for councilmen John Lassiter (Republican) and Democrat Anthony Foxx to hear from real people who are dealing with joblessness, homelessness and hopelessness. The goal is to get the candidates to commit to an agenda for workforce development, home foreclosure prevention and critical home repair in neighborhoods.

The people the candidates will hear from completed various job training programs, but still can't find employment. Or they live in crumbling homes and deteriorating neighborhoods, and can't afford better living conditions. They are barely getting by in a city still reeling from the recession.

The challenge at a recent prep session for the forum, expected to draw 600 people, was finding individuals willing to share their stories. Bennett works with Helping Empower Local People, a grassroots group, which organized the forum with area churches. She wants Lassiter and Foxx to hear from people who are suffering and need more than campaign slogans to feel reassured. The need for authenticity from the candidates and the participants is why Bennett begged volunteers to help her find speakers.

Finding those voices has been tough. People don’t want to share their stories of how they've lost their job and are living with relatives or in a shelter, she said. They don't want to talk about how they can’t afford to make home repairs. People are prideful, but she hopes a courageous few will step up. No one can tell their story of pain like the person living it, she said.

Volunteers at the prep session know the pain all too well. They see it in the eyes of some church members and people in their communities. They hope the candidates will be moved by the stories to offer real solutions.

"It's really important for the candidates to be genuine, be real and talk on a personal level," said Katie Sloan of First United Presbyterian. "Real people need real answers."

Want to go?
What: "We are the Candidate" forum.
When: 7-8:30 p.m. today.10/22 .
Where: Providence United Methodist Church, 2810 Providence Road.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Corporate funders get up-close look of homeless

They were nine corporate funders, executives who help decide where their company's philanthropy goes, walking the same route hundreds of Charlotte's working poor and homeless take every day.

It was cold and wet last Thursday, a perfect day to learn about the homeless. The walk was part of a "homeless walking tour" that Maria Hamlin, executive director of Mecklenburg Ministries, leads for various groups several times a year.

This was the first time she'd led "corporate professionals," all members of CCAP (Charlotte Community Affairs Professionals).

All nine started their Thursday catching a bus at 6 a.m. for uptown's transportation center, then had to figure out a transfer to Crisis Assistance Ministry on Spratt Street, west of uptown, where each day hundreds of the working poor line up for help with rent and utilities.

They listened to the stories of homeless, handed out muffins to those in line at Crisis Assistance. Then they walked the three miles from Spratt Street to the St. Peter's Soup Kitchen at the Urban Ministry Center on College Street -- a walk hundreds of homeless make each day.

Along the way, they stopped at camps and under bridges where the homeless sleep. At the soup kitchen, they sat with homeless eating a bowl of soup and a cheese sandwich.

And they learned at least two important lessons: What it means to be poor and/or homeless in Charlotte, and how the donations from companies and thousands of Charlotte area residents are going to a noble cause of keeping people housed and fed.

"We all hear the numbers -- thousands of people in Charlotte are homeless," said Kelly Chopus, director of community relations at Goodrich Corp. and CCAP's chair. "But when you walk on the train tracks and you see those camps and you see how people are actually living -- probably through no choice of their own -- it's really upsetting that we in this community allow that to happen.

"We need to make different choices to make that go away."

Chopus, like the others, was wet after the walk without umbrellas. She held out her hand, cold to the touch: "I've just had to deal with this for five hours. These people deal with this every day, all day."

George Baldwin, managing director of legislative and community affairs at Piedmont Natural Gas, messed up his bus connection and arrived late to Crisis Assistance. As he approached, he was startled to see so many people in line for help.

He listened to the stories of the homeless, and thought: "These are people a step away from being very successful. But for making a bad choice, they would be."

"We saw our donatinos at work -- it was a reward morning seeing these people benefit from the contributions we all make," said Baldwin, next year's CCAP chair. "There was a lot of humanity on those faces. They were saying 'good morning' to me, when I should have been reaching out to them. People need to understand that these are just normal people.

"These are our neighbors. They deserve being treated with dignity."

Chopus and Baldwin said they'll go back to their companies and blog or email about their experience and what they learned.

"We will encourage our employees to get engaged," Chopus said. "We are bless, but we have the potential to do something about this in this community."

Monday, October 19, 2009

Cancer ministry holding survival benefit

The press release starts out:

"A newly married man needs someone to talk to about his fears and struggles as he cares for his wife who is battling cancer."

"A single mom with three children is torn between her desires to be by the bedside of her daughter, hospitalized with cancer, and also provide the emotional support and the basic needs for her other children. She cannot do both alone."

"A man with three children lost his job and the very next day his wife succumbed to her battle with cancer. His bills are immense and he faces the loss of his home at the very time he knows his children need the stability of their home."

They are true stories, and there are many more -- all served by Hope Cancer Ministries of Charlotte. The nonprofit provides spiritual and emotional support, as well as helping with the practical needs of cancer patients, caregivers and those who have lost someone they love to cancer.

Like most nonprofits these days, the ministry's roster of clients is growing far faster than its resources. So on Nov. 6, Hope ministry is hosting a concert and dessert benefit night featuring The Envoys, a gospel quartet.

"We are growing rapidly at a time when funds are dwindling," said Bob Little, the ministry's executive director. "We desperately need volunteers who will join our passion for serving cancer patients."

The ministry was started in 2001 by the late Frank Murray, a Charlotte Realtor. Murray was a cancer patient, and during treatments would sit and listen to the concerns of other patients. "He'd hear their fears, their trials and concerns," Little said. "He thought, 'here I sit with hope, since I have the resources.' He told his friends, 'we need to reach out to these folks.'"

Murray wrote up his blueprint for the ministry and gave it to friends at his church to implement. He didn't live to see his ministry come to life. He knew it was under way -- and he was grateful.

The ministry pairs clients with a primary partner, a prayer partner and card partner, Little said. It has assembled a team of volunteers who help with transportation, meals, house cleaning, minor house repairs and financial assistance. It also maintains a benevolence fund to help clients financially wrecked by hospital and medical costs and a food pantry to feed those who have given up eating to pay for other obligations.

HCM has four part-time care professionals who have trained volunteers and work to meet needs of clients.

As for the young groom, the ministry provides him with counseling and support groups.

It helps the single mother by sending volunteers to sit with her sick child and her other children -- while she gets a break.

And the recent widower? The ministry is helping pay his medical bills and house payments. Food is provided and when he's ready he'll join a support group.

The ministry, a nonprofit, relies on donations from individuals and churches. Little said the staff has written grants, but so far unsuccessfully. "We meet our obligations, but have little left over after that," Little said. "With the recession, our reserves have dried up."

Their work is noble and necessary. They need your help.

Want to go? The Nov. 6 concert/dessert benefit will be at Calvary Church of the Nazarene, 4000 N. Sharon Amity Rd. It starts at 7 p.m. If can't go, send a check to Hope Cancer Ministry, 4824 Sharon View Rd., Charlotte NC 28226, or go on the Web site here. If you'd like to volunteer, call 704-364-1440.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Skirt-wearing Ironman with a mohawk

Charlotte banker Kevin Collins knows about incentives.

Early next month, he’s competing in the Ironman Florida in Panama City to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. It’s a way to honor the son of a co-worker, 4-year-old leukemia patient Matt Gray.

His goal is to raise $10,000, through the Janus Charity Challenge, where triathletes choose their charity. To get people to donate, he promised he’d have his hair cut into a mohawk at the half-way point. At $7,500, he’d run two local 5K races and the marathon portion of the Ironman dressed in a sport skirt.

At $10,000, the mohawk would go purple.

“I needed to come up with a plan to entice people to donate to my chosen cause,” he told my colleague, Theoden Janes, last month. “Plus, it’s a tough economy; so you have to give folks a little something for their effort.”

Last week, Collins (pictured above) emailed The Cliff photos of him in a mohawk, and running a race in an cheetah-print sport skirt – which means he passed the $7,500 mark.

In the email, he said he’s close to the $10,000, and has the green dye ready. But the race is only a few weeks away and he needs help raising the rest.

On his Ironman Web site, Collins said he has several goals: To finish (“upright. I hate to crawl”), which means swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles and then running a marathon (26.2 miles) – a total of 140.6 miles on the same day.

He’d love to go the distance faster than those in his age group, qualifying him for the world championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. That’s remote, he said, “but there is always that chance.”

He also wants to beat his previous times, and his friends. But the main goal is raising the $10,000 for Matt.

Matt, he writes, was 3 when he was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia, a fast-growing cancer of the blood and bone marrow. The cancer progresses quickly, so Matt began Chemo treatments the day after diagnosis. Still his prognosis was poor, and he needed a bone marrow transplant. His younger brother was a perfect match, and the transplant was a success, Collins writes.

“He is still at risk for relapse and other complications,” he said. “He has a long road to recovery ahead of him, but his spirit is strong and he will win this fight.

“A big goal like that requires a big commitment, and I am willing to make that commitment.”
He’s taken care of expenses for the Ironman race, so every dime he raises will go to the LLS, Collins said.

He’d love to surpass his $10,000 goal to $14,060 – $100 for every mile he covers during the race.

“As you can see, I am committed and maybe I should be committed,” choosing to suffer on race day and risk humiliation with a bad haircut and wearing a skirt, he writes.

“What’s a little temporary discomfort that I’m going to experience compared to Matt’s battle with AML?” he said. “…There is no medal waiting for a blood cancer patient. Matt’s only choice is to wake up, face another day and hope to get well. That is not acceptable.”

Want to help?
You can make a donation on Kevin Collins’ Ironman Web site
here. Or make out a check to Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and send it to Collins at 7423 Claiborne Woods Rd., Charlotte NC 28216.

Walking in their shoes a good lesson

Roxie Sprinkle is 7 and recently triggered a family celebration when she said one simple word: "No."

At 6 months, doctors said she was profoundly hypotonic ("floppy infant syndrome") -- a disorder that that causes low muscle tone. At 7 months, she started experiencing seizures, often dozens a day, until a special diet limited those to ultimately two or three a month. Then at 5 years old, Roxie was diagnosed with mitochondrial disease that has caused her severe physical and mental disabilities.

Her parents, Phelps and Kate, placed Roxie (pictured above) in a preschool funded by Easter Seals/United Cerebral Palsy. Roxie has since graduated from that school, and is now in Metro School, a CMS school that serves about 200 students with significant cognitive disabilities.

Yet an Easter Seals UCP worker still comes to Roxie's house after school and on weekends to help the child achieve her goals of one day standing, walking, using her voice and her hands.

Phelps and Kate Sprinkle are so appreciative of the agency's help that they've co-chaired the "Walk With Me: StRoll in the Park!" fundraising event in Freedom Park for the past five years.

The next walk is Saturday. You're invited to take part in the 1 to 5Ker around the park's lake. Along the way, you'll meet people who have benefitted from Easter Seals UCP and might learn what it's like to live with disabilities like Roxie's.

"Easter Seals UCP believes that everybody in this world has a place and that no one should be ignored," Phelps Sprinkle said. "Everyone has the ability to contribute to society. It used to be that people who had disabilities were hidden away. Kids would grow up not knowing they had a sibling. It's not that way now.

"Easter Seals is a big player in that effort."

If not for Easter Seals UCP, Roxie probably wouldn't have made the strides she's shown to date. In her own way, she communicates -- she claps for "yes" and rips paper when she hears the shrill sound of a leaf blower or hair dryer.

Her family gets support, too. Her parents meet with parents who have children with disabilities. And because Phelps and Kate can't work with Roxie all the time, the Easter Seals UCP worker comforts them that their daughter is getting the attention she needs.

"We've met an amazing group of people through Easter Seals that we never would have known otherwise," Phelps said. "We swap notes and offer support to each other ... In general, our daughter is really a happy little girl. She's not able to verbalize her thoughts. But through her eyes and verbal sounds, I do think a lot more goes on up there than she's able to let us know.

"I'd hate to think where she'd be without the help from Easter Seals UCP."

Want to go? Registration for the "Walk With Me: StRoll in the Park!" event begins 9 a.m. Saturday, and the walk, stroll or roll begins at 10 a.m. You'll be able to make a donation and meet a walk ambassador.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Big companies not forgetting philanthropy

Folks worried that Banktown's weakening grip on its two largest banks may force a slide in philanthropic responsibility, might want to find something else to worry about -- at least for now.

Last month, Wachovia, now owned by Wells Fargo, used one of Wells' famed red stagecoaches to deliver a donation to Communities In Schools and Junior Achievement. Yes, the scene bordered on photo op, but it did drive home a statement that Wells Fargo intends to help keep Charlotte a strong city in the region.

Today, Champions for Education, the non-profit host that runs Charlotte's Quail Hollow Championship, announced that $1.6 million earned at its 2009 tournament is going to an assortment of Charlotte charities. The gifts include $800,000 for Teach For America in Charlotte, which places recent college graduates into the classrooms of high-poverty schools.

And this evening, Communities In Schools and another nonprofit, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership, are each receiving $200,000 in unrestricted grants over two years from Bank of America through its Neighborhood Excellence Initiative.

The initiative, helping to sustain the long-term viability of nonprofits, is distributing $20 million around the world this year. During its first five years, it doled out $90 million.

The program aligns "with our corporate social responsibility efforts," said Charles Bowman, North Carolina and Charlotte Market president. "We're still giving. Despite the turmoil … we're continuing to execute the things we believe are important to the community. Investing in nonprofits and community leadership is important to the health of the bank and the community."

In addition to the money, the program sends charity leaders to get leadership training.

Beyond the money, Bill Anderson, Communities In Schools executive director, felt the grants recognize what his organization has done to help students on a drop-out path to stay in school and graduate.

"We are honored that the committee for these grants looked upon us as being a worthy nonprofit," Anderson said.

The money will be used to expand the program into two elementary schools, and for branding to provide a better understanding of what CIS does.

"Regardless of where you live, or if you have children in the school system, it is in the best interest of everyone that all children graduate from high school," Anderson said. "In terms of being financially independent, the future is bleak without the minimum of a high school diploma."

The housing partnership works to provide affordable and well-maintained housing for low and moderate-income people. Its president, Pat Garrett, also sees the grants as recognition of the work the group is doing in neighborhooods.

"We're pretty pumped," she said. "We learned about it last Monday at our 20th birthday party. Like most charities, we're always looking for money."

Anderson and Garrett say the gift is another sign that the banks aren't abandoning Charlotte's nonprofits.

"The evidence is clearly there," Anderson said. "The banks understand the importance of long-term viability of the communities they serve and that public schools are essential to that strength."

Said Garrett: "The banks are still very committed to the city and to affordable and low-income housing. I don't know what the future is going to hold, but you can't sit around worrying about it. You've got to keep going."

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Connecting children to nature

A reminder: Richard Louv, the best-selling author who coined the term "nature-deficit disorder" will be at Freedom Park on Wednesday to talk about the importance of connecting children with nature.

While there, Louv will help launch a new nonprofit called the N.C. Children and Nature Coalition, an organization designed to get children outdoors. The group will act as a clearinghouse for nature ideas and opportunities for children, assist with research on the topic and advocate for child/nature policy.

The coaltion couldn't come at a better time. Concerns over childhood obesity continue to grow, as children are snared indoors by technology. Money's tight for many families -- and nature's a free ticket to enjoyment, exercise and stress reduction.

"There's no barrier to entry; all you need is a pair of tennis shoes to experience nature," said Josh Thomas of Charlotte, a coalition executive committee member and chair of the N.C. Sierra Club Central Piedmont Group's executive committee. "Everyone's got a pair of shoes, and it's not like you need a $300 backpack.

"Simpler is better these days. And we've got such great parks here in Mecklenburg County."

Louv has been at the forefront of the movement to expose kids to nature. His appearance is being sponsored by the Sierra Club's Building Bridges to the Outdoors program. Last week, my colleague, Observer environmental writer Bruce Henderson, interviewed Louv by email.

In part, here's what he said about the importance of that connection:

"Social and technological changes in the past three decades have accelerated a dramatic shift to indoor activities, even as research suggests that children and young people who regularly experience nature are healthier, happier and test better in school.

"Recent research also suggests that exposure to nature can improve all children's cognitive abilities and resistance to negative stresses and depression."

Louv, author of "Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder," chairs the national Children and Nature Network. The N.C. coalition, still recruiting organizations, will be a part of that network.

Louv will open Wednesday's event at noon at Freedom Park's band shell. He'll speak and take questions until 1 p.m., when the coalition will be officially unveiled. At 1:30 p.m., as part of the kick-off, the Carolina Raptor Center will unleash a bird recently nursed back to health. And from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m., anyone interested is invited to brain-storm ideas for the coalition.

"This is an important movement and we're thrilled to have Richard Louv kick it off in North Carolina," Thomas said. "We haven't been on the bleeding edge of the movement -- but we're also not the last one to show up.

"Taking the family outside not only creates a time to spend with the children, but it gives everyone the ability to exhale."

Monday, October 12, 2009

Scholarship fund still launching dreams

On the Web site of the Charlotte Housing Authority Scholarship Fund there is a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt. It reads: "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."

Her words are appropriate on several levels:

Primarily for the hundreds of students who grew up in public housing and, wanting to find a better life, have used the scholarship fund to start them on their journeys.

And for the fund's founder, John Crawford, who believed that any child -- no matter where he or she grew up -- ought to have the chance to go to college. In 1983, Crawford, at the time head of the housing authority's youth services, began his fund that has doled out more than $2.5 million to send 450 students to college.

Last week, the fund held its annual breakfast -- its largest fundraiser of the year.

As usual, more than 325 people who care as much for Crawford as for the dreams his fund launch, filled a banquet room at the uptown Westin Hotel. They rented 45 tables and left behind $64,500 in donations, with 94 percent going to the fund.

At the breakfast, longtime board Chairman John Richards also announced that The Leon Levine Foundation had donated $500,000 to the scholarship fund over the five years. That money will be earmarked for "Levine Scholars" who have an interest in public service.

There were speeches from CHASF graduates, including Jerry Bowman, an emergency room physician. The keynote came from Richard "Stick" Williams (pictured above with Richards on the left and Crawford on the right), who grew up in public housing and is now president of the Duke Energy Foundation.

All in all, a good day for Crawford and his fund.

Yet Crawford in recent years has had the audacity to dream for more: He's wanted to build a $5 million endowment that annually would send 100 students to college.

Yes it was a good day for the fund last week, but the endowment is still shy about $1 million, largely because it has lost value in the recession.

"These students have a dream to graduate from public housing to become professionals in their community," Richards told the breakfast crowd. "The dream is more about seeing where they can go, than where they are now. We have the easier part of the equation, but nonetheless an important obligation to help fuel that dream with scholarships and support."

Richards is optimistic the endowment will be reached in two to three years.

"We're close, and we'll get there," he said. "We feel extremely fortunate in the midst of an economic downturn. We're enjoying a very good year thanks to the generosity of the many supporters of the scholarship fund."

Want to help? Send donations to the Charlotte Housing Authority Scholarship Fund, c/o Foundation for the Carolinas, 217 S. Tryon St., Charlotte, NC 28202. For more information, to donate, or to apply for a scholarship click here.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Charities need marketing help

In the last year, we've seen Charlotte's volunteer spirit manifest in a variety of ways from large cash donations to runners logging miles for charity to truckloads of food delivered to the needy.

This week, we spotlight the work of Luquire George Andrews, the marketing firm.
Next week, LGA will participate in Goodstock, a 25-hour marketing marathon at the firm. Staff members will provide free creative, public relations and related services to nine selected charities.

This year's winners include the Carolina Raptor Center, Charlotte Community Health Clinic, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Council on Aging, the International House, Jacob's Ladder and Charlotte Speech and Hearing Center.

Knupp & Watson, a firm in Madison, Wis., created the original Goodstock five years ago to support nonprofit groups in its area. LGA and Knupp & Watson hope Goodstock will become an annual event here and that other Charlotte area marketing companies will participate.

I hope so, too.

When we think of helping nonprofits, we often think about volunteering hours to deliver services to those in need or donating money to pay for items that directly help people. Charities need those things and more. Many charities need help with marketing so they can better inform the public about what they do. Some charities haven't had their brochures updated in several years. Others need help creating or updating their Web sites.

For example, Charlotte Emergency Housing, which helps homeless families, is a member of the Homeless Services Network. It is a network of 39 agencies that serve homeless individuals in different ways. The network has existed for several years, but doesn't have a media kit or Web site that details the services each agency provides.

Something like this would be invaluable to people in need, volunteers and the media. But creating a Web site costs money, and that's something charities mostly spend on direct client services.

I'm excited they plan to make Goodstock an annual event, but let's not wait until next year to help other area nonprofits spread their message.

Many charities need marketing help now

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Tour homes, help charities

Today marks the start of one of two home tours to benefit local charities.
The Good Samaritan House Charity Home Tour for the Clover Area Assistance Center starts today and ends Oct. 25. Hours are 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays. The home is closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

The Lake Wylie house is in the Catawba Crest subdivision, 5904 Morning Star Road off Lake Wylie Road. Proceeds from tour ticket sales, and the sale of the furniture and art inside the house, will go to the Clover Area Assistance Center. Organizers hope to raise $50,000.

Tickets are $10 at the door and can be purchased at 15 Bi-Lo stores in York, Gaston and Mecklenburg counties where Good Samaritan House posters are displayed. Details:

In the Charlotte area, the Home Builders Association of Charlotte is hosting its first Luxury Lifestyle Home Tour, which will showcase nine designer furnished homes and townhomes. Homes range cost $1 million and above.

Custom builders showcased are: Goodwin Classic Homes, Harrington and Associates, The Dowd Company, MacNeil Homes, New Tradition Homes, Simonini Builders and Andrew Roby.
The tour will be Oct. 24-25, Oct. 31 to Nov. 1 and Nov. 7-8. Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturdays and 1-6 p.m. Sundays. Discount tickets available at area Harris Teeter stores. Tickets are $10 and free for children ages 12 and younger. Tickets will not be sold in the homes. Online tickets are $15.

The opening weekend gala "Puttin' on the Glitz" will be Oct. 24 at the Wachovia Atrium. The event includes music by Hipshack and food. There will be a live and silent auction. Tickets are $80 and $100.

A portion of the proceeds from the auction as well as home tour ticket sales will benefit The Levine Children's Hospital.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Where are the new faces to help charities?

Nearly 75 people attended the WFAE Public Conversation Series – Charlotte Mission Possible forum on Monday.

Clutching umbrellas and raincoats, participants filled the front section of Spirit Square's McGlohon Theater. They listened as panelists talked about the challenges facing the Charlotte community. We heard from heads of agencies as well as community volunteers. Panelists talked about the incredible need in Charlotte, from housing to food, and they debated whether there was duplication of services.

The turnout was commendable, especially for a rainy Monday night, but it was only people from local charities and non-profits. There were no new faces. I saw everyone from executive directors to volunteers. Many of the Charlotte Observer big dogs and other Mission Possible media partners attended as well.

It's encouraging to see the same people working to help Charlotte's most vulnerable also spending the evening talking about how to better serve the community. Their dedication is an inspiration to all of us.

But I'm tired of hearing from and seeing the same folks, often saying the same thing.

One of the goals of Mission Possible was to engage everyday people to help charities and non-profits survive this double whammy – a bad economy and more people in need.
This conversation is about food pantries and homelessness, but it's also bigger than these types of problems. The conversation must ensure that the community's desire to help doesn’t end when the media spotlight fades. To do that we need new voices and ideas.

(Photo by Observer photographer David T. Foster)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Bella ate the candy

The math problem is solved!

In this morning's Cliff, I wrote about a math problem that stumped participants of a trivia contest last week. Reader Mark Steinman explained how organizers of Are You Smarter Than A Middle Schooler? got their answer.

"After assessing the problem for awhile, here’s MY explanation on why ‘48’ is the right answer.

If Bella gave 1/6 of her 48 candies to Jacob, that would mean 8 were provided leaving her with 40.

Then if Bella gave ¼ of the remaining 40 to Alice, that would mean 10 were provided leaving her with 30.

Then if Bella gave ½ of the remaining 30 to Edward, that would mean 15 were provided leaving her with 15.

And then I suspect, given it was candy, Bella ate one. That would leave 14!

48 is the ‘right’ answer!"

What do you think?

High schoolers beat Observer - sort of

I sit next to Observer county government reporter April Bethea. She's a quiet soul, but on Thursday she was quieter than usual. After my harassing prodding, April confessed: she was nervous.

She was one of more than a dozen Observer employees participating in Are You Smarter Than A Middle Schooler?. It was a fundraiser for Partners in Out-of-School Time (POST) at CenterStage in NoDa on Thursday. The event raised $15,000 for the after-school program serving students at Coulwood, Albemarle Road, Quail Hollow and James Martin middle schools.

Before the contest, April worried she'd embarrass herself in front of the big dogs – publisher Ann Caulkins, editor Rick Thames and managing editor Cheryl Carpenter. Plus, April wanted the Observer team to win. How would we look losing to teams comprised of high school students? Well, they were really smart high school students.

But still. We have our Big O pride.

I'm happy to report April didn't embarrass herself. Unfortunately, the two official Observer teams didn't win. Editorial page associate editor Mary Newsom, however, was on The Breakfast of Champions. That team, which included high schoolers, shared first place with the Lee Institute’s The Leeders.

During three rounds, teams answered questions on math, science, social studies and language from across the middle school curriculum. Among them:

Jumbo shrimp is an example of what grammatical term?
Answer: Oxymoron

Where in North Carolina did Babe Ruth hit his first home run?
Answer: Fayetteville

Everyone played nicely, but things got rowdy over a math question.

Bella gave 1/6 of her candy to Jacob, 1/4 of her candy to Alice and 1/2 of her candy to Edward. If she had 14 pieces of candy left how many did she have at the beginning?

A lot of people answered 168. Organizers said 48.

Chaos ensued, chicken wings were thrown and contestants stormed out angrily. (Not really.) Observer editorial page editor Taylor Batten, who knows politics and math, explained the 168.

1/2 + 1/4 + 1/6 = 11/12
She had 1/12 left.
So 14 pieces was 1/12 of what she had originally.
14 x 12 = 168.

Got it? Me either, which is why I wasn't on the team, but you can be. The event exceeded POST's goal by $5,000. POST President Claire Tate said the organization plans to make the trivia contest an annual event.
So, start studying.
Get involved

To learn more about POST, including volunteer opportunities: 704-376-1845 or

Friday, October 2, 2009

DeAngelo Williams goes pink

The annual Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure often draws Charlotte’s who’s who. This year, Carolina Panther DeAngelo Williams created a team in honor of his mother, Sandra Hill, a breast cancer survivor.

"My mom is... my mom... she’s been through a lot," Williams told WBTV. "She’s definitely a rock in my life. Well, actually a boulder in my life."

Williams’ goal was to raise $25,000. As of Friday, his team exceeded the goal my nearly $1,000. He named the team the Williams Warriors because he told WBTV his mom has "been through so much and has dealt with so much and to be delivered from this is something special. She’s a warrior. Hence the Williams Warriors."

The team had several hundred people registered and the first 500 team members to register received a free team jersey emblazoned with Williams Warrior. The race isn't Williams only contribution to the fight against breast cancer. He also has the DeAngelo Williams Foundation, which emphasizes preventative care and research.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Is consolidation the solution for charities?

Observer reporter Eric Frazier appeared on Mike Collins this morning to talk about consolidating non-profits. The question is does consolidation really save money? And are the communities served gipped when agencies merge?

From WFAE's: These days, there's a lot of talk about whether non-profits should consolidate all or at least a portion of their operations. As part of a media collaboration called Charlotte Mission Possible, we asked for public input on how to improve charitable non-profits. Consolidation emerged as a strong theme.

Both WFAE and the Charlotte Observer have taken a closer look at this issue with stories in the past week. In this segment, Morning Edition host Scott Graf talks to WFAE's Julie Rose and Eric Frazier of the Charlotte Observer about what they learned.

Read the transcript.

Oktoberfest raises $160,000 for charities

Charlotte Oktoberfest fans may know the beer festival is one of the best events in the city with its extensive sampling selection, good music and fun crowd. But, fans may not know that in its 10-year history the festival has raised $160,000 for local charities.

"Our goal has always been to support local charities," said Oktoberfest president Rick Benfield.

Benfield said the organizers have done such a good job of promoting the beer portion of the festival that many people don't realize it has a charitable component.

Last year's festival was at Memorial Stadium, but this year's festival will be at Metrolina Expo on Oct. 10. At least 5,000 people attended last year, and organizers are expecting the same turnout this month. Unlike previous years when it's been at the Expo, the festival will be completely outdoors, Benfield said. The festival features samplings of more than 300 craft brews from dozens of brewers. There will be live music as well.

This year's donations will go to Victory Junction, a year-round camping environment for children ages six to 16. Money will help children from Mecklenburg County attend the free camp, which is in Randleman. The camp has a sports center, fishing, arts and theater, a water park, water sports and more.

Oktoberfest will also donate money to the National Kidney Foundation. Benfield said the National Kidney Foundation experienced a decrease in funding for local camps. The local chapter will also supply volunteers for the festival.

Charlotte Oktoberfest Oct. 10, 2 p.m. – 7 p.m. Metrolina Expo, 7100 Statesville Road. Tickets are $35. As of this week, only 400 tickets remained.

Drink responsibly; the festival has roundtrip shuttle service from the expo to uptown.