Thursday, November 19, 2009

Another deer hunt, another opportunity to help

We told you earlier this month about a Charlotte woman, Rachel Humphries, who helped bring Charlotte's Montagnard refugee community a taste of home by providing them deer killed by hunters at a Mecklenburg County sponsored deer hunt. Humphries supplied five deer from the hunt to Montagnards, who were persecuted in Vietnam before being placed in the U.S. by the United Nations.

The county is holding another hunt at three Mecklenburg parks on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 to help thin a troublesome deer overpopulation. For more information on the hunt, contact Mecklenburg's Ronny Roberts at 704-583-1176. To help Humphries and the Montagnards, call her at 704-458-3245 or visit

- Peter St. Onge

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Auto show opening with generous pledge

In a city so dependant on the automobile, here's a chance to look at a few hundred new cars and do some good.

The people behind next week's 17th annual Charlotte International Auto Show are holding its first ever Charity Preview Night on Wednesday, on the eve of the show's opening day at the Charlotte Convention Center.

Buy a $75 ticket ($30 is tax deductible) and you'll get to see all the show's 2010 models -- 400 of them -- and hear about a significant financial contribution Charlotte area auto dealers are making to the Charlotte Rescue Mission.

The first 500 people to buy tickets will get a tour of the nearby NASCAR Hall of Fame, not scheduled to open until May. The event also includes music from The Embers, a variety of heavy hors d'oeuvres and all the new cars you care to eyeball.

But the night's main event: A $100,000 commitment by the show's producer, the Greater Charlotte Automobile Dealers Association, to the rescue mission's Dove's Nest program that will go to building its planned shelter for homeless women struggling with substance abuse in west Charlotte.

On top of that pledge, proceeds from tickets sales -- above expenses for the preview party -- and a live and silent auction will go to the rescue mission.

The 35,000-square-foot women's shelter planned at West Boulevard and Old Steele Creek Road will allow Dove's Nest to expand from 12 beds at its current Dilworth location to 90 beds.

Construction could begin in 2010, with move-ins possible in 2011.

"The dealers association supports many charities, but this is a favorite of ours," said Dick Lewis, director of the auto show. "We know what great work the Charlotte Rescue Mission does and they don't take any government or United Way money."

Many auto shows across the country include a charitable event. This is the first for Charlotte, designed to cut the ribbon on the show -- and the 2010 model year. Winston Kelly, executive director of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, will deliver opening remarks.

"The auto industry needs support and some excitement again," Lewis said. "The auto show felt this was the best way to do it -- have an energetic preview night benefiting a charity."

The auto show will take up 240,000 square feet of the convention center, nearly five football fields. The 400 vehicles will come from 30 manufacturers, domestic and foreign.

There will also be an exhibit of classic Mustangs and Corvettes, and the Hornets Nest chapter of the Antique Auto Club of America is bringing in two dozen vintage cars including: A 1928 Auburn, 1928 LaSalle, a 1951 Hudson convertible and 1966 Shelby Mustang.

There will also be a "green room," with 25 new hybrids and low carbon-emission vehicles.

Lewis said the show hopes to sell 1,000 tickets to the preview event, though sales have been slow.

"We understand money is tight these days," Lewis said. "But this is going to be a fun evening to open what we believe will be our most exciting auto show. And it's for a very good cause."

Want to go? Wednesday's inaugural preview night starts at 6:30 p.m. at the Charlotte Convention Center, 501 S. College St., and ends at 9 p.m. Tickets are available at, or call 704-364-1078.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A scholarship to honor an only child

If all had gone as planned, Alex Ervin would be awaiting a decision on his application to Appalachian State University and preparing to graduate from Myer Park High School in June.

But late on June 10, 2007, Alex was a front-seat passenger in a car with three friends that police estimated was traveling 92 mph on Colony Road, a stretch near SouthPark where the speed limit is 35 mph. The driver hit a curb, and the car lost control and flew into a tree.

Alex was two months shy of his 16th birthday when he died.

He'd talked longingly of enrolling at Appalachian State University in Boone. He found peace there, said his mother, Tricia Hodge of Charlotte.

"There wasn't the hustle-bustle up there; it was calm," she said. "He and I used to go up there as often as we could."

So now Hodge is trying to raise $40,000 for the "Alex Ervin Memorial Scholarship" to send a student from his Myers Park class of 2010 to Boone for four years. It's a way to honor her son and keep his memory alive. It also dulls the pain of her loss.

The scholarship would pay tuition and lodging for four years. She'd like to turn the scholarship fund into an endowment, so more students could go in her son's name.

"It gives me great comfort to talk about Alex and to do things for him or in his honor," Hodge said. "It's about the only thing that keeps me going. And it's a win-win situation. It's good for my heart, but it also helps another child."

After their son was killed, she and Alex's father, Paul Ervin, started a campaign to get teenagers to slow down. They took remnants of the car to high schools to show students what speed can do. They talked to students and printed up bumper stickers with the urgent message: "Slow Down for Alex."

They implore students to wear seatbelts. On that terrible night, all four teenagers were wearing belts. Alex was the only one killed. Belts, his parents say, saved the other three.

By his sophomore year at Myers Park, Alex had grown to 6 feet 2, an outgoing, fun-loving teenager. His father said he "lived life out loud." Yet his parents were particularly proud that he'd worked hard to get his grades up.

He loved the outdoors, especially the mountains -- thus the draw of Boone and App State.

Hodge has sent fliers about the scholarship to 1,500 corporations and individuals. Donations are slow in coming. The deadline to donate: Jan. 10.

She wants the scholarship to go to one of Alex's classmates who otherwise couldn't afford to go. She'll have no say in the matter. The scholarship will be administered by the ASU admissions office, with consultation from Myers Park guidance counselors, she said.

"My main mission and focus is to do it this year, Alex's graduating year," she said. "If I had the money, I'd just pay for the whole thing. I don't. But just doing this does me a world of good.

"It keeps me connected to Alex."

Want to help? Send donations to: Appalachian State University Foundation, Inc.
ASU BOX 32064, attn: Alex Ervin Memorial Scholarship, Boone, NC 28608. Any questions, call Laura Crandall at the ASU foundation at 828-262-2341, or e-mail her at

Monday, November 9, 2009

On opera, bull riding and Coyote Joe's

James Meena calls it a collision of two different worlds -- opera and show tunes performed at Coyote Joe's, the cavernous country-western music, bull-riding nightclub on Wilkinson Boulevard.

The Cliff agrees.

Meena is general director and principal conductor of Opera Carolina. Thursday, the company's fundraising arm, Opera Guild of Charlotte, is throwing a fundraiser at Coyote Joe's. There'll be a little opera, some Broadway tunes, a few pop numbers, mixed in with line dancing to Coyote Joe's country-western band.

They are calling the event: "Opera Cabaret: From Bizet to Broadway, With a Little Bit of Country."

Chances are you'll see opera fans used to wearing tuxedos and gowns to events, in denim and cowboy hats, doing a little Slappin' Leather to Travis Tritt's "T-R-O-U-B-L-E."

"In my wildest imagination I could not have anticipated this eclectic mix of music, at a very special place like Coyote Joe's," Meena said. "It's going to be a hoot and holler."

The fundraiser's proceeds will go to Opera Carolina's education programs. The company goes into schools and community centers in the Carolinas and northern Georgia to perform and teach students about opera. It also provides yearly scholarships for five to six emerging singers for private lessons, continuing education and career development.

The company's operating funds, like those of most nonprofits, have taken a hit in the recession. So the fundraiser is important for Opera Carolina's financial health. The event will serve as the kick-off to National Opera Week that will celebrate opera companies across America starting Friday.

Never has Opera Carolina, founded in 1948 as Charlotte Music Club, had a fundraiser like Thursday's.

The three-segment event will open with a few selections of classic opera and light opera, Broadway and pop songs all performed by singers of Opera Carolina. The second segment will be line dancing and country-western music -- followed another segment of opera and Broadway tunes.

If enough money is raised, Meena has promised to ride the mechanical bull.

The event's chair, Gigi Lefler, admits it's an odd mix.

But maybe not: "We all have the same stories, just different kinds of music," Lefler said. "We wanted to use this concept to think outside the box and show people that opera is not as intimidating as a great many think.

"Everybody sings opera, even the garbage collectors in Italy."

She acknowledged that the opera crowd, too, may learn a little something at Coyote Joe's. Most opera events are pricey. Lefler and the guild committee wanted an affordable event to spread the mission of the guild and the appeal of opera.

"This is the kind of thing we wanted to do to see if we could appeal to a wider audience," Lefler said. "... No matter what you listen to -- 50s hits, opera or country-western -- it's all the same stories.

"Hopefully people will see opera in a different light. The more we listen, the more we understand each other and why we do the things we do, the better off human relationships become and the more tolerant we become."

Want to go? The "Opera Cabaret" begins at 8 p.m. at Coyote Joe's, 4621 Wilkinson Blvd. Tickets are $30 a person, or $240 for a table of eight ($300 for VIP tables). There will be a cash bar and wine sold by the bottle. To buy tickets go to, or call 704-332-7177, ext. 210.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

On warm winter coats and 400 turkeys

A couple of Cliff reach outs:

Crisis Assistance Ministry needs you to dig into your closet and pull out that "gently worn" coat or two -- or even sweaters and blankets on the bottom of the stack -- that you haven't used in years and donate them.

Like everything else, demand is up, but donations of warm clothes and blankets are down at the ministry's Free Store, which provides free clothing and household items to the needy.

The store only stocks donated clothes.

"It's not a cry that the house if falling in," said Dave Miller, operations director. "We just want to get ahead of the curve. I just noticed that in the month of October, we gave out more clothing (68,000 pieces) than we did in October last year (60,000).

"And because of the economy, people are understandably holding back a little. We just want people to know that we're still here and ask them to dig in the closet."

Most years, the Free Store runs short on men's winter coats and sweaters.

"Guys aren't good at cleaning out closets," Miller said. "We are always needing more men's clothes than we get.

"This is the time when donations get heavier. We're just not seeing that now."

Bring donations to the ministry's donation drop-off at 500-A Spratt St. west of uptown, Monday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For decades, the Bethlehem Center of Charlotte has provided a turkey and food to 400 families and 50 seniors at Thanksgiving.

A large church in recent years picked up the tab for the 400 families. This year, because the recession is forcing it to cut back, the church decided it couldn't pay for those meals this year.

Another church has stepped up to provide the nonperishables. But the center, which for nearly 70 years has provided educational opportunites for low-income children, needs to buy 400 10-to-14-pound turkeys.

Bi-Lo has reduced the prices of turkeys to the agency. But the center needs your financial help to pay for them.

"We don't have a place to store turkeys; we have to ship them in all at once," said Amy Hutchison, the center's development specialist. "That's why we're asking for money instead of turkeys."

The turkeys will be ordered on Nov. 23 -- so send your donation before then.

Send money donations -- remember no turkeys -- to Bethlehem Center, Attn: Amy Hutchison, 2705 Baltimore Ave., Charlotte NC 28203. Note "Thanksgiving 2009" on checks. Or you can make donations on the center's Web site at

Sleeping on the street for free tutoring

Julius Bishop grew up in a low-income family and understands how education can open a world of possibility.

That is why on Saturday, he is setting up a tent at the outdoor atrium at uptown's EpiCentre, where he will sleep at least through November to raise money for free tutoring for all Charlotte-Mecklenburg students.

Bishop works for TADA (Talents Are Discovered Awareness), an initiative of a 7-year-old registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit called JETTI (Jobs Exposure Talent and Training Institute) created to help students tap into natural talents and find solutions to problems in education . TADA will work with children K-12 by pairing them with "talent discovery coaches" to unlock their undiscovered potential.

While Bishop is living on the street, he and JETTI's founder, Christopher Harper, will call on companies and businesses to commit money to the tutoring effort. Their goal is to get 3,000 companies, churches, civic clubs or teams to sponsor 10 to 15 children a year for a tutoring program.

The tutoring's free, but the tutors are paid. Many will be current and former teachers; all have to be trained on techniques of unlocking talents and certified by TADA. Harper wants to raise at least $3 million to make TADA self-sustainable.

Sound a touch bold in this recession?

Not to Bishop and Harper.

"I am trying to bring people together to support free tutoring," Bishop said. "A lot of kids can't afford the $35 an hour for a tutor. This would get them the help they need. I am sleeping on the streets now, so none of them have to sleep on the streets in the future."

Harper, a Charlotte native and long-time corporate trainer, said CMS estimates there are between 15,000 and 30,000 students who need tutoring to succeed in school.

"We believe that every child wants to win in school and we work from there," he said. "If that premise is true, then the only thing holding them back from winning is finding their hidden talents.

"On their own, they don't know how."

Bishop's sleeping arrangements are designed to bring awareness to TADA, as well as the need for tutoring. During the day, Bishop will pass out flowers and ask for donations for TADA. He and Harper will call on companies.

"We want to be a sustainable program," Harper said. "We're not just going to be a sound bite."

If you want more information, or if you'd like to donate to the free tutoring project, go look up Bishop at the EpiCentre atrium, or call Harper at JETTI 704-540-3029. You can donate and find more information at

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Cowboy Christmas to help rescued horses

Ziggy the Quarter Horse was a sorrowful sight when Tracy Kloc first saw him in June.

He was sunburned with severe skin lacerations and an eye that had suffered some sort of trauma and should have been surgically removed. A healthy Quarter Horse weighs 1,100 pounds. Ziggy was down to 600 -- "a walking bag of bones."

Kloc is an investigator for horse abuse cases and, as a member of the U.S. Equine Rescue League, keeps abused and neglected horses on her farm near Marshville until they are adopted.

She kept Ziggy and tried to nurse him back to health. "He was by far the worst case we've ever seen locally," Kloc said. "He was extremely thin and had so many medical problems. He was with us for two weeks, but we weren't able to save him despite our hardest efforts."

Ziggy's owner was charged with animal abuse, cruelty and neglect. His case is pending.

The league's local chapter has seen its share of abused and abandoned horses. They place the animals in foster homes in Union, Cabarrus and York, S.C., counties, get them rehabilitated and try to find them a permanent home.

On Nov. 15, the league is hosting "Cowboy Christmas" at Southern Breezes Ranch outside Monroe to raise badly needed operating funds -- and its exposure.

The ranch's owner, Richard Medlin, has built a mini Old West town with a bunk house (which he loans out to scout troops), a general store, a petting zoo and a gem-mining set-up and other western-like buildings.

He is donating the space for the event.

"Our donations are down (by 50 percent) like everyone else," said league volunteer Deb Carl, in charge of publicity for the event. "All the donations we make at Cowboy Christmas will go directly to the horses."

The league's local chapter covers 11 counties. The cases they see are often tragic -- some not so, rescuing horses from people who have no business owning them.

They rescued a mule and horse in Union County the past month. The mule was in decent shape, but kept breaking free and roaming a neighborhood.

The horse was owned by a Union County man who thought he could keep him in his back yard. The horse kept getting out, and after sheriff's deputies made four trips out to corral the horse, they started seizure proceedings.

Before the case went to court, the man surrendered the horse to the league.

"It makes you sick when you see these horses," Carl said. "It's unbelieveable that anyone could treat any creature like these horses are treated. People don't have to have horses."

Want to go? The Nov. 15 Cowboy Christmas event goes from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Wild West Town at Southern Breezes Ranch near Monroe, 4126 Medlin Rd. There will be horse-drawn rides, opportunities to meet rescued horses, a petting zoo and shopping for cowboys and cowgirls. Donations are appreciated. If you're interested in participating call Deb Carl at 704-531-4877, or email at To make a donation go to the league's website at, or send a check to "US Equine Rescue League," P.O. Box 157, Wingate, NC 28174.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Catching problem speaking, hearing early

Katie Sullivan's parents thought those loud noises coming from her mouth a year ago were just plain, annoying shrieks.

They started about the time Katie turned 2 (pictured above) and grew progressively worse.

Turns out she was talking, but couldn't pronounce her consonants – her Bs, Ps and Ts.

"If she was frustrated or wanted something, she just shrieked," said July Sullivan, Katie's mother. "We thought it was just the age and let it slide."

Until Christmas last year, when they took her to the Charlotte Speech & Hearing Center for a screening.

Katie's therapist discovered the girl wasn't moving her mouth when she tried to talk.

Now, after months of work to get Katie to form words with her lips, those shrieks have turned to normal conversation, and the Sullivan house is dramatically more peaceful.

Charlotte Speech & Hearing sees thousands of cases like Katie's – discovering impairments in people of all ages.

Saturday, the center is holding its first Fall Fun Fest as a draw to get people young and old screened for hearing and speech problems.

For children, there will be free speech, occupational therapy and physical therapy screenings.

For people of all ages, there'll be free hearing screenings. The center will also be handing out hearing aid discount coupons to seniors.

It's all a part of the center's effort to seek out people who need help – instead of waiting for clients to come to them.

"It is so important to find any speech-language or hearing disorders early in children before they start school," said Shannon Tucker, the center's development director. "We can work with them so they are on the right track when they start kindergarten.

"There's a big myth that the schools take care of everything. They don't."

The center is the only nonprofit in the Charlotte region that provides speech-language and hearing services to people of all ages, regardless of income. Last year, it helped more than 7,000 low-income people, including providing free hearing aids for seniors and free speech screenings for preschoolers in Charlotte's high-poverty neighborhoods.

Studies show that up to 12 percent of 5- and 6-year-old children have some kind of language disorder that hampers them in school. And 1 in 10 Americans of all ages has some degree of hearing loss, 1 in 3 for those over 65.

The center gets 34 percent of its funding from United Way, which was cut by a third. Its hearing services bank took a 45 percent cut, forcing the center to cut by half the number of hearing aids it normally gives out to low-income children, Tucker said.

The center has a $200,000 hole in its fundraising budget, she said.

Katie Sullivan's mother says the center has made an enormous difference in her daughter's ability to communicate and her family's peace.

She encouraged parents to bring their children to Saturday's Fall Fun Fest for the free screenings.

"If we had waited to address Katie's problem when she was 5 or 6, it would have been difficult," Sullivan said. "She'd have been way behind. If a parent suspects there's a problem with a child, there's a problem. Our hunches are not often wrong."

Want to go? The Charlotte Speech & Hearing Center's Fall Fun Fest is noon to 4 p.m. Saturday at Park Road Park, 6215 Park Road. In addition to the free screenings, there will be games, clowns, a bouncy castle, pumpkin roll, face painting and snacks and beverages. The center will gladly take donations at the festival. If you want to donate online or want more information about the festival, click here.

Monday, November 2, 2009

TKEs buzzing scalps for a cure

If you rode by UNC Charlotte's new student union today, you might have seen the brothers of Tau Kappa Epsilon out front -- shaving their heads.

Don't get the wrong idea. This was no college prank. Since Oct. 1, the brothers have been raising money for pediatric cancer research at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn, the national fraternity's primary philanthropy. Their goal is to raise $5,000 by Dec. 1.

Today was the halfway point. The brothers decided to make their cause really public by setting up a makeshift barber's chair outside the Union and letting their president, Yll Mullaademi, a senior and 4th generation hair stylist from the Republic of Kosovo, shave their heads.

The gesture was more symbolic, than philanthropic. They called it: "TKEs Getting Buzzed."

"We're shaving our heads for the kids," said Sheldon Kazmarski, a senior from Charlotte. "They go through a lot, including losing their hair during treatment. We wanted to show our support."

They were able to arm-twist a dozen other students to show their support, too, by letting Mullaademi shave their heads. Several dropped a buck or two in the donation can.

One 11-year-old boy saw the brothers on early-morning TV this morning -- the head shaving started at 6 a.m. -- and had his parents drive him to campus before school to have his head shaved, too. His parents left a nice donation.

TKE is in its first semester on the UNCC campus; so they're a colony, not a chapter yet. Philanthropic work is part of their charge from the national headquarters.

"I'm personally excited about the feedback we're getting from many of the people making donations," Kazmarski said. "Many people look at us in the Greek connotations -- that we're always drinking and partying. But TKEs across the country are very serious about giving back to their communities."

By 2 p.m., Mullaademi had shaved the heads of 15 TKEs, several to the scalp -- including Kazmarski and Mullaademi himself.

"A lot of these kids lose all their hair, so I just to decided to take it all the way down," Mullaademi said. "But we're having a blast, and we are doing some good at the same time. We really believe in this cause."

The fraternity has held a raffle and the brothers have taken turns manning a table at the student union asking students passing by for donations.

"We're going to go real hard to meet our goal by Dec. 1," said Mullaademi, obviously the TKEs' official barber. "This is a pretty committed bunch of guys. If you don't believe me, just look at our shaved heads."