Young Leaders Society volunteers participating in an adopt-a-family project. Trevor Knox: back row, far right.
It’s become a staple of National Public Radio’s recurring pledge drives: Ira Glass, the snarky, nerdy and wildly popular creator of This American Life, calls random NPR listeners and mockingly browbeats them on-air about why they haven’t donated to support the station’s programming.
Invariably, the recipients of these calls sputter and stammer, emitting self-deprecating laughs as they flounder around for excuses as to why they haven’t pledged. Before Glass lets them off the line, they always promise they’ll do better in the future.
As embarrassing as these calls are to those who receive them — and as funny as they are to listeners who haven’t been called out individually — the tactic exists for an important reason.
The fact is, many of us don’t consider ourselves to be donors or philanthropists. That’s for someone else, we reason — maybe someone who’s older and wealthier than ourselves.
Who: You What: Midlands Gives, an online local giving initiative When: Tuesday, May 6 (midnight - 11:59 p.m.) How:midlandsgives.org Why: To support local community organizations
But not all donors are white men in their 70s wearing a tux at a gala — nor should they be. Nor are all donations large ones. And an initiative by the Central Carolina Community Foundation — which last year distributed $13 million in philanthropic funds in an 11-county area throughout the Midlands — aims to help change that perception and encourage more people to give to local nonprofits.
Like most communities, Columbia has plenty of challenges that need addressing: homelessness, childhood diseases, literacy, teen pregnancy and more. The Midlands Gives initiative aims to broaden the base of people who are contributing to meet those challenges.
The initiative works like this: On Tuesday, May 6, from midnight to 11:59 p.m., donors are encouraged to give to any of 150 local community organizations at midlandsgives.org; all of the money donated will go directly to the organizations. During that time, there will also be $90,000 in bonus funds available that can magnify the impact of individual gifts.
In case you’re worried that being a donor means contributing $1,000 or more, think again: The minimum donation for Midlands Gives is just $20. And if you’re inclined to give but have no idea who to give to, Midlands Gives has already taken that into account, too. On the website, users will be able to choose issue areas they are interested in — such as community improvement, animal welfare, education, health or arts and culture — and read about specific groups within those areas before making a donation.
Still think the word “donor” shouldn’t apply to you? We talked to several Midlands-area donors and volunteers who have made it a priority to contribute to their communities — and might inspire you to do the same.
Donor and volunteer, Mental Illness Recovery Center, Inc. mirci.org
You don’t have time to volunteer?
Neither does Kristen Horne. Somehow, she finds the time anyway.
“I am a poster child for ‘too busy’ in some ways,” says Horne, 33. “I’m a full-time practicing lawyer, involved in professional organizations, and we have four children, the oldest of whom is 5.”
What she and her husband have decided, though, “is that we are fully invested in this community” — and with that comes a responsibility to help improve it.
“My parents always said, ‘Don’t talk about what’s wrong — go fix it.’”
Her parents have set a good example. Horne’s mother, Debbie Hamm, is superintendent of Richland School District Two. Her father, Steve Hamm, is a shareholder of the Richardson Plowden law firm; he’s been involved in a lot of high-profile cases, but is best known recently for having investigated Richland County’s 2012 election disaster. Both parents are deeply involved in professional organizations as well as community nonprofit groups, including as donors to the Mental Illness Recovery Center, Inc., a group Horne joined in 2011 as a board member.
“One of my good friends from law school who is just wonderful had served on the board of MIRCI,” recalls Horne, an attorney at Nelson Mullins. “They were leaving Columbia to move to Rock Hill and she was trying to think of people who might be considered to join the board. She reached out to me and asked if I wanted to learn more.”
At the time, Horne thought she had a good feel for the local nonprofit community.
“My parents have always been very active in the community here … I was chair of the public service committee of the Richland County Bar Association — I thought I knew about all the organizations that were helping the homeless.”
“When I met Julie Ann [Avin, director of MIRCI], I was like, ‘Where were these people doing this great work? They were making great things happen with limited resources.”
The group’s mission is wide-ranging, addressing medical, social and other aspects of helping people recover from a mental illness and become engaged in the community. As part of that mission, MIRCI owns housing throughout the city and works with clients on everything from taking their medications to developing friendships and paying their bills.
“The summer that I joined the board, I went on a tour of just MIRCI housing, and we drove all over Columbia,” Horne recalls. “It’s amazing the number of people we serve and the high-level quality of care. One of the wonderful things about MIRCI is even for those people who have achieved great success in their mental health journey, we are not saying, ‘You have graduated and now you are on your own.’ We continue to support people, and really help people stabilize their lives.”
For Horne, a Columbia native who attended Richland Northeast High School, part of the appeal of MIRCI was its direct ties to her own community.
“I lived in Rosewood until very recently, so it felt great to get involved in something that was in my neighborhood,” she says.
Today, Horne’s impulse to give is focused on Columbia, but it hasn’t always been that way.
As an undergraduate, she studied foreign affairs and economics at the University of Virginia; after college, she joined the Peace Corps.
“Initially, my husband and I were in Morocco,” she says. They were evacuated for safety reasons at the beginning of the war in Iraq. Later, she served in Ghana and West Africa.
“I count myself among the lucky few who got to use a bit of my undergraduate degree; it was a great experience,” she says.
Now, though, she’s focused on her hometown.
“I hope to never need [social] services,” she says, but you never know what might happen. “So while I am able I am going to roll up my sleeves and do it.”
“I hope this [Midlands Gives] initiative and the work all these organizations are doing will inspire people to be more involved in their community.”
Parents want nothing more than for their children to live full, productive and meaningful lives; anything that jeopardizes that prospect is deeply unsettling. So there are few things scarier for a family to go through than to learn that a child has a disease or a developmental disability.
Abey Foster, 32, doesn’t have children. “We have a dog, if that counts,” she says of herself and her husband of two years. Nonetheless, she’s found meaning in the work being done by Family Connection.
The organization, which operates statewide, serves as a resource for families with children who have special health care needs or disabilities — anything from autism to asthma, cerebral palsy or simply a child facing surgery. Families facing such situations can feel scared, alone, overwhelmed; Family Connection helps connect them with resources that help them cope.
“For me, I got what they did,” Foster says. “I don’t have a child, but I do have friends with children with special needs.”
“When I have had challenges, I got through it by talking to other people,” she says. “That is what Family Connection does — they connect you to a family that has been through it. It pulls at your heart; we could all be there one day.”
Foster’s involvement with the organization evolved from her role as a marketing professional; she’s the director of marketing at the Colonial Life Arena, and is also involved in the American Advertising Federation of the Midlands.
Each year, the federation selects a nonprofit to assist.
“They ask nonprofits to submit needs,” Foster says. “Then, utilizing people in the ad world, they help [a nonprofit] develop logos or whatever they need.”
Foster got involved with a rebranding campaign for Family Connection and met the organization’s director, Jackie Richards, in the process.
“She is an amazing person and she is hard to say no to — I love people like that,” Foster says.
So when Richards asked Foster to serve on the board, she couldn’t say no. As the chair of the board’s marketing committee, she helps the group publicize its key annual events, like its Buddy Walk, an advocacy event for those with Down syndrome.
Foster interacts with families at the Buddy Walk and other events, but mostly it’s her professional expertise, as well as financial support, that she’s giving to the organization.
“I am not interacting [with a family] every day, but I know what I do is benefitting that family.”
“At the end of the day, it’s how can you serve?” Foster says. “Whether it’s your time, your talent or your means, I think we are all called to serve.”
Before Ebony Perkins got involved with nonprofits, the words “donor” and “philanthropist” conjured up the same stereotypes for her as they do for lots of other people — images of old, wealthy people.
“That’s what’s associated with [philanthropy], and it deters young people who have the means for giving,” she says.
But Perkins, a 24-year-old who just graduated last year from UNC-Chapel Hill with a master’s in public administration, has come to see a fuller picture of philanthropy.
By day, she works for the Central Carolina Community Foundation as its donor relations manager. In that position, which she started last fall, she’s learning more about the full range of people who contribute to nonprofits. It’s a new position, and one she is thrilled to have.
“We’re becoming very donor-centric,” she says. Her position is focused on “keeping the funds in, and making sure donors are getting what they want and are still comfortable giving.”
Perkins’ undergraduate degree is in marketing, and her passion lies at the intersection of business and nonprofits. She’s big on the idea of social entrepreneurship — “combining business and philanthropy to serve a greater purpose,” she says — and fondly recalls her time in college working with the group Students in Free Enterprise.
The first sparks of her interest in both business and philanthropy go all the way back to middle school, when she attended the Young Entrepreneurs Conference put on every year by the Auntie Karen Foundation. Founded in 2003, the conference is held at Benedict College and encourages young people between the ages of 7 and 22 to consider entrepreneurship — especially in arts- and entertainment-related fields — by exposing them to other young people who have already done it.
“I don’t know too many organizations that expose youth to the possibility of starting their own business,” Perkins says.
Attending that conference has led to a years-long association with the foundation and its director, Karen Alexander; the fact that Perkins and Alexander attend the same church has helped keep the relationship alive through the years even as Perkins has been in and out of Columbia attending college.
While Perkins was in college at Claflin University in Orangeburg, she caught wind of R&B star Babyface coming to perform at the foundation’s annual Legends Of program, which brings major jazz and R&B acts to the Koger Center each year and always includes an element of educational outreach. Perkins spread the word to friends majoring in music at Claflin and contacted Alexander about trying to get the students involved in the program.
“[Karen Alexander] invited the Claflin students to a Babyface masterclass,” Perkins recalls. “She was so welcoming.”
The foundation, whose programs focus on empowering young people through the arts, is mostly run by volunteers. Perkins doesn’t work there on any regular basis, but helps out in various capacities when she can.
Last fall, for example, she helped the organization research grant and outreach opportunities.
“People assume that when you volunteer, all you are doing is stuffing envelopes,” Perkins says.
In her experience, though, it hasn’t been that way at all.
“They want your opinions, your insight, your expertise,” she says. “It’s doing what you love to do — not just doing busywork.”
And the bottom line, for Perkins, is that she believes in the foundation’s mission and what it could ultimately do for South Carolina. As an example, she mentions South Carolina’s own Sergio Hudson, who attended the Young Entrepreneurs Conference in 2005 and ended up designing clothes for pop star Rihanna.
“All you have to do is spark the interest,” she says. “[Alexander] has shown so many people what can be done. Exposure is key.”
If you look up Austin Jenkins on Google, the first page that pops up will tell you nothing of his involvement with the Fine Arts Center of Kershaw County — at least not directly.
What you’ll find instead is Jenkins’ profile as an instructor of natural history and environmental biology at USC-Sumter. But his profile photo does contain a clue as to how he got involved with the Fine Arts Center: In it, he’s toting a small child on his back.
“A lot of the productions they put on are kid-oriented, like Goodnight Moon,” says Jenkins, who loves to give nature tours and serves on the board of the South Carolina Wildlife Federation. “It really draws in the families, the ones with younger kids.”
Austin, 37, and his wife Karin, 36, have three kids — an 8-year-old boy, a 6-year-old girl and a 3-year-old boy.
“Our kids take art classes there,” Karin says. “We have a lot of friends who take dance classes and music classes there. We enjoy going to those productions when we can — it’s just a really neat organization.”
Few South Carolina cities of Camden’s size (6,906) have an arts center as active as the Fine Arts Center of Kershaw County. The center not only offers classes and hosts exhibitions by students and community artists, but also offers a full range of performing arts programming — dance, theater, music — some of it world-class, such as the chamber series led by cellist Edward Arron. There’s also a high-quality classical music series led by cellist Claire Bryant, a Camden native now living in New York.
But it’s not the star power that brought the Jenkins family into contact with the center; it’s simply that the Fine Arts Center plays a significant role in their lives.
“When I take the kids up there to clay and art, they are learning to think in a way that is important and different from what is offered in most places,” Austin says. “In sports, they are kind of following rules, and in art they are open to creativity. And being that way is important to being successful — it’s important to offer that unstructured, creative time to younger children.”
Adds Karin: “My son keeps telling me the next time they [present] a Columbia Children’s Theatre production, he wants to be in it.”
As working parents — Karin commutes to Palmetto Richland — with three young children, the Jenkins don’t exactly have a lot of time on their hands. But the question of not giving hasn’t crossed their minds.
“For us, it’s not a matter of should we give, but how do we give,” Karin says. “It’s which organizations should we support.”
In terms of volunteering, they do what they can, when they can.
“At this point in time, we are limited in terms of time with two careers and three young kids,” Karin says. “We just give small spurts instead of trying to make long-term obligations.”
Adds Austin: “I think for younger couples, short-term volunteer opportunities are a way to teach your kids that it’s part of being involved. When we can, we take the kids with us and have them help us volunteer.”
And beyond volunteering, the Jenkins do what they can to donate to organizations they believe in.
“We feel fortunate that we can give financially to these organizations,” Karin says. “Investing your time, talent and your money is part of being in the community … We see the benefits of what the people before us have done. The Fine Arts Center wouldn’t exist if not for people giving their time, talents and energy. We feel a responsibility to build on that.”
“I don’t consider myself a big volunteer,” says 30-year-old Trevor Knox.
The first time he volunteered at Palmetto Place Children’s Shelter, he says, he just played basketball with kids for a couple of hours and talked with them.
But he quickly learned that even that small act was important for the kids — and for him.
“You don’t have to spend a lot of time with these kids to understand how awesome they are,” says Knox, vice president of sales and marketing for Terminix. “And how very much [the shelter] is needed.”
“I found myself wanting — and needing — to chill with the kids,” he adds.
Founded in 1977, Palmetto Place serves abused, neglected and abandoned children. A 16-year-old girl showed up at the shelter after her mother died and she had nowhere else to turn. Two boys, ages 9 and 10, were placed in the shelter after they’d been living in a home awash in drugs.
For Knox, a Columbia native who went to Hammond School, it was an eye-opener to get to know kids who have been through things he’s never had to go through himself.
“I am incredibly fortunate to have been raised in a loving and stable family,” he says. “It is unfortunate to think about the terrible homes that some kids come from.”
He recalls meeting an 8th-grade girl at the shelter.
“She was all excited about being placed [in the shelter],” he remembers. “We were just hanging out and playing — doing kids stuff. And then she said something about a 1-year-old child.”
It took a moment for it to sink in — that this 8th-grader had a 1-year-old child.
“The need is deep and dire,” he says.
Some kids come with deep trust issues that hamper their ability to make friends or trust adults. At Palmetto Place, he says, they get something that is invaluable — an opportunity “to feel security and love and have chances they might not have otherwise.”
Knox didn’t go looking specifically for an opportunity to work with children from troubled backgrounds; he got involved after taking part in the United Way’s Blueprint for Leadership program, which trains professionals to serve on boards. He’s now active in the Young Leaders Society at the United Way of the Midlands, serving as its secretary.
And it’s true — he’s not a big volunteer. He gives to the shelter financially, and volunteers now and then, when he can.
“The perception [with volunteering] is you have to give a lot of hours, to do it all the time,” Knox says. “But a little from a lot of people can do a lot.”
If there’s anything Knox wants people to understand about philanthropy, it’s that it’s desperately needed — but it doesn’t have to be difficult.
“A lot of us live very good lives,” he says. “There might be some employment security issues, but we spend so much on HBO and lattes … you cannot discount the power of five dollars a week or 20 dollars a month to have an impact in a big way.”
Jordan Crossroads Ministry Center
Community Medical Clinic of Kershaw County
Fine Arts Center of Kershaw County
Food for the Soul
Habitat for Humanity of Kershaw County
Kershaw County First Steps
Seth’s Giving Tree
The Midlands Women’s Center
United Way of Kershaw County
Lee County Adult Education
Allied Opportunities Inc.
Carolina Wildlife Care
Chapin We Care Center
Dickerson Center for Children
Gilbert Ruritan Club
Girls on the Run of Columbia
Growing Home Southeast, Inc.
Keep the Midlands Beautiful
Lexington Interfaith Community Services
Lexington School District Four
Saluda Shoals Foundation
The Brookland Foundation
Free Medical Clinic of Newberry County, Inc.
Newberry County Library System
Newberry Opera House Foundation
Downtown Orangeburg Revitalization Assocation (DORA)
Edisto Habitat for Humanity, Inc.
Elloree Heritage Museum and Cultural Center
Orangeburg Area Boys & Girls Club
Orangeburg-Calhoun Free Medical Clinic
Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College Foundation
Sumter County Museum
United Way of Sumter, Clarendon and Lee Counties
YWCA of the Upper Lowlands, Inc.
701 Center for Contemporary Art
70th Anniversary of D-Day
Able South Carolina
Acercamiento Hispano de Carolina del Sur (South Carolina Hispanic Outreach)
Alston Wilkes Society
American Lung Association in South Carolina
American Red Cross
The Animal Mission
Animal Protection League of SC
Auntie Karen Foundation
Be the Match
Beginnings for Parents of Children Who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing – SC
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Columbia
Boys & Girls Clubs of the Midlands
Columbia Community Outreach
Columbia Museum of Art
Columbia Urban League, Inc.
Communities in Schools of the Midlands
Congaree Land Trust
Conservation Voters of South Carolina Education Fund
The Cooperative Ministry
COR | Columbia Opportunity Resource
Crossover Communications International
Cultural Council of Richland and Lexington Counties
Eat Smart, Move More South Carolina
Eau Claire Shalom Ministries/Tutor Eau Claire
EdVenture Children’s Museum
Epworth Children’s Home
Family Connection of South Carolina
Harvest Hope Food Bank
Healing Families Foundation
Home Works of America
Hootie and The Blowfish
Indian Waters Council, Boy Scouts of America
Junior Achievement of Central South Carolina
Junior League of Columbia, Inc.
The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society
Links, Inc., Columbia Chapter
Mental Illness Recovery Center
Midlands Community Development Corporation
Midlands Fatherhood Coalition
Montessori School of Columbia
NAMI South Carolina
New Morning Foundation
The Nickelodeon Theatre
Oliver Gospel Mission
Palmetto Animal Assisted Life Services
Palmetto Conservation Foundation
Palmetto Cycling Coalition
Palmetto Health Foundation
Palmetto Place Children’s Shelter
Palmetto Project, Inc.
Partners for Minorities in Engineering and Computer Science (PMECS)
PETS, Inc. The Carolinas Humane Society
Pilot Club of Columbia Foundation
Prosperity Project, a Christ Central Ministry
Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities
Reach Out and Read Carolinas
Richland County First Steps to School Readiness
Richland Library Foundation
Riverbanks Society, Riverbanks Zoo and Garden
Ronald McDonald House Charities
of Columbia, SC
SC Lions Foundation
SC Victim Assistance Network
Save the Children
The Salvation Army of the Midlands
Senior Resources, Inc.
Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands
Skip To My Lupus, Inc.
South Carolina Afterschool Alliance
South Carolina Appleseed Legal
South Carolina Arts Foundation
South Carolina Bar Foundation
South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy
South Carolina Center for Fathers
South Carolina Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers
South Carolina Philharmonic
Southern Interscholastic Press Association
Special Olympics of South Carolina
St. Lawrence Place (Trinity Housing Corporation)
The Therapy Place
United Way of the Midlands
Vital Connections of the Midlands
The Walker Foundation at the SC School for the Deaf and the Blind
The Women’s Shelter
WXRY 99.3 / The Independent Media Foundation, Ltd.
YMCA of Columbia, SC
About Central Carolina Community Foundation
Central Carolina Community Foundation is a nonprofit organization serving 11 counties in the Midlands by helping charitable individuals and businesses meet the needs of our community. The Foundation serves Calhoun, Clarendon, Fairfield, Kershaw, Lee, Lexington, Newberry, Orangeburg, Richland, Saluda and Sumter counties.
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