Every year this city and region benefit from thousands of people who give their time, money and talents to make this area a more compassionate, prosperous and livable place. For more than two decades, the Observer's editorial board has acknowledged those notable acts through the examples of a few. We thank those we're highlighting today for their good works and commitment. They represent many others whose spirit and generosity have enriched this region and inspire us as we begin the New Year.
These DVAs are a far cry from divas that their acronym sounds like. The Donors, Volunteers, and Ambassadors built a powerful grassroots network that engaged Charlotte women in support of the Democratic National Convention in September in Charlotte. About 500 strong, the nonpartisan, diverse group helped the city put its best foot forward with volunteer service projects before and during the convention. Their work helped beautify the city and neighborhoods, and provided leadership and education opportunities for women before and during the convention. In all, the group contibuted 4,600 hours of volunteer service from January Ð September 2012, valued at $100,000 and secured in-kind resources of $25,000. They also held 30 events to highlight goals and plans for the convention.
Henry Owen and Friendship Gardens
Henry Owen didn't know much about gardening when he raised his hand a few years back to start a community garden in an empty weeded lot outside the non-profit food provider Friendship Trays. Since then, he's learned much about growing. Owen is now the director of Friendship Gardens, which has cultivated a network of 35 independent gardens around Charlotte, most of them at churches and schools. Each garden, many of which Owen helped to set up, gives a portion of its food to Friendship Trays, which feeds low income people across the city. Friendship Gardens also operates a seasonal stand at the Transit Center, offering fresh food at low prices to people who might not have access to it. The stand was recently approved to accept food stamps. "The thing I'm passionate about is helping people reconnect to the natural world," said Owen. "Helping people grow food is one way to do that." For more information, go to www.friendship-gardends.org.
Jay Ferguson and Reneisha Ferguson
Empowering young people is a passion for Reneisha and Jay Ferguson. Since 2008, they have used the Connections Youth Leadership Development program to do just that. The innovative program uses historical perspectives to help youngsters in grades 7-10 to attain and expand leadership skills and to understand and embrace cultural and personal differences. Programs include travels to Underground Railroad sites that were used by slaves escaping to freedom in the North during the 1800s. The work the Fergusons are doing builds future leaders who value diversity and teamwork as key to our community's and nation's continued prosperity. For more information, go to www.connectionsleadership.org. (l-to-r in photo) Alexa-Rae Ramkissoon, 17, Reneisha Ferguson, Jay Ferguson, Bryant King, 16, and Joe Joyce, 16.
Brett LoftisChildren in this community have had no greater ally than Brett Loftis. He has been their fiercest advocate as head of the Council for Children's Rights. He has focused on wide-ranging issues to meet children's needs including special education, abuse and neglect, mental health, health care and civil legal representation. In 2009, he helped launch The Larry King Center for Building Children's Futures, an initiative of the Council for Children's Rights, focused on systemwide change for children in Mecklenburg County and North Carolina. His announcement this month that he was leaving to head the Crossnore School in Avery County was widely viewed as a huge loss for this area. It is. He leaves with our profound gratitude.
Rosemary FurnissTeaching kids to love and appreciate the violin is no easy task. But violinist Rosemary Furniss is doing it at Winterfield Elementary School. Furniss moved here from England with her husband, Charlotte Symphony conductor Christopher Warren-Green, two years ago, and soon after began putting her talents to work helping the students at Winterfield as part of a Charlotte Symphony program there. As part of the program, the students have played their instruments with the symphony. Furniss' encouragement and enthusiasm have been infectious. Teacher Courtney Hollenbeck, who started the program at Winterfield, said students "love her to death. They're learning so much. And I'm learning from her."
David Garrett hit bottom at age 23. He was, he says, a drug user and drug dealer. When his father died, he broke down and "a light flicked on inside my heart." At that moment, he knew he would commit his life to a Christ-based ministry for inner-city kids.
The result: One7, a Charlotte nonprofit that helps underprivileged kids of two dozen or more nationalities with every aspect of their lives. Garrett and One7 provide tutoring, clothing, food and a message that God loves them. The kids go on mission trips to serve in areas like those hit by loftisHurricane Sandy.
Soccer is one piece of One7's ministry. Garrett currently has three teams cobbled together. One of those traveled to Chicago last summer to compete in a national tournament with teams from across the country. The One7 team, with no money, stayed at a homeless shelter while other players stayed with their parents in hotels. Charlotte's One7 team, a ragtag group of kids from various cultures and impoverished backgrounds, won the championship.
Garrett (at center of picture) is now the soccer coach at Garinger High, where he promises more success, on and off the field. For more information, go to www.one7.org.
Ken Schorr, Ted FilletteIt's not difficult to be awed by Ted Fillette and Ken Schorr. The two lawyers have dedicated their lives to helping ensure that low-income and indigent North Carolinians are adequately served in the legal system. Fillette is senior managing attorney in the Legal Aid of North Carolina Charlotte office and serves as assistant director of Legal Aid of North Carolina. Schorr is executive director of Legal Services of Southern Piedmont. Both have been consistent and crucial advocates for quality legal representation for low-income clients. The Mecklenburg Bar Association recognized their work recently, calling it a national model of cooperation and a showcase for exceptional legal skills. They have also been instrumental in changing laws to help the needy. Their selfless commitment is worth emulating.
Renee Bradford and First PurseWhen you think of pre-teen girls, you're not likely to think of philanthropists or entrepreneurs or building wealth. But that's the power Rev. Renee Bradford saw in girls 8-12 when she founded First Purse, Inc. in 2007. The innovative nonprofit organization gives young girls the tools to be financially literate, invest in their communities and to own their "first purse" of financial independence. The girls have collected purses for the homeless, participated in mother-daughter teas to learn about giving, and attended workshops including a six-week course on finances presented in collaboration with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. Based on the Biblical parable of Five Talents, the program strives to help young girls understand who they are, what their values are and why they should give back. Want to help? Phone: (704) 728-2206; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; website: www.firstpurse.org
Brent Barbee, manager of Barbee FarmsWith more than 14 percent of North Carolinians living below the poverty line, and nearly a quarter of them children under five, finding ways to help feed the state's hungry is crucial. Farmers like the Barbee family and their Barbee Farms in Concord have played a huge role in meeting the needs. The Barbees are "amazingly generous," observers say. They donate thousands of pounds of food each year to the hungry by allowing volunteers to glean from their fields. Even school children have been allowed to glean from their fields. Residents value the Barbees and their generosity so much that they successfully lobbied the state Department of Transportation not to run a road through the farm that would have claimed the Barbee family's old homestead and cut through its best-producing fields. This sixth generation family farm is a state and community treasure. For more information, go to www.barbeefarms.net
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