You may never have heard of Ginny Amendum, and she likes it that way.
For 17 years, she quietly poured her passion for children into Thompson Child and Family Focus, a former orphanage that helps vulnerable boys and girls. She helped nurture the nonprofit from a $6 million annual budget in 2001 to $17.7 million today.
Now that shes retiring, people who share her mission say its high time she is recognized for everything she has done for Charlotte and its troubled youth.
Amendum, who is 67, has the personality of a loveable kindergarten teacher, creative but straight-talking, with a warm smile and playful blue eyes, and an impulse to roll up her sleeves and get down on the floor with the kids.
Thats what she once was, a kindergarten teacher, at Eastover Elementary. Then in 1996, Ed Chapin, the former director of the Department of Social Services, asked her to set up a child development center in North Davidson.
She would have to figure out how to get an operating license, buy equipment and hire staff. But she comes from a line of educators her mother and grandmother taught in one-room schoolhouses and beyond and she inherited their belief that children are filled with potential. What they need to succeed, Amendum believes, is an environment where they can flourish.
So she accepted the challenge. She would build that environment.
Within six weeks of opening, 90 children were enrolled at Thompson Child Development Center (now located off West Boulevard).
It was a hard run, she said. Looking back, I probably had no business taking that job.
She learned fast. Five years later, the Thompson board asked her to take over the entire nonprofit, which now has three campuses and last year served 12,000 children and families.
She has a combination of heart, brains and persuasiveness that is close to unmatched, said lawyer John Fennebresque, who has given generously to Thompson.
At heart, a teacher
Amendum could talk all day about her staff and the children it serves, but its more difficult to coax her into talking about herself. I dont know if I am much of a story, she said. I was just doing my job.
Ginny and Jim Amendum, who recently retired as associate superintendent of Cabarrus County schools, moved here in 1993 from upstate New York. When their four children were young, Ginny Amendum worked as a stay-at-home mom; she grew most everything they ate, baked bread and sewed the familys clothes including an infamous pink leisure suit for her husband.
At Eastover, she transformed her first classroom into a rain forest. I wasnt traditional, but we had a lot of fun and we accomplished a lot.
Amendum brought her flair for whimsy to Thompson, which includes a child development center for infants to age 5, an outpatient therapy program for children with behavioral and emotional problems, and a psychiatric treatment center. Amendums office is at the psychiatric center off Margaret Wallace Road, where 50 children live, study and heal. Most were sexually abused; others suffered from abandonment or violence.
These are seriously ill children, she said, and she mentioned a boy who had threatened to kill his family and is now home and hoping to study architecture. We need to have these children healthy. They are going to glut our prison systems or they are going to become sociable and responsible.
A big stuffed Winnie the Pooh greets newcomers to the lobby. Other stuffed animals and toys decorate a family meeting room. Propped on an easel in Amendums office is a jigsaw puzzle some of the boys at the home presented to her.
She spends a lot of time building and nurturing relationships, said Suzanne Bledsoe, a private wealth adviser who chairs the Thompson board. She is as comfortable sitting in a circle with a bunch of little kids as she is talking to the board room or to 1,000 people at a fundraising event.
Bless the children
Rhett Mabry, vice president of The Duke Endowment, which has donated millions of dollars to Thompson, said one of Amendums strengths is her ability to persuade others to support her mission.
She would say, Every childs got potential. What they need is the right family, the right nurturing, the right support, Mabry said. Things you and I probably take for granted, shes trying to recreate those in a surrogate fashion. ... Shes not apologetic for what it costs.
Or how demanding the job can be. She said she urges her staff not to forget to have fun. Weve got to have a little sense of humor for these children and for the staff because it is tough work.
Co-workers joke that Amendum, who has played piano for 60 years and the harp for three, has a song for every occasion.
When a child arrives, carrying a black garbage bag of belongings, shes reminded of a 1970s hit by the Carpenters:
Bless the beasts and the children
For in this world they have no voice ....
Give them shelter from the storm
Keep them safe
Keep them warm.
For 17 years, Ginny Amendum has done just that.