At a recent fundraiser for The Prodigal Son Foundation, Shirley Arrington sat off to the side and gazed at the young men and women buzzing in conversation.Some of them were college fraternity brothers of her son Carlos. Others she had never met, but she’s sure they would have become fast friends. That’s because everyone in the room shared a love of seeing children under the radar succeed. Carlos did, too.Seven years ago Arrington’s only child died unexpectedly at age 37. His heartbroken friends, many of them fraternity brothers, launched The Prodigal Son Foundation – a nonprofit organization that offers programs to at-risk students in the community – in Carlos’ memory.It’s bittersweet, Arrington admitted, looking around at Carlos’ friends, each a reminder that life has marched on. But she said, “Something good came out of my son’s early demise. This would have been something that he would have wanted to do. He was a big dreamer. He had big dreams and big goals.”After graduating from N.C. Central University with a degree in recreation management, Carlos began mentoring disadvantaged children in Durham and offering his support to community youth programs geared toward helping students succeed.It was in his blood, said Arrington, a retired school principal. His aunts are schoolteachers, too. “He was raised in a family of educators,” she said. “He grew up around people who helped others.”Friends step forwardHis friends knew the best way to honor him would be to pick up where he left off.“I felt like I had to do something. Like we had to do something,” said Leroy Wray, Carlos’ fraternity brother and the foundation’s president.Arrington remembered being approached by a group of men after Carlos’ funeral. “His friends were just so grief-stricken, and they wanted to do something,” she said. “They decided they would start a foundation dedicated to mentoring.”Every few months they would update her on their progress toward launching the foundation. “Each time we would meet, they would tell me what was being done, and I was astounded,” Arrington said.The progress they madeToday, the organization runs the Sugar Creek 21st Century Community Learning Center, a free after-school program for qualifying students who attend Nathaniel Alexander Elementary School. Four days a week, the nearly 75 children – who are recommended to the program by their teachers – come for academic enrichment and confidence-building exercises.Through a grant by the U.S. Department of Education, they began Physical Activity Community Education, a program that promotes fun physical exercise and gives nutritional guidance to students.They also sponsor 20 youths through mentoring programs throughout the community.“We target low-income kids who need our support,” said Wray.After school, Patricia Campbell, a retired elementary schoolteacher with 40 years experience, opens the door to the community learning center and welcomes the children in.“This is my fourth year in the program,” said Campbell. “Over the years we’ve done basically the same thing: We’re trying to build self-esteem in these children and let them know they can do it.”Arrington said she knows Carlos would be proud of the foundation’s success. “What he was doing then, and what he wanted to continue to do, it continues. And it’s able to touch hundreds of others and help kids,” she said. “He would be so happy.”
Friday, Mar. 15, 2013
University City mentoring foundation honors late friend
Supporters of The Prodigal Son Foundation meet at Vin Master Wine Shop on South Boulevard for a fundraiser. PSF is a nonprofit organization that assists students from low-income families in the Sugar Creek community of University City.
From left, Lowen Wray, coordinator for PSF's PACE program, talks with after-school teachers Nicole Nederlk, Ladonna Artly and Patricia Campbell during the foundation's recent fundraiser. While the teachers work with students on their academics, Wray finds ways to get them active. "A lot of times, technology has taken over. They really don't exercise," he said. "We try to get them to have fun, but exercise at the same time."
The Prodigal Son Foundation carries on the work of the late Carlos Arrington, who was dedicated to helping less fortunate children.
To learn more: The Prodigal Son Foundation is a nonprofit organization that offers free mentoring, exercise opportunities and an after-school program to qualifying low-income families in the community. Contact information: The Prodigal Son Foundation, 2230 W. Sugar Creek Road, Charlotte, NC 28262; phone 704-942-8381; email email@example.com. To learn more about it or to make a donation, visit www.psfnow.org.