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Honor Roll

By Page Leggett | Photography by Sean Pressley

Posted: Monday, Nov. 25, 2013

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Over the last several years many of Charlotte’s top nonprofits have lost long time leaders. But now fresh faces have stepped in with innovative philanthropic plans. For our first annual Giving Issue, we had the chance to chat with nine new leaders who have big goals to improve this city—for everyone.

Devlin McNeil

Devlin McNeil

President and Executive Director of Community School of the Arts (CSA)

Previous careers: “I worked for another Charlotte arts nonprofit for 10½ years, most recently as COO. In another life, I worked for First Union National Bank (now Wells Fargo).”

What inspired you to join CSA? “My passion for education and the arts fits perfectly with CSA’s mission … to lead the nation in making outstanding arts instruction available to all.”

Why is CSA important to Charlotte? “[We have] a simple strategy: Create excellent art and music programs that appeal to families who can afford to pay, and then make those programs available to every child through free outreach sites, scholarships and student financial aid.

Long-term vision: “A future in which Charlotte leads the nation in making outstanding arts instruction available to all children.”

What made you decide to make giving back your full-time job? “When you are using your skills to further a cause that is much larger than yourself, it doesn’t feel like a job.”

Career advice to someone considering nonprofits? “You will become adept at doing a tremendous amount of work on limited resources of time, money, and staff.”


Tom Okel

Tom Okel

Executive Director, Catawba Lands Conservancy

Previous career: Global Head of Syndicated Capital Markets, Bank of America/Merrill Lynch

What inspired you to join your organization? “The Catawba Lands Conservancy (CLC) makes a tangible and permanent impact on the quality of life in our region. It was the ideal opportunity to work on something that really matters to me in a capacity where I thought I could make a difference.”

Why is CLC important to Charlotte? “With the growth expected over the next 10 to 20 years, any remaining natural, open space will either be developed or preserved. CLC [can] help ensure our continued growth … celebrates many of the natural assets that make this [region] a place people want to live.”

How can others get involved? “Individuals [can] help with events, projects, maintenance and monitoring of our land, as well as building the Carolina Thread Trail.”

Long-term vision: “Our goal is not to inhibit development, but to make sure our children and their children are able to enjoy the natural heritage of this area, as well as the important benefits of air and water quality.”

What do you do when you're not working? Hiking. Photography. Skiing. Running.

Career advice to someone considering nonprofits: “The same advice I would give someone considering any career: If it is not something you have passion for, then it will just be a job, and you will not be effective or fulfilled.”


Mary Jo Powers

Mary Jo Powers

President/CEO of Thompson Child & Family Focus

Previous career: Chief Operating Officer at Thompson Child & Family Focus, where she’s worked for 16 years.

What inspired you to join your organization? “For the past 30 years, my life's work has been … to help lead children and families out of trauma. Thompson is … committed to making sure every child is safe, strong, happy and loved while also giving every family the tools and support to thrive.”

Why is Thompson important to Charlotte? “Thompson has always cared for the community’s most vulnerable children. We continually evolve to meet children and families where they need help the most—from clinical care and treatment to preventive programs that help break generational cycles of abuse.”

How can others get involved? “Visit one of our four campuses and learn how you can become part of the ‘Thompson Family.’ We have immediate needs for financial contributions, volunteers and holiday helpers.”

What made you decide to make giving back your full-time job? “I had a summer job [in college] at a YMCA camp, where I worked with children who were in the foster care system. Hearing their stories touched my heart …I had to find a way to be part of the solution.”


Don Jonas

Don Jonas

Executive Director of Care Ring

Previous careers: Research fellow with a think tank devoted to the American workforce and welfare issues. Co-author of the book Health Care 2020. Grantmaker for Foundation For The Carolinas. Fundraiser for Novant Health.

What inspired you to join your organization? “I feel drawn to help those on the margins and am particularly passionate about helping [people] climb out of poverty. Care Ring is in a sweet spot for me. Our focus is not on applying a temporary Band-Aid; we go to root causes.”

Why is Care Ring important to Charlotte? “We fill gaps in service to thousands of lower-income families across Charlotte who otherwise would go without care … our Nurse-Family Partnership program helps first-time moms deliver healthy babies and prepares low-income families for the journey to self-sufficiency.”

How can others get involved? “We are always looking for physicians and dentists to join our Physicians Reach Out team of volunteer providers.”

And when he’s not working? Adjunct professor at Queens University in the Blair College of Health. Soccer coach. Singer in a rock band called The Fidgets. “We’re waiting for our cover shoot for Rolling Stone. They haven’t called yet.”


Colin Pinkney

Colin Pinkney

Executive Director of The Harvest Center of Charlotte

Previous careers: Executive Director of Urban Restoration Center. More than 20 years in hotel/restaurant management.

What inspired you to join your organization? “I am inspired, in large part, by my faith. Amazingly, much of this was cultivated in 10 years working with McDonald’s in community relations.”

Why is The Harvest Center important to Charlotte? “We focus on helping homeless men and women move back into productive lifestyles

How can others get involved? “Volunteering in our soup kitchen, teaching life skills classes, serving as a mentor or tutor and donating clothing and household supplies for transitional housing.”

What made you decide to make giving back your full-time job? “I had a heart attack in 2004 and had a revelation … that God wanted me to invest my skills and abilities to directly impact our community.”

And when he’s not working? Volunteer chaplain for the Charlotte Bobcats since 2005. Mentor to 30 young men in a book club he created at a local high school.


Julie Porter

Julie Porter

President of Charlotte Mecklenburg Housing Partnership

Previous career: Executive Director of Greater Kansas City LISC, a nonprofit involved in financing community projects, including affordable housing.

What inspired you to join your organization? “I had always been on the financing side of affordable housing, and this gave me the opportunity to do the work instead of just putting money toward it.”

Why is CMHP important to Charlotte? “The Housing Partnership helps people become homeowners, prevents foreclosure when times get tough and provides high-quality rental housing options when homeownership isn’t the best fit for a family. [We play] a critical role in revitalizing areas in Charlotte that have suffered decline.”

Long-term vision: “The Housing Partnership was intended from the beginning to be a long-term answer ... We want to be a permanent, positive influence in improving the quality of life of Charlotte residents.”

What made you decide to make giving back your full-time job? “I was in real estate finance, and it had become routine. When I started working on projects in urban areas … I became convinced that a stable home and a great neighborhood are the best foundation for providing families a strong economic future.”


Susan Campbell

Susan Campbell

Executive Director of Council for Children's Rights

Previous careers: Clinical psychologist; led two nonprofit children's advocacy centers in Georgia.

Why is CFCR important to Charlotte? “We serve as a voice for children's legal rights inside and out of the courtroom. Our attorneys provide exceptional representation for children involved in custody, delinquency, educational, mental health and child welfare actions.”

How can others get involved? “Everyone can be an advocate for children by becoming informed about the issues and systems that impact them and by their putting voices, dollars and votes to work for policies and practices that support families. We have volunteer opportunities for students, attorneys, psychologists, social workers and lay people who are interested in making a difference in children's lives.”

Long-term vision: “We envision ways of replicating [our] work in other communities so that every child has the opportunity to grow up safe, healthy and educated.”

What do you do when you're not working? “We just moved to Charlotte. I'm loving exploring the city's restaurants, parks and museums with my family. I've become a huge fan of the National Whitewater Training Center.”


Robert Bush

Robert Bush

Interim President of the Arts & Science Council

Previous careers: Language arts and Spanish teacher.

What inspired you to join ASC? “When I worked for the Mint Museum in the 1980s, I was a ‘loaned’ executive to the ASC annual fund. When I got the chance to join ASC in 2000, it seemed like coming home.”

Why is ASC important to Charlotte? “We may not put on plays, concerts or exhibitions, but we [help] ensure a healthy and accessible cultural community.”

How can others get involved? “Community members serve on grant and public art selection panels and as volunteer fundraisers and advocates. But the easiest way [to get] involved is by going to an exhibition, seeing a play, enjoying a concert.”

What made you decide to make giving back your full-time job? “Even when I was a school teacher, I saw that giving back was a big part of my job, and now I still feel the same way. But my classroom is all of Mecklenburg County.”


Kim Lamphear

Kim Lanphear

Executive Director of Apparo

Previous careers: Director of marketing for an S&L. Product manager for Citigroup. MBA and Master of Arts in arts administration with a focus on corporate philanthropy. Ran Northlight, Chicago’s third largest professional theater company.

Why is Apparo important to Charlotte? “We help move nonprofits forward by connecting them with corporate volunteers who provide … the technology and business solutions” that help them operate more efficiently.

How others can get involved: “IT coaching … on Microsoft Office tools. And our ‘Roving CIO’ role responds to questions from the nonprofit community, in nonprofit forums and in one-on-one meetings with nonprofit partners.”

Long-term vision: “A vibrant community filled with nonprofits that are fully enabled and empowered by technology.”

What made you decide to make giving back your full-time job? “I have worked in exciting global jobs that I loved, but it is through the act of giving back, and the process of helping nonprofits achieve their missions, that I am fulfilled.”

What do you do when not working? “I embarrass my children as often as I can. I sing a lot.”

Career advice to someone considering nonprofits? “Be open to the idea of a career jungle-gym path as opposed to a career ladder path. Be flexible. Network always.”


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