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Don't let anger toward agency stop your giving

It's human nature. You get mad and you want to make a point. So when the United Way of Central Carolinas comes calling this year, you'll think twice about giving. Maybe you'll even skip it. That will show them.

But you won't be punishing an organization. You will be hurting the 98 local health and human service agencies and more than 200 programs the organization serves.

You might be affecting one of the joys of Shonte Chatman's life.

On Wednesday morning, the 30-year-old Charlottean wasn't concerned with whether donations to the United Way might drop off because of controversy over its president's compensation package. There is no way to know the impact of Gloria Pace King's $365,000 salary, the $822,000 contribution to her retirement plan and the clumsy way local organization officials have handled the situation.

Chatman – a big smile on her face – was busy decorating a card she was making to greet deaf and hearing-impaired pre-schoolers when the school year begins. “Welcome back,” she wrote on the front. Then, she chose stickers – a book, a star, a ribbon, an apple and a little girl – and arranged them perfectly.

“They'll love it!” Chatman said.

And the program that helps Chatman owes a lot to United Way.

Chatman – who is developmentally disabled – is vice president of the Aktion Club, which meets every other Wednesday at the Nevins Center off Statesville Road. It's one of three in the area sponsored by the Kiwanis (why action is spelled with a K) and the Arc of Mecklenburg County, a United Way agency.

Chatman lives with her aunt in Charlotte and enjoys her time at Aktion Club. She is a charter member, there when the club was organized last August.

The club – for adults with disabilities – fits the mission of Arc, which supports people with cognitive impairments.

Members of the club have assembled care packages and written letters to those in the military, organized canned food drives and planted flowers outside the Nevins Center. This is what Lauren Mullis – Arc of Mecklenburg executive director – wants people to think about when they hear the words United Way.

Chatman and fellow club members are out in the community, said Mullis, learning and volunteering. The money United Way provides enables them to “pay it forward.”

This week, Aktion Club members learned about American Sign Language from Amy Riss, who teaches the 3-, 4- and 5-year-old deaf and hearing-impaired children who will receive the cards. Riss was surprised by the Aktion Club turnout – about 25 – and that so many already knew how to sign a few words and phrases: an undulating hand means fish, a flick of imaginary whiskers, cat. The class came to a halt so everyone could learn “I love you.”

Riss, 25, says her students will, as Chatman predicts, love the cards.

Mullis, 28, looks forward to Wednesday mornings, “more than anyone can understand,” she said, because she's guaranteed to have a good day when it starts with Aktion Club. “Everyone's so happy and loving. We get to talk and hug.”

Mullis' message to the community: “We're all very nervous. We may not like what's happened, or the way it's happened. But I stand by the United Way because they've stood by us.”

She hopes people realize the complexity of what can happen when donations are lowered, and what it will mean to Aktion Club vice president Shonte Chatman and the community she serves.

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