Helping Charlotte community leader is ‘the right thing to do’

It’s a little after noon on a Thursday, and east Charlotte resident Vickie Fewell has a lot on her mind.

Fewell has tried without success to find permanent work for five years, since she was laid off from her job at BellSouth. She is so far behind on her mortgage that at one time the bank had threatened to auction her Shannon Park home.

Fewell said she is most upset this Thursday, however, by someone who is posting signs illegally on utility poles along The Plaza.

“They must have been down through here last night, because (the signs) weren’t here yesterday,” said Fewell, as she pulls them down. “Don’t they know it’s illegal to post signs on utility poles?”

Friends say Fewell’s modus operandi is to place community needs before her own.

For years, east Charlotte residents have turned to Fewell for help with everything from code enforcement to Fourth of July parade floats, to zoning changes and crime watches. And she’s helped effect change, such as when she successfully lobbied the city to pay for improvements to Eastway Park.

The community she’s helped now is hustling to help her. Residents are raising money to help get her mortgage out of arrears.

The bank had planned a Nov. 3 auction, but Fewell contacted the Neighborhood Assistance Corp. of America to help with her financial issues. Fewell learned Oct. 24 that the bank had canceled the auction.

A letter from the bank says the auction can be rescheduled if it becomes clear Fewell isn’t doing anything to work with the bank.

“It’s a temporary stay,” Fewell said. “I may still lose my house.”

Active in the neighborhood

Fewell, 60, settled in Charlotte in the early 1980s.

As a 21-year-old mother, Fewell joined the Army in 1975 and served four years. During that time, she and her husband divorced.

She later went back to school in Fayetteville and learned computer-assisted drafting. She got a job with Duke Power and came to Charlotte in 1982.

Fewell got her first experience with community activism in 1994, when she moved into Shannon Park. A neighbor invited her to a community meeting, and Fewell was captivated, she said.

Fewell relates a quote often attributedto Albert Einstein to explain why she’s involved: “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”

Fewell is president of the Shannon Park Neighborhood Association and Charlotte East Community Partners, a coalition of organizations on the east side of Charlotte. She said community activism is particularly important in east Charlotte because a lot of neighborhoods there don’t have homeowners associations, relying instead on city staff and officials to enforce codes and laws.

“She’s the go-to person,” said Diane Garris, president of Eastwood Acres Community Association. “She’s the hub when it comes to information-sharing and rallying community leaders. Without her, I really don’t know how well things would continue to go in north and east Charlotte.”

Garris said she recalled Fewell stepping in when Garris’ neighborhood received a city grant. A condition for receiving the grant was that the community quickly form bylaws.

“We were in a time crunch. Vickie came and helped us get through the process and … get it done,” she said.

East Charlotte resident Susan Lindsay, who lives in Rosecroft, recalled how Fewell helped find a trailer this year to serve as the Little Miss Hickory Grove float in the Fourth of July parade.

Cheryl Ginn, a friend of Fewell who leads Christian Fellowship of Huntersville with her husband, said Fewell attends their worship services.

“One time she arrived one hour ahead of time, and she just jumped right into helping me vacuum,” Ginn said.

So when Ginn heard Fewell was facing financial trouble, Ginn asked the fellowship how it could help. One friend suggested a GoFundMe page, a website that offers tools for personal fundraising campaigns; from there, the action blossomed into a communitywide effort.

The page went up in September and so far has raised about $7,000. Donations to help Fewell can go to www.gofundme.com/ey2804.

“Right now there’s a lot of prayer going on,” Ginn said.

Fewell said she often tears up when she thinks about how the community has supported her.

“It has been so humbling,” she said. “To everyone who has prayed or donated, thank you.”

Struggles continued

Fewell’s community activism has garnered her attention from citywide organizations. In September, she was a finalist for Charlotte’s Neighborhood Leadership People’s Choice Award.

The award ultimately went to Hollis Nixon from NoDa.

Fewell said she was humbled just to be nominated. “I did not realize how many people were paying attention or how much impact what I was doing had on these people,” she said.

Meanwhile, Fewell has struggled to fix her financial problems. A recent bank statement shows that Fewell’s principal balance is $73,572.42. She filled some gaps by doing odd jobs like yard work.

She says she also received assistance from the North Carolina Foreclosure Prevention Fund from 2011 to 2012.

Then came the notice that her home would be auctioned in November.

“Ever ride horses and have one step on your foot? That’s what it feels like,” she said. “But I keep my faith in God.”

Garris said she knew Fewell would have a hard time asking for help. “She’s never been one to talk too much about her personal situation,” Garris said, “and she’s never been one to ask for anything.”

But helping Fewell is the right thing to do, Garris said.

“It’s the only thing to do,” she said. “If there’s ever been anyone who deserved a break, this lady is that person.”