Eight phone calls.
That’s all it took to turn a year-long project dear to the hearts of several members of the Carolina Panthers into a reality for Charlotte-area charities.
Members of the Panthers, led by tight end Chris Manhertz, receiver Torrey Smith, linebacker Luke Kuechly and now-retired defensive end Julius Peppers, worked throughout 2018 to raise money as the team’s Player Impact Committee.
They also, with some help from teammates, researched and vetted dozens of charities before settling on the beneficiaries of a $300,000 donation, helped in part by an NFL grant and ownership matching. The money will be dispersed to various nonprofits throughout the Carolinas in the coming weeks.
Those eight phone calls, made by Manhertz to the leaders of the player-selected, Charlotte-area charities over the weekend, were the result of all of that work.
For some, that call came just in time.
Manhertz called Frances Hall, who runs the Beatties Ford Vocational Trade Center’s Tools for Success program, and told her that he would be handing her a $10,000 check on Monday.
She was overcome with emotion — for how could Manhertz have known he called at the perfect time?
Hall had just had a trying day, and she feared she would have to start turning young men away from her program, which serves as a construction trade school for young and adult men who are either under-employed or re-entering society after incarceration.
“I was getting so frustrated,” Hall said Monday. “I bowed my head and said, ‘Please God, give us some kind of sign that we’re on the right path, that we’re doing what you want us to do.”’
Then, she said, the phone rang.
“When he started talking, I could barely speak. The tears ... just joy,” she said. “(I thought) ‘OK, we are on the right path. There is someone out there that is noticing what we’re doing.”’
Manhertz also selected “A Better World”, a west Charlotte after-school program for underserved youths working with eight Title I schools — providing everything from more personalized instruction to daily needs like breakfast, toothbrushes and toothpaste. It received $25,000 donation, which Manhertz presented Monday afternoon.
“Literacy and education is something that is very near and dear to me,” said Manhertz. “You have to do whatever you can to put certain kids, certain people in a position to be successful.”
Groups of players split up across the city on Monday to present money to their charities of choice, as Manhertz did.
Quarterback Cam Newton, receiver DJ Moore and Smith presented a $15,000 check to Cops and Barbers, which works to establish meaningful relationships between law enforcement and the community.
Kuechly, along with a group that included running back Christian McCaffrey and linebacker Shaq Thompson, presented donations to Bears Behind the Badge, a police-founded effort that sends officers to Mecklenberg County schools to read to children, and to the Charlotte-Mecklenberg Police Foundation.
Peppers and defensive tackle Dontari Poe led the donation efforts to Florence Crittenton Services of North Carolina, which provides health, educational and social services to in-need women, and to the Police Activities League.
And Smith’s second charity selection was particularly personal. Smith’s mother was briefly incarcerated when he was young, but after her release, changed her life. Reintroduction after incarceration has long been a passion of Smith’s, so he was proud to donate to Project BOLT at Bank of America Stadium on Monday.
Smith met founder Gemini Boyd last summer after Smith randomly decided to attend a panel on which Boyd, a formerly incarcerated man who has dedicated his life to helping other rehabilitate, was speaking.
Inspired by Boyd and by his own experience, Smith offered any assistance he could provide to Project BOLT — including Monday’s $10,000 check.
“He wants to make this city better, and he’ll tell you, ‘I kind of hurt the community growing up and the way I was and the situation I was in,’ and he’s making it a better place now,” said Smith.
“That’s what I’m all about. I’m all about second chances and trying to make the community that I’m in a better place.”
The Observer reporter Brendan Marks contributed to this story.