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Panthers CB Charles Tillman and wife put their hearts into Charlotte

Carolina Panthers’ Charles Tillman (31) heads upfield after intercepting a New England Patriots' Tom Brady pass during the first half in their preseason game at Bank of America Stadium on August 28, 2015.
Carolina Panthers’ Charles Tillman (31) heads upfield after intercepting a New England Patriots' Tom Brady pass during the first half in their preseason game at Bank of America Stadium on August 28, 2015. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Carolina Panthers cornerback Charles Tillman is putting down roots in Charlotte with an initiative that’s close to his heart.

His foundation is holding its first benefit in Charlotte Monday at the Ritz to support the Tiana Fund, which is named after Tillman’s young daughter and will provide financial assistance to families in need with children at the Levine Children’s Hospital.

Tillman signed a one-year deal with the Panthers last offseason after 12 years in Chicago, where the Tiana Fund partners with eight hospitals. It’s designed to help families with everyday costs, from bills to gas, that can be hard to cover if a child is hospitalized for an extended period.

Tillman and his wife Jackie learned about the need for such a program firsthand. Their daughter Tiana, who turns 8 in February, went into heart failure when she was three months old and got a heart transplant when she was six months.

“We lived in the hospital for four months and we saw what families needed,” says Jackie Tillman, who reviews each application submitted. She then works with hospital social workers to meet the needs of each family.

Then the fund, which is part of the Charles Tillman Cornerstone Foundation, sends money to wherever the applicant indicates a need, such as a mortgage company or landlord, rather than directly to the applicant.

“We’ve had places fumigated for bugs so that the family could move back in,” Tillman says.

Charles Tillman will tell his family’s story at Monday evening’s event, which will also feature a live and silent auction, attendance by other Panthers players and a choral performance. Tickets are almost sold out but available for purchase at on the foundation’s website.

“A lot of people don’t really know our story in Charlotte, so the plan is to let everyone know why we’re doing what we’re doing,” Jackie Tillman says.

Tillman says reception of the Tiana Fund in Charlotte so far has been “amazing.” Initially the plan was to hold off a bit on the launch, she says, but the organization now is riding the wave of enthusiasm from the Panthers’ near-perfect record.

“We’re going to be back and forth a lot (between Charlotte and Chicago),” Tillman says. “I’m really expecting this team to go to the Super Bowl. Charlotte is like a second home now.”

Katherine Peralta: 704-358-5079, @katieperalta

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