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United Way Art Auction

Welcome to the

United Way Virtual Art Auction

September 1 - 17

Karen Meredith, a United Way donor and volunteer, is also an award-winning oil and watercolor artist and generously gifted 60 pieces of art to United Way of Chatham County for a virtual auction fundraiser! The collection features works by Meredith as well as her father, Maurice LaReau. You can read more about why Meredith decided to offer this gift to United Way by scrolling to the bottom of the page. 

IMPORTANT AUCTION INFORMATION:

The online art auction will be held Wednesday, September 1 through Friday, September 17. Items will go live September 1, and to place a bid or purchase are you must create a login account with the United Way auction website. There are a few ways to purchase the art:

  1. Items will be awarded to the highest bidders on the last day of the auction – Friday, September 17 – at 5 p.m.
    • If you are outbid on an item you will receive an email notification – be sure to check your spam folder.
  2. There is a “Buy Now” option – items can be purchased immediately if offered the value, which has been set by Karen Meredith. 

Art pickup information will be emailed to you at the close of the auction. You have the option to pick up from Meredith’s home Wednesday, September 22, or pick up at the United Way office in Pittsboro at a later date. 

100% of all proceeds will benefit United Way of Chatham County. If you are unable to participate in the art auction, or are bidding and would like to make an additional contribution to United Way, you can make a donation by CLICKING HERE

ABOUT THE ARTISTS

Karen Meredith

Maurice LaReau

Over the years Meredith’s art has been showcased in more than 50 invited solo and juried shows around the country.  Meredith is primarily self-taught, and has engaged in workshops with a large number of internationally-known artists.  

Meredith works mostly with oil and watercolor and draws inspiration from light and color: “It is their dynamic interplay that creates beauty and interest in my visual world,” said Meredith. “I find my favorite images outdoors, either in sunlit spaces or moody shadows. I approach each canvas as a new challenge to capture this fleeting experience.”

Click here to visit Meredith’s website.

LaReau was an accomplished artist, graduating from Rhode Island School of Design, and teaching at Brown University, Pomfret Art School, and the Ft Lauderdale Institute. LaReau spent summers in Provincetown studying with well-known artists, such as Hans Hoffman. 

Like Meredith, LaReau was also inspired by the outdoors and travels. He won numerous awards and held more than 10 exhibitions. He also served as the art critic for the Fort Lauderdale News/Sun-Sentinel for 12 years. 

Reasons to Donate to United Way

Written by Karen Meredith

I have decided to put these works up for sale with ALL proceeds going to United Way of Chatham County. My reason for selecting this agency is fivefold:

  1. I had the honor of serving on a grant review panel this spring and was extremely impressed with the professionalism of their process. I told them that it was as organized as any experience I had working for various Federal agencies.
  1. United Way of Chatham County funding serves one in three Chatham residents. The need is deep in our community, which may come as a surprise to many. With pockets of affluence in this county, it is easy to forget that there are also pockets of great poverty. In some western corners of Chatham County, the nearly 40% of families live below the federal poverty level. This means, 40% of four-person families right here in some portions of Chatham County earn less than $27,000 annually.
  1. I feel that their limited funds were being directed to the most important projects and capable programs. By using United Way as an oversight organization, they are acutely aware of the needs of County. They can ensure that there is limited overlap of efforts and maximum collaboration with other agencies in the area. They are able to “vet” these agencies before giving them money. They also expect measurable outcomes from grantees.
  1. United Way of Chatham County has a very capable but extremely small staff with minimum overhead costs. Its board has strong leadership with wide expertise.
  1. It has a track record of serving the neediest in that community. For 36 years the United Way in Chatham County has supported many local nonprofits delivering service to meet the most critical needs. This year their support of 23 programs will provide the following to our community: food, housing assistance, job and workplace skills training, support for sexual assault and domestic violence victims, increased access to health care resources, early childhood care and education opportunities. In total, United Way funded programs will impact 37,813 lives in the next twelve months.

Karen Meredith Art Auction Press Release

Online Art Auction to Benefit United Way of Chatham County

Local, award-winning artist Karen Meredith donates 60 pieces for auction

The United Way of Chatham County is hosting an online art auction September 1 through September 17, with all proceeds benefitting United Way. Karen Meredith, a celebrated artist, Chatham resident, and United Way volunteer and donor, has generously donated 60 pieces of artwork to United Way for the auction. Items will go to the person offering the highest bid or who first offers the suggested retail price. To view artwork, place bids and purchase, follow this link: www.UnitedWayOfChathamCounty.org/auction/.

Meredith volunteered with United Way of Chatham County during the allocations process in the spring to review and analyze the programs vying for United Way funding. Her experience as a program evaluator prompted her decision to offer this fundraising opportunity to United Way.

“I was extremely impressed with the professionalism of their process,” Meredith said of the United Way’s funding allocations process. “It was as organized as any experience I had working for various Federal agencies.

“Their limited funds are being directed to the most important projects and capable programs. By using United Way as an oversight organization, they are acutely aware of the needs of the county. They can ensure that there is limited overlap of efforts and maximum collaboration with other agencies in the area.”

Over the years Meredith’s art has been showcased in more than 50 invited solo and juried shows around the country.  Meredith is primarily self-taught, and works mostly with oil and watercolor. Paintings from her father, Maurice LaReau, will also be featured in the auction. LaReau was an accomplished artist, graduating from Rhode Island School of Design, and teaching at Brown University, Pomfret Art School, and the Ft Lauderdale Institute.

“I am thrilled to be able to support United Way of Chatham County in this manner,” said Meredith. “Creating art is a joy and privilege for me. It’s satisfying knowing that it also can benefit an organization that is so adept at serving such a large number of people with great needs.”

The United Way of Chatham County serves one in three Chatham residents. Proceeds from the auction will benefit the United Way’s annual impact fund, which currently funds 23 programs managed by 16 nonprofit agencies that specialize in the education, financial stability and health of Chatham County residents. For more information on the agencies and programs funded by United Way, volunteer opportunities, or to make a donation, visit www.UnitedWayOfChathamCounty.org.

Day of Service Commissioner Resolution

United Way of Chatham County’s Day of Service Recognized by Chatham County Commissioners

PITTSBORO, NC – The Chatham County Board of Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution Monday, August 16, recognizing Wednesday, September 15, 2021 as the official United Way of Chatham County Day of Service.

 The Day of Service is an all-day event that unites community leaders, businesses and volunteers to complete community service projects for nonprofits across Chatham County, and will serve as the official kick off to the 2021 United Way Annual Campaign.

“It is no secret that our community is still feeling the impacts of COVID-19,” said Alane Coore, Finance Officer for United Way of Chatham County. “One thing that every non-profit agency in Chatham County has experienced over the last year is a decrease in volunteer support. Our hope is that this event will encourage the connection between those who can help to those who need help.

“By supporting this event you are encouraging others to make a difference in their community and we can’t thank you enough.”

Once the resolution passed, Chatham County Commissioner Jim Crawford said supporting United Way of Chatham County is a “privilege,” and encouraged everyone in attendance to “just give five hours of your time to any United Way organization.”

“Lean in with your time and effort,” Crawford said.

To volunteer for a Day of Service project, or for more information, visit www.UnitedWayOfChathamCounty.org/DayofService/.

The Day of Service would not be possible without the generous support of our community. Thank you to our 2021 Day of Service Sponsors: Carolina Civilworks, Inc.; Axis Utility Inc.; Sanctuary Apartment Homes at Powell Place; Triangle Community Foundation; and Realty World Carolina Properties and Marley’s Hair Design. Many thanks to our media sponsor, Chatham News + Record.

United Way of Chatham County’s Day of Service To Kick Off 2021 Campaign

The United Way of Chatham County will kick off its annual campaign with the Day of Service Wednesday, September 15, 2021. The Day of Service is an all-day event that unites community leaders, businesses and volunteers to complete community service projects for nonprofits across Chatham County.

This year 8 local organizations submitted 9 community service projects: Boys & Girls Club Wren Family Center – outdoor enrichment and facility beautification and playground updates; Chatham CARES Pharmacy, Smith and Buckner Funeral Home and Siler City Police Department – food drive and drug take back event; Chatham Education Foundation – book sort and distribution; Chatham Trades – fence installation; CORA Food Pantry – grounds maintenance, repairs and landscaping; Chatham Habitat for Humanity – community build; Salvation Army – Angel Tree preparation; Primrose School of Chapel Hill at Briar Chapel – school supply drive for students of Chatham County Schools.

To volunteer for a Day of Service project, or for more information, visit www.UnitedWayOfChathamCounty.org/DayofService/.

The Day of Service would not be possible without the generous support of our community. Thank you to our 2021 Day of Service Sponsors: Carolina Civilworks, Inc.; Axis Utility Inc.; Sanctuary Apartment Homes at Powell Place; Triangle Community Foundation; and Realty World Carolina Properties. Many thanks to our media sponsor, Chatham News + Record.

United Way of Chatham County Announces 2021 Issue-Based Grant Funding Recipients

The United Way of Chatham County has selected four nonprofit programs to receive funding from their first ever Issue-Based Grant. A total of $87,500 will support programs making an impact on homelessness and COVID-19 learning loss among K-12 students.

In total, three agencies were awarded the special funding: Communities In Schools, The Boys and Girls Club and Chatham County NC Homeless Shelters.

Communities In Schools was granted funding to expand the role of the High School Success Coach at Jordan Matthews High School. The program offers integrated student supports to youth referred and enrolled in the program. Supports include tutoring and academic assistance, parent engagement, social emotional support, regular check-ins, basic needs, mental and physical health resources, and case management. United Way funding will provide tutoring and summer enrichment with assistance in math, science, and language arts to at least 40 students at Jordan Matthews High School.

The Boys and Girls Club was awarded Issue-Based Grant funding to support education across the county. Funds were awarded for their Bridge the Gap Program at the Wren Family Center in Siler City and to support the opening of their Pittsboro Club this fall. The Bridge the Gap program will serve students at the Wren Family Center in Siler City to mitigate learning loss due to COVID-19 with hands-on, project-based programs. United Way’s investment in the Pittsboro Club will support the Power Hour Program for the club’s first year. Power Hour helps students ages 6-18 achieve academic success by providing homework support, tutoring and technology engaged activities. In total, the United Way Issue-Based Grant funding will allow the Boys and Girls Club to enhance the education of up to 225 Chatham County School Students this year.

A new organization, Chatham County NC Homeless Shelters, was awarded funding to increase the resources available to Chatham’s homeless population through a program called Love Chatham. Chatham County NC Homeless Shelters is an organization that provides temporary shelter and emergency food to those in need in Chatham County. Now a certified 501(c)(3), the agency began serving the community in December 2020. The organization is a collaboration of efforts, led by dedicated community members, between Freedom Family Church of Siler City, Tyson’s Creek Baptist Church of Bear Creek, and First Wesleyan Church in Siler City. United Way funding will allow the organization to hire a part-time program manager to direct services, and purchase supplies to open temporary shelters within partner churches. The Love Chatham program will shelter 1,200 individuals this year and offer crisis food to 1,000 Chatham County residents. Ultimately, the goal of Chatham County NC Homeless Shelters is to open a permanent homeless shelter in Chatham County.

“Increasing the financial and human resources available for providing human care services to county residents is The United Way- it is our mission and the reason we exist.” said Katie Childs, Executive Director of the United Way of Chatham County. “We have a responsibility to be agile and get creative in order to direct resources to the most critical needs in Chatham County. This is how we will continue moving the needle for change.”

CORA Goes Mobile

Mobile Markets become a lifeline to parts of the Chatham community

Marina Garcia Garillo, of Siler City, is disabled, lives alone, and each month when she receives her disability check, she says it’s never enough. She doesn’t remember the last time she had a hamburger – her favorite food – and when she’s craving one she’ll drive somewhere where she can smell them cooking.

Marina has been a client of CORA’s food pantry for 6 years, and recently, the Mobile Market. She enjoys the variety of foods available, and the accessibility and ease of the Mobile Market. And occasionally, when luck is on her side, ground beef will be available through CORA and she’ll cook a burger at home.

CORA is one of United Way of Chatham County’s highest funded agencies. United Way funding will provide 16,500 individuals and 1,250 children with food this year. Whether it’s through the pantry in Pittsboro, or through their Mobile Market, United Way helps ensure food is available to those in need in our community.

The Mobile Market is a fairly new avenue CORA is using to reach people who live in food deserts, or in the western part of Chatham County and are unable to drive to the pantry in Pittsboro. It began in October 2019 in the parking lot of Chatham Hospital, set up like a farmer’s market. Once the pandemic began, the market was halted in March 2020. COVID-19 presented a number of problems for CORA, with the first main obstacle being the food supply chain.

“It was broken,” said Melissa Driver Beard, CORA’s Executive Director. “The week I realized COVID was getting real, we placed an order (for food). Right on the heels of that order, we placed a second order.”

Driver Beard said food orders were typically supposed to be received within 10 days of order. The March order she received in April, and the April order she received in July. Grocery stores were ordering up all of the food and not much was available. CORA was able to purchase some food the schools would have normally used, and the Food Bank of Central and Eastern NC was able to increase the amount of food they gave to CORA. The rest of what they needed they received from the community.

“We had amazing community support,” she said. “We were drowning in produce from local farmers – it was a great problem to have. Had it not been for food donations last March through July, I’m not certain we would have been able to serve everyone in need. The supply chain was horribly broken during that time period.”

Monetary donations during the pandemic also flew in for CORA, including $3,000 from the United Way COVID-19 Relief Fund that served 600 people.

The Mobile Market started up again one month later in April (2020) on Technology Way in Siler City. The market now operates as a drive-thru.

In May of 2020 CORA’s Mobile Market served 170 families in two hours. In May of 2021 CORA’s market served 114 families – 70 of those families were served in 40 minutes. Six CORA staff and 5-10 community volunteers keep it running smoothly each month. And recently CORA has tested its Mobile Market in other areas, proving to be the biggest success in The Nature Trail community north of Pittsboro, where it will now remain a permanent location for the market.

“At our first Mobile Market at Nature Trail we nearly ran out of food,” said Rebecca Hankins, Development and Communications Director of CORA. “Over the past two months we have served 850 individuals and believe we are having the greatest impact at this location. We are not done growing the program yet – CORA is also looking at additional strategic points around the county where food insecurity is high.”

“When transportation is your block (from food), going to people is super important,” said Kristine Ashwood, Operations Director for CORA. “Mobile Markets have become a really significant part of where we are heading.”

While the Mobile Market is expanding, so are CORA’s services in Pittsboro. A new building will soon house all of CORA’s food, including walk-in and wall freezers and coolers. CORA’s clients will be able to shop in the new building, with roomy grocery store aisles – which is much different than the multiple roomed food labyrinth that currently exists in CORA’s current building. A renovation to a back portion of CORA’s current building will include a reception and waiting area for its clients, and also a children’s play and enrichment area.

The United Way’s 2020 Day of Service provided a new sidewalk outside the main entrance to CORA, and a proposed 2021 Day of Service project will fill holes in the asphalt outside the building, which will be much safer for their clients, volunteers and staff.

Beard said CORA is entrenched in the Chatham community, and its success is a direct result of its supporters.

“Everybody sort of grasps hunger,” she said. “The volunteers here are phenomenal and so committed. I’ve never seen volunteers that are so dedicated – it kind of blows my mind.” She also credits CORA’s success to its Board of Directors, and the incredible staff.

For Marina Garcia Garillo and so many in Chatham County, CORA is a lifeline.

“Everything is so expensive, and it’s getting worse and worse,” Marina said. “CORA is a great help.”


The United Way of Chatham County’s 2021 Impact Fund supports 22 programs from 16 nonprofits in Chatham County. CORA will receive $40,000 from United Way this year, and an estimated 17,750 people will be served. To learn more about the United Way of Chatham County, please visit www.unitedwayofchathamcounty.org or call the office at 919-542-1110.

Council on Aging Story

Council on Aging Builds Stronger Programs, Relationships and Community During Pandemic

Thelma Brewer has lived in a nineteenth century farmhouse in Bennett for over 35 years. She’ll be 81 in June and a series of strokes and falls have made her almost entirely homebound. The Chatham County Council on Aging has been an essential part of her everyday life for the past several years, particularly throughout the pandemic. Brewer has an in-home aide for two-and-a-half hours five days a week, receives a weekly “Friendly Phone Call” from Council on Aging staff, and also receives weekly shelf-stable meals. The Council on Aging even sends her a Chatham News + Record newspaper each week.

“That Vickie Cheek – she called me during COVID more than she called her own kids, I believe,” Brewer said of the Council on Aging’s Vickie Cheek. Cheek and many of the Council on Aging staff make weekly Friendly Phone Calls – something they say they look forward to about as much as their clients.

Serving Chatham County senior citizens for nearly 47 years, the Council on Aging has become a pandemic response powerhouse, shifting services and filling in the gaps, applying for grants and securing funding, while providing essential services to the senior citizens of Chatham County. Since the pandemic began, the Council on Aging has responded to more than 16,000 requests for information and requests for assistance, via phone calls, email and in-home visits. Despite the pandemic, the Council on Aging’s extensive list of programs and offerings to senior citizens only slightly changed.

“Very little went away,” said Dennis Streets, Executive Director of the Council on Aging. “We had to find other ways to make things happen. I don’t think we hardly stopped doing anything, and in some ways we’ve done even more. Our online wellness programming is an example of that.”

Thelma's dog Bernie keeps her company when she's by herself at home. She enjoys sitting on her porch, but hopes to one day have a motorized scooter so she and Bernie can roam the property together.

 

Chatham Community Comes Together to Provide Meals for Seniors

At the start of the pandemic, even before Chatham County saw its first positive cases of COVID-19, the Council on Aging (COA) had begun phone conversations and meetings with everyone receiving services. As initial health recommendations emerged, COA staff taught seniors how to sneeze into their elbows and to wash their hands while singing two rounds of “Happy Birthday,” and began discussing what their needs may be during the pandemic should they have to stay home.

Their doors closed March 16, 2020, with staff and a few volunteers coming in to help with meal delivery.  They initially put their in-person congregate meals on hold at both the Eastern (Pittsboro) and Western (Siler City) Senior Centers. Soon after, to protect the safety of volunteers—many of whom are seniors themselves—the daily, volunteer-driven Meals on Wheels went on hold as well. Staff had to make changes to their meal delivery programs, immediately shifting to shelf-stable and frozen meal delivery.

Streets said COA was “proficiently proactive” and placed a large order of shelf-stable meals early into the pandemic before the meals became hard to find. In 2020 United Way of Chatham County awarded COA $9,000 through its COVID Relief Fund, which provided 2,960 shelf-stable meals, serving 195 individuals. Clients now have their choice of a box of shelf-stable meals, or frozen meals (from Asheboro’s Golden Corral).

“When I heard about the United Way COVID Relief Fund in May 2020, I was reluctant at first to request support because I knew many other local nonprofits were also struggling with the issues and needs presented by the pandemic,” Streets said.  “Still, I was so pleased to learn we were awarded funds to support purchase of shelf-stable meals and other items to assist Chatham seniors sheltering in place.

“Nearly a year later, we have now served 128 new meals recipients in addition to those we already had enrolled in our nutrition program before the pandemic began.”

For the first month during the pandemic, meal deliveries were handled by volunteers – then other agencies stepped in, including the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office, Chatham County Manager’s Office, Emergency Management, the Chatham County Health Department, UNC Medical School, Siler City Pharmacy, Chatham Health Alliance, and Chatham County Parks and Recreation. The Chatham Agriculture and Conference Center provided storage space for the shelf-stable meals. Eventually the delivery assistance from those agencies was replaced via a partnership with Chatham Transit, which now delivers all meals, incontinence supplies, medical equipment, pet food and supplies, and fans (during summer months). COA has also worked closely with CORA Food Pantry during the pandemic, and CORA now delivers groceries to several COA clients.

Howard Alston

Howard Alston works for Chatham Transit and has been delivering meals and supplies to seniors since Chatham Transit took over. He’s had the same route with the same seniors for about one year.

“I’ve always said, ‘Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you,’” Alston said. “A lot of (the seniors) are very, very, very kind and very glad to get their food. A lot of them are shut in and don’t have transportation.”

Alston said it is humbling to know that so many people take time to care for the seniors of Chatham County.

“A lot of times they are overlooked and not treated as part of society as they used to be,” he said. “It’s a joyful feeling when they come to the door and give you that smile.”

In-Home Aide and Caregiver Challenges

Prior to the pandemic, COA had five state-licensed home care agencies under contract. Soon after the pandemic struck, they added two more. COA currently provides personal in-home aide care to 62 seniors. Streets said their Board of Directors recently approved to continue with seven agencies this next fiscal year. Even with seven agencies, there is still a waiting list.

Vickie Cheek, COA’s Homebased Services Manager, said she calls each agency weekly to ask if aides are available.

“It remains very difficult to find an available aide when we get a new case,” Cheek said.

Cathy, the in-home aide for Thelma Brewer, works for First Choice, a company contracted by COA. She works 48 hours each week and has a total of five clients with COA. She said her clients have felt safe with her, but some of her clients’ family members didn’t always wear masks, and she ended up having to quarantine twice due to positive cases among clients’ family members.

COVID fears contributed to some seniors being completely alone in their homes.

“Close to 100 percent of the people who participated in my driveway visits in the fall and winter  had no visitors – their children didn’t want to come around them because of COVID,” said Susan Hardy, Human Services Team Leader and Caregiver Specialist for COA. She does the initial intake for COA’s caregiver respite program, which also faces problems finding aide coverage.

“They are starving for people to interact with,” she said.

Hardy said COVID fears also caused some in-home aide clients to temporarily discontinue the program, with family or friends taking over and becoming the caregiver. Ironically, prior to COVID, a consumer-directed care program was in the works at COA – a program they implemented during the pandemic with the help of the Triangle J Council of Governments. Triangle J completely oversees the program, and Streets said a recently awarded grant will help pay for the program again this coming fiscal year.

The pandemic has also shed light on the need for caregiver respite, which is intermittent caregiver relief. Prior to COVID Hardy was in the final planning stages of a volunteer-based respite program – REST – Running Errands and Sleep Time. The program was to offer caregiver respite at 13 churches across Chatham, for four hours each week, allowing the caregiver to have time to themselves. Twenty volunteers had already been trained to help staff the churches, but the program had to be put on hold due to the pandemic. Hardy hopes it will begin by the end of 2021.

Another program of Hardy’s, a caregiver support group, had to go from in-person meetings to virtual. Prior to the pandemic caregivers would bring their loved ones to the senior center for activities, while the caregivers met and provided conversation and support to one another. The virtual support groups have been helpful, and Hardy now offers driveway visits. In addition, the Family Caregivers’ Support Group has recently resumed socially distanced in-person meetings on the porch of COA’s Eastern Center.   

“A lot of caregivers need a break but are afraid of letting anyone into their homes,” she said. “They have been isolated with their loved ones without any help.”

 

COVID Vaccinations and Reopening Senior Centers

Streets said vaccine education and sign up was something that became a priority for the senior community once the vaccinations became available. COA worked closely with the Department of Public Health, and Public Health eventually allowed the COA to register people directly into their system. COA staff called everyone they served, helping family members navigate the vaccination rollout and signing up those who were homebound and had no one to help them. COA also helped arrange transportation through Chatham Transit to vaccination centers. In addition to continuing its support of transportation to medical appointments, the COA also began arranging transportation to pharmacies, grocery stores, banks, and other essential services.  

Thelma Brewer said she was elated when vaccinations became available.

“When they got those shots this old woman was the first in line to get hers,” she said.

“They were afraid of COVID,” Cheek said of the seniors she spoke with. “They wanted to get out. They were so glad when they got the shot.”  

Preparing for reopening, COA staff called 125 of their senior center congregate meal participants, and of the 100 who responded, 94 were already vaccinated.

“Having people fully vaccinated will make it much easier for us to reopen,” Streets said. “The vast majority of our participants say they really want folks to be vaccinated if they were to be at the senior center.”

Cheek said in speaking with her clients each day, she knows they are looking forward to returning to the senior centers.

“They need that interaction, and we had a great time up here,” she said. “They had a lunch bunch, would go on trips, play dominoes, exercise, eat… it’s a fellowship and it’s like a family. A lot of them have missed that and they are looking forward to coming back.”

This July, the vaccinated seniors of Chatham will hopefully be able to do just that. The COA’s 47th anniversary celebration will be a virtual event July 8, but Streets said he hopes to invite people back to the senior center for a hot meal. Because the Eastern (Pittsboro) Center will be undergoing renovations, COA will begin shuttling people from Pittsboro to the Western Center (Siler City). Occupancy numbers will be significantly reduced; however, staff is looking forward to having people back.

“Socialization is so big – a huge part of their well-being,” said Allison Andrews, COA’s Volunteer Coordinator. “We want them back at the centers.”

The pandemic has challenged COA staff, the COA Board of Directors, volunteers, and their community partners in many ways over the past year, and they are all in agreement the experience has made the agency stronger.

“I can’t think of enough adjectives to express my delight with the staff and people wanting to help – volunteers, the community partners… it’s been a team effort,” said Streets. “When you talk about faith in humankind, that’s what it is. People have really gone beyond the call of duty in terms of finding ways to help each other within our community. It’s gratifying. I’m blessed to work with an outstanding group of people.”

Friendly Phone Calls

United Way Support

United Way Day of Service is Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Calling all Chatham nonprofits! The UWCC Day of Service will once again kick off our annual campaign and we are seeking community service projects!
The 2021 Day of Service – Wednesday, September 15 – is a day where United Way coordinates teams of volunteers across Chatham County to execute service projects at nonprofits that will improve or enhance the delivery of its services. If you are a Chatham nonprofit, have a project in mind and could use help, please fill out our online form by Monday, May 17.

Boys & Girls Club Wren Family Center

Wren Family Center Staff, Boys & Girls Club of Central Carolina Make Big Changes, Sacrifices During Pandemic

Children thankful for a safe and fun environment for learning

Three employees, 50 children, zero volunteers and 10-hour days. The Boys & Girls Club Wren Family Center’s programs have made many shifts over the past year.

“It’s been hard,” said Joy Roberts, Club Executive Director of the Wren Family Center. “Really hard.”

The Wren Family Center’s Power Hour is an essential part of its afterschool program, and typically consists of one hour of tutoring and homework assistance once the children have had their afternoon snack. Once the pandemic reached the US in March of 2020, children were forced out of their classrooms, away from their afterschool programs, mentors, tutors and friends, and into their homes to end their school year virtually. Knowing that the lockdown would negatively impact the children, the Boys & Girls Club of Central Carolina acted quickly when they were forced to close March 15.

“We completely restructured our programming to virtual,” said Elizabeth Colebrook, Resource Development and Marketing Coordinator for Boys & Girls Club of Central Carolina.

Power Hour continued, and the Wren Family Center also began virtual tutoring from 3:00 p.m. until 4:30 p.m. each day.

“It was our way of staying connected with them,” Roberts said. “We continued Power Hour, and our Smart Girls and Passport to Manhood programs. We tried to do spirit days and just stay connected with the children.”

Traci Newby, the Wren Family Center’s Mentor Coordinator, said he was a little anxious about connecting with the children via Zoom versus in person, but he quickly realized how much the children were excited to connect with something familiar.

“Seeing them light up when they saw us, it calmed my nerves,” he said. “It motivated me to keep staying on for them.”

While continuing the virtual programming through the end of the school year, the Boys & Girls Club worked with local and state officials to get bills passed to allow their clubs to become childcare facilities.

The Wren Family Center was usually open for three to four hours each day after school, and once they gained certification as an emergency childcare facility, they reopened the center at 50% capacity June 8, providing full summer programming from 7:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m., Mondays through Fridays.

Summer programming was a challenge because there were no field trips, and the children had to wash their hands every hour, wear a mask and stay away from each other.

“Keeping them motivated and active while keeping them apart was a challenge,” Newby said.

Volunteers were not available, either, but Roberts said virtual opportunities proved to be a success, including virtual Bingo and Family Feud games, virtual panel discussions with the girls and discussions with the boys.

“We had to think outside the box,” she said. “Our volunteers were able to help us virtually.”

Back to School

The real challenges came in August when the children began a new school year, 100 percent virtual.

“Power Hour turned into an all-day Power Hour,” Roberts said. “All of the kids were on different schedules, so we had to make sure we had everyone’s school schedule. We had to teach them how to log on. Wifi was in and out because everyone was pulling from one source.”

Roberts said they separated everyone by grades, and then separated the boys and girls. She said they eventually found their routine. The children were also able to gain additional assistance from their teachers – and the teachers helped the staff, too.

“We were lost,” Roberts said. “We were able to ask them questions, and they helped us so much.”

Because the children were at the Wren Family Center for 10 hours each day, the center provided breakfast and lunch to every child. To provide the meals, the Boys & Girls Club of Central Carolina went through the process of becoming a food distributor. They purchased food from a distributor or the Food Bank of Central and Eastern NC, prepared the meals, and had a bus drive from Lee County to pick up the meals up each day and drive them to the club sites.

Aside from five to six hours of Zoom each day, staff needed to provide breaks for personal development and exercise. They said it was hard to keep the children motivated.

Newby said over time staff figured out what motivated the children, and determined what did not work as well.

“We provided them with incentives and rewards,” he said, and implemented “Fun Days” on Wednesdays and Fridays. Fun Days included making smoothies, a taco bar, time at the park and Pelican’s Snowballs days. Another big hit with the children was the creation of a boys’ room and girls’ room. The children held a doughnut fundraiser, and voted on what they wanted to purchase for each of their rooms.

The girls’ room has a makeup station and ring light station for video creation, and the boys’ room has a television station with video games, LED lights, posters and weight station.

“The girls’ room is the most important part of the Wren Center,” said fifth grader Kylie. “We also like swimming in the summer, and we formed a dance group.”

Kylie also enjoys sewing, which Roberts has taught the children the basics of and hopes to continue.

Aireas, a second grader, said she enjoyed having a separate space from the boys and the girls decorate the room according to holidays and birthdays.

“We like spending time together and celebrating each other’s birthdays,” she said.

Mental Health Challenges

Colebrook said retraining and providing new training for staff was one of the biggest challenges they faced. Not only were they facing challenges surrounding the worldwide pandemic, but the nation and world were also responding to the death of George Floyd – with school still in session.

“The murder of George Floyd struck home with a lot of our population,” Colebrook said. “This was a serious mental health issue that we were facing, along with a public health crisis. We had to work to prepare our staff to be able to assess for trauma – whether it was abuse or neglect happening at home, the stress and impact of the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd, we went through the process of training all staff on trauma informed care and resilience training.”

Colebrook said Boys & Girls Club of Central Carolina is currently in the process of getting all staff mental health first aid certified, with 50% of staff currently certified.

“We are not mental health providers but we do need to know what those signs are, and send people to the right place if there is a need,” Colebrook said. 

Danae Johnson, Youth Development Professional for the Wren Family Center, started her role in February of this year, and said she notices the children continue to struggle emotionally.

“This has stressed them out psychologically and emotionally,” Johnson said. “Starting with the fear of people around them getting sick, and then dealing with virtual school, it’s been crazy.”

“The kids were struggling like we were,” Roberts said. “We would talk, and I asked them how do you feel, how do you feel not seeing your grandparents. And we shared our own concerns with them, too, and that’s how I got the kids to open up. We have helped each other.”

Johnson said even though the children are back in school, they are still stressed.

“A lot of them feel like they’re so behind,” she said. “They feel defeated. It’s hard to encourage them. For the younger kids who had never been to school, they missed out on the hidden curriculum – sitting in chairs, raising their hands, asking permission. So for the younger ones school is helping them now. But it’s harder for the older ones.”

The Silver Lining

For the three staff at the Wren Family Center, their main focus continues to be supporting the children in the program and providing them the resources and attention for academic and personal growth.

“The pandemic showed us why we do what we do,” Newby said. “We had kids who weren’t being encouraged or motivated. We are that second support system for these kids.”

Roberts says she’s proud of her staff, and proud of herself, too.

“This was really, really hard – physically and emotionally,” she said. “We just didn’t know. I was being pulled in every direction. I’m so thankful and grateful for my staff – none of us got sick, and we were able to be here for the kids.”

Now that children are back in school, the Boys & Girls Club will be operating their after-school program until the summer program begins. The staff is vaccinated, but still taking temperatures and asking each child symptoms questions before they enter the building , and they must continue to wear their masks and wash their hands multiple times each afternoon.

Roberts says she dreams of the day she’ll be able to hug the kids again, and she said the kids need the hugs, too. Until then, she and her staff will continue to give them air high-fives.

“Things are getting back to normal now,” Roberts said. “We can be excited together. The children are coming in from school and telling us different things now. It’s getting better for everyone.”

For third grader Zaria, the Boys & Girls Club continues to be a happy place.

“The Boys & Girls Club helped me because I got to see more friends,” she said. “At home it was super boring because I was communicating with the same people. When I came here I was happy.” 

Second grader Aireas says she loves tie dying, being creative and thinking of new things to do with each other. But more than anything she said she loves “hanging with the girls.”

“We love sitting in the shade and talking,” she said.

For most of the children with the Boys & Girls Club, the Wren Family Center and its staff has been their silver lining, and a safe space where they can learn, share their feelings and hang out with their friends.

“When I was home all day I felt like I was in a cage,” said fifth grader Jaysa. “But when I came here, even with my mask on, I felt like I was free to just be me.”

 

The Boys & Girls Club of Central Carolina serves Chatham, Lee and Harnett counties, and the Wren Family Center is located in Siler City. From June through December 2020, 19,000 meals were served to the children at the Wren Family Center, and during the Fall 2020 academic school year, the Wren Family Center provided more than 7,000 hours to school-aged youth.

Despite operating at 50% capacity in the past year, the Wren Family Center was able to enroll the children on the waiting list and never turned away a child based on their parents’ ability to pay. The United Way of Chatham County currently funds 28% of the Power Hour program at the Wren Family Center.

 

Rapid Rehousing pilot program offers homeless family life-changing opportunity

For five years Mike and Karen lived in the woods beside the Siler City Walmart. They searched through dumpsters for food and clothing. Swallowing their pride, they panhandled, asking for money for food, or gas canisters to light the camping stove that kept them warm at night. In the summers they fought off copperheads and coyotes, and during the winter they fought off the cold, watching icicles form above them on the roof of their tent. They never envisioned a life like this.

Years prior they had a place in Pleasant Garden. And they had a car. Karen worked as a waitress, and Mike did odd jobs. But a criminal charge when he was 17, along with untreated schizophrenia, kept Mike from being able to find and keep a good job. When their car broke down and they were unable to pay both their rent and car repairs, Karen lost her job, and one month later they were evicted from their home. They found themselves moving around a bit trying to find their space in the homeless community, eventually making their way to Siler City.

“There was nothing else on my mind but survival,” Mike said.

Donna Smith, Service Center Director for the Salvation Army of Chatham County, met Mike and Karen by chance in the Walmart parking lot. Over the years she got to know them, and would check on them during the cold months to make sure they had gas to keep them warm.

“They were one of the first families that I met, and they were the most chronic,” she said.

In March of 2020 Smith approached Mike and Karen with the opportunity of a lifetime. The Salvation Army had just received funding for one family to enter the Rapid Rehousing Pilot Program – a multi-agency collaboration managed by Salvation Army – to house a homeless family for one year and connect them with every resource needed to end the cycle of poverty and pave the road to self-sufficiency.

“I was in disbelief,” Mike said.

Within days Mike and Karen were resting their heads in a fully furnished apartment, and taking hot showers – something they hadn’t experienced in years.

“The most amazing thing was being able to turn that stove on and get instant heat and cook something to eat,” Mike said. “Not first having to stand and ask people for money, get food, then hope I have enough gas to cook the food. Just being able to prepare a meal with ease was such enjoyment.”

Although cooking brings him the most joy, Mike says nothing compares to the feeling of security he now has by being able to lock his door.

“The security of being able to shut my door and feel safe, and not worry about people coming up and assaulting you, or raiding your camp and getting gear stolen, that’s wonderful,” he said.

The Rapid Rehousing Pilot Program is funded by Salvation Army, United Way of Chatham County and Chatham County Government. In 2020, United Way of Chatham County directed $53,000 of its COVID-19 Relief Fund to the Salvation Army of Chatham County to assist with homelessness caused by COVID-19, with a portion going toward rent expenses for the Rapid Rehousing Pilot Program.

This first year Smith and others have figured out the gaps, worked through significant challenges, and discovered additional community resources to help determine the feasibility and proper execution of a full-time Rapid Rehousing Program in Chatham County. More than 15 community and government organizations and businesses have played a role in the Rapid Rehousing Pilot Program.

“It’s been a huge community event,” Smith said.

PARTNERSHIPS & CHALLENGES

Mike lived most of his life as an undiagnosed schizophrenic, and then most of his homeless life without medication after losing Medicare.

“I remember walking barefoot in the woods and I couldn’t figure out why I was doing it, and where I was,” Mike said. “I was skirting the edge of society for so long because of my disability. I didn’t cry out for the help I needed.”

Mike was eager to gain control of his mental health. However, due to delays created by the pandemic, his Medicaid approval took five months. Once approved, he and Karen were referred to the ACT Team with UNC’s Department of Psychiatry, and they currently work with more than 15 different people within the team. The ACT (Assertive Community Treatment) Team provides support for individuals with severe mental illness as they move from being homeless or living in a facility to living on their own. The team includes a team leader, mental health professionals, nursing staff, psychiatrist, housing specialist, vocational specialist, and a peer support specialist.

Mike now receives his medications in easy-to-manage daily dosage packets, he received an iPhone from the team to help with communication, and they even give him a ride to appointments if needed.

“They are a wonderful organization,” Mike said. “They help me with anything.”

They are also currently working with Mike and Karen on curbing their hoarding habits – one of their greatest challenges at the moment.

“When you lose everything, and when you come by something, you want to keep it because it’s good,” Mike said. “But I’ve been working with doctors, and Donna’s been helping, too.”

Another thing fueling Mike’s collection of goods is his passion for reconstructing and fixing things.

“He is an engineer,” Smith said, and she hopes he can eventually earn an income with his engineering brain. Mike built the bicycle he rides 20+ miles each day, putting parts together to form a reliable ride of his own.

Mike and Karen are both individually working with Central Carolina Community College (CCCC), exploring career paths that can lead them to become self-sufficient.

Nikia Jeffries, Education Navigator at CCCC, works with the Chatham County Employment and Training Program, and knew Mike and Karen while they were homeless. She is now working on a plan with them focusing on the small business and culinary programs.

“The first time I met Mike and Karen they were eager to make a change,” Jeffries said. “Each time Donna and I speak with Mike we can see his growth and willingness to continue to move forward to achieve his visions and dreams of having the security and peace that he deserves.”

NEXT STEPS

Smith said Mike is struggling to find a sense of purpose. She hopes the ACT Team and Central Carolina Community College will help with that.

“He’s not living in crisis now, so he doesn’t know what to do with his time,” she said. “And with COVID, everything is shut down.”

The ACT Team is also working to get Mike disability benefits, but it’s a long process, Smith said.

Despite the current challenges, and fear of the unknown, Mike and Karen remain optimistic and committed to their goal of becoming self-sustainable.

“I want to hopefully get some sort of business going for myself and my wife, if she wants,” Mike says. “I’d like to be able to generate the funds that I need to keep this life. Five years is a long time camping,  and it seems like it was forever.”

Mike says he also wants to help others who are in similar situations he was in. And his main goal, he says, is to just feel human again. “I just want to be accepted in society like everybody else,” he said.

Jeffries believes Mike and Karen’s spirit and desire to help others will help drive them to achieve their goals.

“Mike and Karen have a testimony to share,” Jeffries said. “They can attest that it is not easy to overcome life’s challenges, but when someone is dedicated and willing to accept guidance, they can and will make a difference in their lives. Mike and Karen have made an impact on my life and we will continue to support them as they work towards their goals.”

Smith calls herself lucky to be part of their transformation.

“It’s very humbling to see how far they’ve come, and to see Mike evolve and get excited and thinking of things other than day to day crisis,” Smith said. “This program helps allow them to dream and look at something other than ‘how am I going to get through today.’”

The Rapid Rehousing Pilot Program typically lasts one year, but due to delays and unexpected challenges surrounding the pandemic, Smith has requested additional funding from Salvation Army to allow for a 6- to 12-month extension of services for Mike and Karen. She is unsure if the extension will be granted due to a shortfall in donations in the current budget year.

Mike hopes he can continue to share his story and inspire people to be kind to those in need, and to give what they can. He also worries the homeless population will continue to grow because of the pandemic.

“The people with the hearts that give, please don’t stop giving,” he said. “Look into your heart and if you feel like giving to someone or an organization, just give. It really is a good feeling.”

Mike and Karen prepare for a video with Salvation Army

Mike and Karen received a drive-through housewarming party. Pictured is Salvation Army volunteer, Eric Davis, and CCCC’s Nikia Jeffries.

Mike and Karen’s dog, “B,” helped them get through the hard days

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The United Way of Chatham County funds 22 programs managed by its 15 nonprofit agencies that specialize in the education, financial stability, and health of Chatham County residents. In 2020 the United Way provided an additional $100,000 to agencies with urgent COVID-19 related needs. For more information on the agencies and programs funded by United Way, volunteer opportunities, or to make a donation, visit www.unitedwayofchathamcounty.org.

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