THE MAGIC OF MAKING A DIFFERENCE

For all the festivities, feasting, and frivolity that come with the holidays, the most magical aspect of the season is how everyone’s heart glows a little warmer. And for many of us, the spirit of giving extends beyond family and friends to people we may never know and causes that accomplish good the world over.

In the vignettes that follow, you’ll meet some of the people and organizations in our communities that are helping to
make a difference. These are stories of rescue, rehabilitation, and responsiveness—but most of all they are stories of hope and inspiration.

Here’s hoping you’ll find reason to join one of these groups, or rekindle your passion for other causes.

 

Haley Terry

Haley Terry

Facilitating Essential Travel

Children’s Flight of Hope aids families around the country, but a third of its beneficiaries are from North Carolina.

by Jenni Hart

When a child is diagnosed with a serious medical condition, a family is faced with unimaginable hurdles, many of them financial. Children’s Flight of Hope (CFOH), based in Morrisville, is a lifeline for many, providing transportation and support when a child’s best treatment option requires air travel.

Founded in 1991, CFOH serves children up to age 18—regardless of diagnosis—who require testing, chemotherapy, surgery, or other types of specialized care not available nearby. Once CFOH verifies the medical and financial need, its staff and volunteers mobilize to arrange transportation for the child and one family member. They coordinate with hospitals and medical staff, and prepare the family for their flight.

Last year, CFOH provided 510 flights for 152 children, from 32 states and 16 countries. In 2017, the organization is on track to log more than 800 flights.

In addition to those numbers, which have doubled in just the past couple of years, families are receiving more than air transportation. They’re getting the support of staff and trained volunteers whose jobs require the utmost in compassion and understanding.  

Every initial flight begins with a care package: A soft blanket and teddy bear help ease the uncertainty about what is often a child’s first experience with air travel. A CFOH flight liaison communicates with the pilot, assists with luggage and boarding, and coordinates ground transportation at the flight destination, if needed.

Haley Terry, CEO, explains that the majority of clients have a cancer diagnosis, but others have what are known as orphan diseases—ones affecting fewer than 200,000 people in the U.S. each year and for which there is considerably less funding and awareness. One client, a child from Houston, is only the sixth person in the world to be diagnosed with her particular genetic mutation. She is being flown from Houston to Philadelphia to meet with the doctor who was the first to identify the mutation. Working together, the doctor and family will determine a treatment plan.

“I’ve seen it give families hope,” Terry says. “When they have support and don’t have to worry about paying for airfare, they’re able to focus on their child.” And once a family is approved, she says, “We commit to the family for as long as they need us.”

For one 17-year-old in Charlotte, the commitment began when she was diagnosed with neuroblastoma and flew for the first time at age four, and she remains a client today. “Continuity of care is so important,” Terry says, adding that when a child is seriously ill or injured, the entire family is affected.

Most CFOH flights are commercial, while private charters and flights donated by corporate partners help with clients who need special arrangements, including those whose compromised immunity makes it too risky to fly with other passengers. Terry says that financial contributions are always appreciated, and that local donors may be interested to know the organization is especially committed to North Carolina families, which make up more than a third of its clients.

For more information, visit ChildrensFlightofHope.org.

 

 

grace seidita

grace seidita

Hunger is No Game

A Cary chapter of Spaghetti Sisters is sharing around 400 pounds of food every month with needy neighbors—compared with average monthly donations of 30 to 150 pounds by other chapters.

by Jackie Boeheim

According to North carolina Food Banks, one in six of our residents are in need of food assistance. Officially, North Carolina ranks among the top 10 states for having citizens who suffer from food shortages. And to make matters worse, one in four children under the age of 18 are experiencing hunger.

In 2015, Grace Seidita decided to do something to address the problem, and she started a chapter of Spaghetti Sisters, an organization founded in Marietta, Georgia.

Spaghetti Sisters collects jars of spaghetti sauce and boxes of noodles to deliver to local shelters once a month.  Why spaghetti? It’s inexpensive and feeds many, making it possible for volunteers to buy a meal without emptying their wallet.

Members can participate by purchasing food and dropping it off on the front porch of the organizer’s house. The organizer then collects the goods and arranges it for the monthly delivery.

“It bothers me to know that there are people living close by who are struggling to put food on their table,” Seidita explains. “I participated in the original Spaghetti Sisters chapter for years by dropping off food at the founder’s house once a month.”

After relocating to Cary, Seidita was yearning to be a part of something that made a difference.  That’s when she began her own chapter of Spaghetti Sisters, getting the word out by placing flyers in her neighbors’ mailboxes. The group started out small, with just seven members. After the first donation, word got out and 13 more women joined the group. Today, they stand strong at 85 members, and while most chapters deliver 30 to150 pounds of food each month, this group delivers around 400 pounds of food monthly.

Seidita’s front porch is real estate for spaghetti sauce and noodles. Not a day goes by that a new donation is not made. Seidita collects the food in a spare room of her house and preps it for delivery.

In total, the group has donated 8,161 pounds of food, which equates to 6,869 meals. In fact, the aspirations of this group even captivated the spirit of a local nine-year-old, Jackson.

Feeling inspired by the group, Jackson started his own Facebook page that has over 1,000 followers. In his first month he collected 528 pounds of food, and in his second month brought in 679 pounds of food and $180.

The group’s donations and volunteer work extend beyond spaghetti. Seidita’s chapter can often be seen at the Durham warehouse sorting food, or at Note in the Pocket sorting clothes.

“I genuinely believe that most people want to give, but they just don’t have the time to figure out how,” Seidita says. “When you work together with your friends and neighbors, you can collectively make a big difference for those who are less fortunate.”

To start your own neighborhood chapter of Spaghetti Sisters, email Seidita at spaghettisisters@twc.com.

 

sharon nell

sharon nell

Giving Across Generations

iStock-465510220 copy.jpg
The Center for Volunteer Caregiving helps local seniors maintain their independent lifestyles.

by Kurt Dusterberg

Growing up in Charlotte, Sharon Nell knew just one of her four grandparents, but that’s all it took to change her life.

“My grandmother had a little one-bedroom apartment, and I used to love to go spend the night with her,” Nell recalls. “I knew where to find the cookies, so I would go steal them.”

Together, she and Dottie Noe would keep busy however they could. Dottie never drove, so they walked to a nearby store to buy groceries. As Nell got older, she would carry the bags home. In her grandmother’s later years, she drove her to doctor’s appointments.

The details remain vivid, and they still mean so much. “In the same shopping area, there was a Hardee’s, and one of my favorite treats was going there with her and getting hot dogs,” she says.

Today, the Cary resident remains inspired by the relationship. Nell gives her time to the Center for Volunteer Caregiving (CVC), where she provides transportation for elderly people who cannot otherwise make it to medical appointments. With each trip to the doctor’s office, she honors her grandmother. But the benefits run deeper.

“It’s a very humbling experience spending a day with a care receiver and learning their story,” says Nell, an N.C. State graduate who works for John Deere. “Not that all of them have done incredible things, but they have lived [long] lives. Everybody has a way that they have contributed to the world, whether it’s through good deeds or loving others.”

The work is important, and often overlooked. For many older folks who do not have family nearby, the rides are critical to maintain their independent living. She also helps patients fill out forms and makes sure the staff is attentive to their needs until they meet with the medical professionals.

After years of providing transportation, she is now involved with committee work for the CVC, which serves all of Wake County. She helped grow the foundation’s annual fundraiser, a silent auction, from a pen-and-paper event to an electronic-bidding system. When the foundation is in the midst of a project, she often puts in 15 to 20 hours per week.

Nell is laying the groundwork for her 10-year-old son to learn the same giving spirit. He has stuffed mailers, ridden to appointments, and tagged along as she sought donations for the silent auction.

“I like for him to spend time with me when I’m volunteering so he can see me give my time to something beyond our family,” she says. “I’ve always felt a sense of duty to support my community and help others. I believe we’re here to help each other get along in this world.”

That’s what she did for her grandmother, who lived independently for all of her 86 years—plenty of time to make memories that Nell still honors today. “I remember she would spend the night with us on Christmas Eve, and we would crawl in her bed and listen for Santa together,” she says.

 

jan frantz

jan frantz

Food For Thought

Cary-based Read and Feed brings books and meals to 26 sites across Wake County, nourishing the minds and bodies of children in need.

by Dave Droschak

Jan Frantz remembers her mother telling stories about growing up in the Great Depression, and she would listen intently to the message. “Education to my mom was a passion,” Frantz says. “Learning and books meant everything to her.”

When Frantz, now 67, retired from a chemical firm in Research Triangle Park 15 years ago, she was searching for a way to give back to the community. She naturally gravitated toward elementary school education and tutoring through her local church.

“I remember being so nervous after I signed up,” she says. “I was a businesswoman; I knew nothing about education other than teaching my girls and helping them with their homework. I walked into the kindergarten class and seven of the 17 children needed help. It amazed me that they did not know their alphabet or their numbers.”

At the time, Frantz was also taking a class herself, one at church that asked its students to “do something radical.” She did just that. After talking to some Wake County administrators and educators, she launched a program called Read and Feed.

“I said, ‘Really, there is a food desert out there? I can attract kids with a home-cooked meal.’” Frantz says. With meager funding and a volunteer staff, Frantz began her program, making large pots of hamburger soup and sloppy joes in her garage and purchasing an RV that was converted into a mobile classroom and could travel to the neighborhoods of children in need.

A decade later, Read and Feed, based in Cary, is celebrating its 10th anniversary as one of the Triangle’s most remarkable philanthropic success stories.

There are now more than 38 retrofitted RV mobile units; 600 children in the program; and 13,000 meals served each year, along with 33,000 books that are handed out to kids who would otherwise not have an opportunity to improve their reading—or even read at all.

“To me, the most important thing is when I look at these children, see their enthusiasm, their partnership with the volunteers, and the respect for the other children in the program. They are just so passionate; they want to learn,” Frantz says. “That volunteer means everything to the child—because they come week after week, they are consistent, and they know the child. By the end of 26 weeks, they have really bonded, and that child strives to become better.”

On a yearly basis, the Read and Feed volunteers donate 7,700 hours of their time at 26 program sites in Raleigh, Apex, Garner, Fuquay-Varina, Holly Springs, Rolesville, Knightdale, and Zebulon.

“We have the best people on earth working for us,” Frantz enthuses. “The best thing I’ve ever seen when I volunteered is that that ‘aha moment,’ when a child suddenly gets something that you have been working on week after week—and then they blossom.”

 

mollie church

mollie church

Rescuing Creatures,
Great and Small

From rat terriers to therapy horses,
Mollie Church has found her calling
in animal rescue.

by Kurt Dusterberg

Mollie Church grew up on a farm in Virginia with cattle, horses, dogs, cats, and chickens. But today, she’s all about the dogs, despite one problem. “I’m still allergic to dogs,” she says. “But they win out over my allergies.”

Church has three dogs, all rat terriers. She and her husband, Brandon, have owned several—dating back 16 years. “They have just got a personality that is so different from other dogs,” she says. “They’re very much a family dog and they bond heavily with the whole family.”

The Churches have had as many as five when canine company arrives in the form of a rescue. That’s Mollie’s mission: to find homes for as many of the breed as she can.

The Apex resident volunteers with New Rattitude, a nationwide rat terrier rescue organization that helps sheltered dogs find homes. The process involves individuals volunteering in many roles, including transportation, home visits, and fostering.

Church, who works for IBM, is instrumental in actually getting dogs out of shelters, sometimes in rural counties around the Triangle.

“You just go and pull the dog out of the shelter, where they are waiting on death row,” Church says. “Sometimes it’s as often as several times a month.”

Once she returned from an international business trip, only to have her husband tell her the clock was ticking on a rat terrier in a Triad shelter.

“We drove straight to Greensboro from the airport and picked up the dog,” she recalls. “He was only supposed to be with me for two weeks before going into the foster program, but he was eight years old and had such a hard time adapting that we said, ‘We can’t let him go.’”

Church isn’t sure how many rat terriers she has pulled from shelters and brought to her home, except to say it’s dozens. Sometimes they stay several days, other times for a few weeks. That’s a lot of goodbyes for someone who has a soft spot for temporary terriers.

Church has found one other way to mingle her love of animals with volunteer work. She rescued a horse from an equine therapy program that was closing in Virginia. Today, 17-year-old Razzle is back in business, working with Harbor Reins, a not-for-profit that provides mental health treatment for veterans, military, and their families.

“It’s an astounding connection to an animal that helps you process grief and other things that are hard to deal with,” she says.

 

jon chase and gabby pinto

jon chase and gabby pinto

The Hurricanes Score Big in Fundraising

Yes they want to encourage the next generation of hockey players, but—even more—they want to make life better for children in the community.

by Dave Droschak

We love to cherish our sports memories, and those who witnessed the 2006 Stanley Cup run of the Carolina Hurricanes like to reach into the memory bank every now and then and smile about the team’s ultimate accomplishment.

But there is another side of hockey operations that is equally satisfying to Jon Chase and Gabby Pinto, who are in charge of the team’s charitable arm, the Kids ‘N Community Foundation.

“Those memories on the ice, for many, will last for the rest of their lives, but the money that is going out to the community is going to change lives—and in some situations we are saving lives,” says Chase, the team’s director of community relations and promotions. “We take that job very seriously, and it’s an honor to help make our community better.”

The Kids ‘N Community Foundation awards cash grants totaling at least $550,000 each year to nonprofits, with the focus on the under-served population in the areas of health and education. The foundation also helps fund youth hockey in this area, and to date has funded $14 million in grants.

“It’s fair to say we’re competitive on and off the ice,” Chase says. “We know the impact we can make, so the more money that is raised the more opportunity it creates.”

The team holds annual fundraising events such as a golf tournament, a casino night, and a skate with the Canes. Pinto helps coordinate a silent auction at each home game, which raises an average of $2,000 per game. At the home opener this season, a cornhole board signed by the team fetched $450 for the foundation.

“The players are the unique aspect of our events,” Pinto notes. For example, recent auction winners were placed in an escape room with captain Jordan Staal and forward Victor Rask, all of them spending an hour trying to elude zombies.

“It is on us to ensure that we can raise the most money for nonprofits in the area, and make sure we are consistently and constantly re-energizing things,” Chase adds. “Sure, people are at these events to help raise money for the foundation, but they also want to have a good time. It is imperative that the guest experience is premier.”

This fall, the Hurricanes and KIOTI Tractor created the “Assist For Hunger” program, a multi-year partnership to help end childhood hunger in North Carolina. In conjunction with the Hurricanes’ 20th anniversary season, KIOTI Tractor will make a $20 donation to the Kids ‘N Community Foundation for every Hurricanes assist during the regular season. The donation will support Urban Ministries of Wake County, and the Hurricanes and KIOTI Tractor aim to raise $20,000 this season through the program.

The focus on kids 18 and under is for good reason: “There is a realization that kids are our future and we want to invest in the community that we live in, so that investment starts with our children, making sure that they have equal access to everything that our community can offer,” Pinto says. “And with youth hockey, we want to breed future Hurricanes players.”

 

 

Steve Stone

Steve Stone

The Romance of Raptor Rescues

Returning an injured bird to flight is a reward that’s hard to match.

by Cheryl Capaldo Traylor

horus, a barred owl in steve's care

horus, a barred owl in steve's care

It’s not every day you meet someone who untangles fishing line from the legs of a great blue heron or trudges miles around Falls Lake to rescue a juvenile eagle that has fallen out of the nest. But this is all in a day’s work for Steve Stone, director of animal care at the American Wildlife Refuge (AWR), a raptor rescue and rehabilitation center in Raleigh.

Stone, a Raleigh native, has been rescuing raptors—or birds of prey—since 1996 and is the only active federally licensed raptor rescue/rehabilitator in Wake County. His enthusiasm shows as he describes the building plans for a new facility that extends AWR’s rescue efforts to other birds, reptiles, and small mammals. It will also feature one of the few 100-foot flight cages in the state.

Holidays and weekends are the busiest times for Stone. One Thanksgiving, as he was waiting on family dinner, his phone rang and the caller needed help retrieving an injured hawk from the bushes near his house. “It sounded like an easy call, so I said I’d be right there,” Stone recounts. Once he arrived, he was led down a long path behind the house to a lake. To his surprise, the “bushes” turned out to be crepe myrtle trees hanging over the water. Stone remembers thinking: “This is going to be interesting.” He climbed the trees, the scared hawk flew into the water, and he retrieved it—another successful rescue and cause for more thanksgiving. After the hawk was rehabilitated, Stone returned it to the lake. “It’s important to release healthy birds back to the area where they were rescued,” he explains. “They often have families waiting for them.”

Rescued birds whose injuries are beyond comprehensive rehabilitation remain at the center to serve as education birds. These birds help Stone teach the community about the importance of wildlife and allow people to see raptors up close. He says the look in a child’s eyes when he sees an owl for the first time is one of the best things about his work.

He speaks with affection when he remembers birds in his care over the years. He laments when a raptor is lost and says that’s the most difficult part of his job. “Every time something dies, it tears a little bit of your soul away.” To cope with this sadness, Stone started reading romance novels. Eventually, he started writing them. “Nowhere else will you always find a happy ending,” he quips.

With more than 2,000 lifetime rescues and 200 so far this year, AWR is a busy place. The loyal all-volunteer staff donates their time, labor, and money caring for the raptors. It is often a thankless job. But for Stone, it’s not about the money or the recognition—it’s about the birds. “The most rewarding part of my job is when I toss a rehabilitated bird up into the air and watch it fly off into the sky,” he says.