By Todd Cohen
[Note: This article was written for Triangle Community Foundation.]
FEARRINGTON VILLAGE, N.C. — Chatham Outreach Alliance, a food bank in Pittsboro, provides a summer feeding program for kids.
Family Violence and Rape Crisis Services, also in Pittsboro, provides services to battered women and sexual assault victims.
And Boys and Girls Clubs of Eastern Piedmont, in Siler City, provides a safe place for young people to learn and grow.
All three nonprofits are among dozens in Chatham County that have received a total of over $1 million since 2008 from the Arthur Carlsen Charitable Fund, a donor advised fund the late Arthur Carlsen established at Triangle Community Foundation to benefit nonprofits based or operating in Chatham County.
“There is a trickle effect of one man’s decision to give, and it’s visible here in Chatham County,” says Carl Thompson, a member of the Foundation’s board of directors and director of continuing education for the Chatham County campus of Central Carolinas Community College “Because of his deep care and concern for his fellow residents, he has made a difference in Chatham County that continues to grow.”
Thompson spoke September 10 at a reception the Foundation hosted at The Garden Terrace at Fearrington Village to celebrate the milestone the Carlsen Fund has passed in awarding over $1 million grants.
Carlsen, who died in September 2006, one month shy of his 91st birthday, was a retailer who was born in New York City and settled in North Carolina with his wife, Alice Lee Yeats, who predeceased him. He spent his final years in Fearrington Village, had no blood relatives, and left the majority of his accumulated wealth to the Foundation.
He set up the fund to benefit Fearrington Cares, which provides support, services and programs for residents of Fearrington Village, and to support other community organizations.
Grants from the Carlsen Fund have supported direct human services, the arts, food security, and education, among other causes.
Lori O’Keefe, president of Triangle Community Foundation, says the Carlsen Fund reflects the Foundation’s commitment to serving diverse needs in the region.
“While the Foundation has a regional focus on the Triangle, we understand that each community has very diverse qualities that make it unique,” she told 50 guests attending the reception. “It is vital to us that we continue to learn about these specific needs alongside each of you, as our region grows and changes.”
Veronica Hemmingway, senior donor engagement officer at the Foundation, says the Carlsen Fund is one of the largest sources of philanthropy for Chatham County and accounts for roughly half the Foundation’s annual giving to support causes in the county.
The fund also represents one of the few sources of general operating support for nonprofits in the county, she says.
Thompson, who was born and raised in Chatham County and served for 16 years on the Chatham County Board of Commissioners, says that, on paper, the county would seem to be “very prosperous.”
It trails only four of North Carolina’s other 99 counties in per-capita income, for example, while its education level per-capita also ranks among the highest in the state and its unemployment rate among the lowest.
But the the western part of the county is a different story, he says, with much lower income and education per-capita, and slightly higher unemployment.
With growing global competition, he says, parts of the county like Siler City “lost a lot of industry and manufacturing plants,” and are home to “a lot of vacant buildings and lost jobs.”
Nonprofits in the county provide people in need with critical services such as education, including literacy, and basic services such as food, Thompson says.
And while the Carlsen Fund represents one of the county’s largest sources of philanthropy, more support is needed, he says.
“We know we can’t do it alone,” he said at the reception. “The legacy of Arthur Carlsen is strong and impactful, but we need continued support in this community to make his dreams a reality — and enhance the lives of all who live here.”