Triangle families host low-income New York City kids

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — On July 12,  a handful of low-income children ages seven to 16 from New York City are scheduled to arrive by bus at the Hilton in Durham.

Greeting the children will be a local volunteer for the New York City-based Fresh Air Fund, and families from Raleigh that each will host one of the children for a week.

Two weeks later, a second handful of New York City children will arrive at the Hilton on a bus for a one-week stay with a second group of local families.

“Families will learn things about themselves and about someone who comes from such a different environment, and they will also see how many similarities they have,” says Brandy Shaw, a commercial real estate paralegal for Moore & Alphin in Raleigh who serves as volunteer chair for the Fresh Air Fund in the Triangle.

Formed in 1877 to provide free summer experiences for children living in low-income communities in New York City, the Fresh Air Fund has served over 1.8 million children in need.

In 2016, nearly 7,000 children visited the homes of volunteer host families on the East Coast of the U.S. and in Southern Canada, or visited one of the Fund’s five camps in upstate New York.

As part of a larger effort to connect New York City kids with host families in more parts of the U.S., the Fund expanded to North Carolina in 2013, initially in the Triad, and then to the Triangle in 2014.

Thirty-six have visited the state since 2013, and another 20 are expected to visit this summer, some in the Triangle and some in the Triad.

Local families that apply to the Fresh Air Fund to host a child for a week typically find out about the organization online or by word-of-mouth, says Shaw.

And based on the relationships that develop, some children may stay with a family for longer than two weeks or continue to return over many summers or other parts of the year.

Before moving to North Carolina in 2007, Shaw served as a volunteer escort for the Fresh Air Fund in upstate New York, where her mother, her mother’s mother, and her mother’s mother’s mother all had volunteered for the organization.

Her role is to visit applicant families, which must fill out a form designed to help the Fresh Air Fund determine whether they will provide a safe environment and engage the children they are hosting in activities such as boating, bicycling, camping, visiting parks and going bowling or to movies.

Based on the forms, the Fresh Air Fund selects host families and matches children with them.

Shaw greets the children when they arrive by bus, plans a picnic or other activity for all the families, and is on hand when the families drop off the children for the bus ride back to New York City.

The Fresh Air Fund, Shaw says, “would like to see more kids coming to North Carolina and other areas and see a different place than they otherwise would not have experienced.”

Group works to fill gaps for people in need

By Todd Cohen

CARRBORO, N.C. — Roughly one in five people who live in Orange County are poor, and many people who work at service jobs in the county cannot afford to live there.

“There’s a huge disparity between haves and have-nots in Orange County, one of the most  affluent counties in the state,” says John Dorward, who just stepped down as co-director of the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service in Carrboro.

And with state and federal government cuts looming in spending to address basic human needs, he says, demand for those services will only increase.

Founded in 1963 by seven women from different churches who wanted to help close a gap they saw in services for people in need, the nonprofit today provides basic services for people living and working in Carrboro and Chapel Hill.

Those services range from emergency financial support and crisis intervention to homeless shelters and a community kitchen, food pantry, and medical and dental clinic.

The Inter-Faith Council operates with support from 50 to 60 churches, a staff of 19 full-time employees and eight working part-time, 750 volunteers, and an annual budget of $1.9 million, plus in-kind gifts worth another $2.2 million to $2.4 million.

In September 2015, after raising $5.9 million in a capital campaign, the Inter-Faith Council opened a 52-bed men’s shelter at 1315 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in Chapel Hill, replacing a smaller shelter in the former municipal building on West Rosemary Street.

And now it is preparing for a campaign to raise $5.2 million to raze a building it owns at 110 West Main St. in Carrboro that houses its food pantry, crisis-intervention services and administrative offices, and build a new facility that will house those programs as well as its community kitchen now located in the Rosemary Street building.

The new facility, which would open near the end of 2020 and still needs approval from the town of Carrboro, would  include a larger kitchen that would allow the Inter-Faith Council to offer classes in food, nutrition and cooking, and to better recycle food in the community, says Dorward, who retired in 2015 as director after 13 years with the organization and returned as co-director last August.

Succeeding him on April 10 was Jackie Jenks, former executive director at Hospitality House in San Francisco, although he will continue to work as a volunteer on the capital campaign and development of the new facility.

Each year, the community kitchen at the Inter-Faith Council serves about 60,000 meals to people in need, while its food pantry provides about 13,000 to 14,000 bags of groceries.

Its 50-bed facility for women and children, and its facility for men, are the county’s only homeless shelters. People staying in the shelters also can get medical and dental services from the Inter-Faith Council’s clinic, which is operated by Piedmont Health Services.

The Inter-Faith Council also provides support teams of eight to 10 volunteers each that are paired with individuals — many of them preparing to leave its homeless shelters for permanent housing. The teams help them as they move to independent living.

The organization counts on contributions from individuals, congregations, foundations, businesses, government and United Way, and through special events, including RSVVP, an event each November in which 100 local restaurants contribute 10 percent of their receipts for a single day, and the Crop Hunger Walk, which was held April 23, in partnership with Church World Service.

“The safety net has got lots of holes, and we are the bottom of the safety net, and we have to turn people away,” says Dorward. “With continued support from the community, we will look to strengthen the safety net wherever possible.”

Salvation Army works to fill gaps for homeless kids

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — Twenty-nine homeless children in Wake County who otherwise might not get critical health and social services they need will now be connected to them, thanks to $2,900 raised by a fourth-grade class at Grace Christian School in Raleigh.

The students raised the money as a class project after hearing a presentation from Project CATCH, a program of the Salvation Army of Wake County that coordinates collaborative services and serves as an advocate for homeless children.

The presentation was part of a new effort by Project CATCH to raise awareness about Wake County’s 5,000 homeless children, including 2,900 who are school-age and over 1,250 who need mental-health care.

Every night, nearly 300 children in Wake sleep in shelters. Thousands more are forced to double up in the homes of family or friends, or live in cars or hotels, or sleep on the streets.

Children who are homeless typically have experienced or been exposed to violence in their neighborhood or family, says Jennifer Tisdale, coordinator of Project CATCH.

Yet those children often can seem invisible, with their needs not understood or addressed, she says.

Homeless children face health problems and lack access to health care, she says. They experience high rates of problems with mental health, learning, cognition, language development, and academic achievement.

Yet shelters typically focus mainly on addressing the immediate needs of homeless children and families for jobs and housing because those needs are critical and the shelters’ resources and staff are limited, Tisdale says.

And most shelters have limited protocols for screening and assessing children, as well as procedures for referring children with needs to appropriate mental-health providers, she says.

Shelters also typically lack sufficient resources to keep track of children over time to ensure they get effective services, she says.

Project CATCH — Community Action Targeting Children who are Homeless — works to fill those gaps.

Formed in 2011 in collaboration with the Young Child Mental Health Collaborative and initially funded by Wake County SmartStart and John Rex Endowment, the program partners with 11 shelter programs, including the one at the Salvation Army, and with 18 community programs, to offer physical, emotional and education services.

Operating with an annual budget of $141,000, two full-time staff members and four interns from N.C. State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, it receives child referrals from the shelters and the Wake County Public School System and has served 1,500 children.

It also provides a child-abuse-prevention program in three shelters for parents experiencing stress from homelessness. And it serves as lead agency in a collaborative effort to address the needs of families living in hotels.

“We are aligning and providing children with services they otherwise would not have,” Tisdale says.

Project CATCH refers every child it serves to five or six agencies, on average. It provides food and clothing for 80 percent of the children it serves. In partnership with The Diaper Train, it provides diapers to homeless families.

It also provides families with food through the Salvation Army or gives them food vouchers from Catholic Charities or Wake Relief.  And it connects homeless children with after-school camps and extracurricular activities.

Child and Family Well-Being and Homelessness, a new book, includes a chapter on Project CATCH by Mary Haskett, a psychology professor at N.C. State, and co-authored by Tisdale and Amy Leonard Clay, a doctoral candidate at N.C. State.

Haskett suggests in the chapter that Project CATCH could serve as a national model to increase access to mental health services for homeless children.

First, however, the program aims to raise awareness and funding to sustain itself and add at least one more case manager, Tisdale says.

Project CATCH is partnering, for example, with the Contemporary Art Museum, which has visited the Salvation Army shelter to work on art projects with homeless children and is considering a display and exhibit of their work.

Project CATCH also is developing plans with the North Carolina Museum of Art for an art show featuring work by local artists the program has worked with to raise awareness about homeless children.

“When nobody know about you, it’s really hard to raise funds, and if we don’t, our doors will close by the end of the year,” Tisdale says. “Our goal is to create more awareness about the problem and issue so more people will become engaged.”

Center works to boost volunteer caregiving

By Todd Cohen

CARY, N.C. – Every week, volunteers for the Center for Volunteer Caregiving in Cary drive seniors and adults with disabilities in Wake County to doctors, grocery stores and pharmacies, and to government agencies to enroll in programs like Social Security.

Volunteers, who use their own vehicles and are selected by the Center to participate after it screens and assesses them, can use an online calendar to choose assignments that fit their schedules.

The Center spent the last year developing the calendar using Volunteers for Salesforce, a software system for customer-relationship-management, or CRM, that it purchased with $30,000 from a grant it received from GlaxoSmithKline in 2013.

The online calendar is part of a larger effort by the Center to build long-term relationships with volunteers, companies and funders to serve seniors in Wake County, which is home to an estimated 70,000 individuals age 65 and older. By 2030, that population is expected to grow to over 200,000.

The Center was launched in 1992 by 12 churches in Cary and Raleigh with $25,000 from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in New Jersey as part of its national effort to help faith congregations create formal volunteer programs to serve seniors and adults with disabilities. Previously, congregations had provided those programs on an informal basis.

A key goal was for the new programs to use formal screening, background checks and training for volunteers.

Operating with an annual budget of $425,000, the Center employs six people full-time and one-part-time, counts on 350 active volunteers, and serves nearly 800 individuals a year.

In addition to transportation, the Center provides volunteer relief and seminars for caregivers, as well as information and referrals, mainly to home health agencies that can assign substitutes for caregivers who need time off.

And in October, with a $25,000 grant from a family fund at Triangle Community Foundation, the Center launched a pilot program that provides relief once a month for up to 12 caregivers who support individuals with dementia.

Those individuals spend three-and-a-half hours at Genesis United Methodist Church in Cary. Then, through a collaboration between the Center and the five Rotary clubs in Cary, the individuals spend another two hours for dinner and entertainment at the “Memory Cafe,” a program at the town’s Senior Center.

With rising demand for its services, the Center for Volunteer Caregiving is working to increase the number of its active volunteers to 500 from 350.

To help do that, it has posted on its website a four-minute video produced by Blueforest Studios in Raleigh in its second annual pro-bono effort.

Lynn Templeton, executive director at the Center, says effective support for caregivers depends on cultivating long-term relationships.

This year, for example, the Center is getting $15,000 from Raleigh insurer Genworth, which for the past 15 years has provided it with annual grants ranging from $5,000 to $25,000.

George Reichert, chief information officer at Genworth and a member of the Center’s board of directors, led the effort to develop the online volunteer calendar.

The Center’s 14-member board also includes executives from Eisai, Quintiles, John Deere and WakeMed, as well as local attorneys.

“When we get to know companies,” Templeton says, “I try to start by involving them as volunteers, then try to get invited to apply through their grant process, then try to leverage excellent board members.”

Long-term relationships also are critical for effective volunteering, she says.

“We need volunteers who can invest in a relationship that is going to help alleviate loneliness and depression” on the part of seniors and adults with disabilities, she says. “There’s something to be gained on both sides.”

Helping kids fly to get medical treatment

By Todd Cohen

MORRISVILLE, N.C. — In the last 10 years, children who were seriously ill or injured but faced hurdles getting to medical facilities have received 1,500 free flights, thanks to Children’s Flight of Hope, a nonprofit in Morrisville.

“Travel to treatment is often an overlooked component of getting children the care they need,” says Staci Barfield, the group’s executive director. “Insurance doesn’t pay for   the travel of the children we serve. If we didn’t provide these flights, they’d forego or postpone treatment until their families could raise the money, which could be too late.”

Formed in 1991 by Al Wethington, a Durham pilot and businessman, Children’s Flight of Hope operates with a full-time staff of four people and an annual budget of $821,000, plus in-kind support valued at about $500,000, mainly in the form of flights that companies and American Airlines donate.

It also counts on 150 active volunteers who mainly work on three annual events that net a total of about $360,000. The group gets the rest of its funds from individuals and corporations, plus some grant support.

It pays for most of its flights. This year, through October, it spent $154,000 on commercial flights and $87,000 on private flights.

Through November 11, it had provided 408 flights for 127 families, and expects to have provided 500 flights by the end of the year.

Until this past April, flights had been limited to children living or needing to get to medical facilities east of the Mississippi River. The biggest share of the children are traveling to or from destinations in North Carolina.

And thanks to a one-year partnership it formed in April with American Airlines, American now is letting the nonprofit use for its own clients two million miles of flights donated to the airline. In return, Children’s Flight of Hope will handle eight million miles of charity flights American routes to Children’s Flight of Hope.

The nonprofit developed that partnership in the wake of $151,000 in seed money it received in 2015 from the CAPCommunity Foundation, the charitable arm of CAPTRUST Financial Advisers in Raleigh, to expand its geographic reach.

Now, Children’s Flight of Hope is considering the creation of hubs in 10 other markets throughout U.S., plus the Triad and Charlotte, Barfield says.

Developing the hubs will depend on interest in each market among local volunteers, funders and companies, she says.

The nonprofit also continues to focus on meeting the needs of North Carolina children. Seeing that children from the coastal area were not participating, the staff approached The Eshelman Foundation in Wilmington, which provided a $15,000 grant to meet the travel needs of children from the three counties the Foundation serves.

Since 2014, Children’s Flight of Hope also has raised about $400,000 through a campaign known as “Join Our Crew” that focuses on recruiting “recurring” donors who make a commitment to make an annual gift for a number of years.

Three donors each have made pledges to give $20,000 a year for five years.

The nonprofit mainly flies children to pediatric speciality centers for a broad range of illnesses, including rare “orphan” diseases for which research and treatment are not supported by institutional programs or organizations.

“The treatments we’re sending them to,” Barfield says, “are going to save, prolong or dramatically improve the quality of their lives.”

Diaper Bank focuses on families in need

By Todd Cohen

DURHAM, N.C. — Packed into a 10,000-square-foot warehouse in Durham are two million disposable diapers that individuals and diaper companies have donated to the Diaper Bank of North Carolina, a Durham nonprofit that has distributed over one million diapers to agencies serving low-income families since it began operating in June 2013.

A second warehouse houses another million diapers for the nonprofit, which distributes over 100,000 diapers a month to 22 agencies in Durham, Orange and Alamance counties.

It also operates a branch on the campus of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem that distributes 45,000 diapers a month to 18 agencies in eight counties in the Triad, and a branch in Wilmington that distributes 5,000 diapers a month in four counties.

It recently agreed to take over from The Diaper Train, a program of Saint Saviour’s Center in Raleigh, the distribution of 60,000 diapers a month to 12 agencies in Wake County.

In 2017, the Diaper Bank expects to distribute a total of over 2 million diapers to its partner agencies.

And once it builds its current branches into sustainable operations, it will consider adding a branch to address demand in western North Carolina.

“We work through nonprofits that work with families living in poverty,” says Michelle Old, founder and executive director of the Diaper Bank. “It is our goal in every county we serve to have an open source of diapers for residents of that county.”

The critical need for diapers among low-income people is under-appreciated, says Old, a long-time advocate working to protect women from violence, who launched the Diaper Bank in January 2013.

With a child who as an infant had severe diaper rashes, requiring frequent visits to the hospital and 15 to 20 diaper changes a day, she says, she made it her mission to make sure families that could not afford them had access to free diapers.

An estimated one in three families in the U.S. experience the need for diapers. And working families account for 73 percent of families that receive diapers the Diaper Bank distributes to its partner agencies, with each adult holding one to two jobs, according to a 2015 a study for the Diaper Bank by the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

“We are dealing mostly with working families and they cannot afford basic needs for their children,” Old says. “And every time, they’ll choose feeding their children over diapers, and make those diapers last longer.”

Operating with an annual budget of $150,000, plus $450,000 worth of in-kind support, the Diaper Bank employs one person working full-time and three working part-time, including Old.

It counts on 250 volunteers a month at its Durham branch, 20 a month at its Triad branch, and 30 to 40 a month at its Wilmington branch.

The Diaper Bank depends on donations from individuals to support its operations, and raises $22,000 at each of two children’s consignment sales it holds April and October.

It gets 30 percent of its diapers from community donations and drives, and the rest from diaper companies. Those include Huggies through the National Diaper Bank Network, and a partnership with Domtar Personal Care, a diaper-maker in Greenville with corporate offices in Research Triangle Park that also provides volunteers.

The Diaper Bank rewraps all the donated diapers and counts on community donations for sizes not included in the bulk donations from diaper companies.

It also distributes feminine-hygiene products, as well as diapers for seniors with incontinence who are living in poverty.

And in a pilot project supported by the Community Care Fund at Duke University, it provides potty-training classes in English and Spanish, as well as transportation to the classes, child care during the classes, and a “potty,” pull-ups and a book to read to children while sitting on the potty.

In partnership with UNC-Greensboro, the Diaper Bank conducts ongoing research and works through its partner agencies to connect diaper recipients with programs and services that can address other needs the families may have.

“We’re not just giving them diapers,” Old says. “We’re connecting them with programs that can help them in multiple ways to become self-sustaining.”

Local refugees focus of Carrboro nonprofit

By Todd Cohen

CARRBORO, N.C. — Orange County is home to an estimated 1,300 refugees, mainly from Burma and Thailand, and more recently from Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with about 15 new refugees arriving every month.

For those refugees, coping with their new community can be tough.

They typically have fled from horrific conditions ranging from government persecution and civil war to genocide and ethnic cleansing, says Madison Hayes, executive director of Refugee Community Partnership in Carrboro, a nonprofit that works to provide them with support and connect them to information and resources.

Refugees often do not speak English, lack documentation of their previous education or work, are not familiar with U.S. social systems, and are disconnected from community resources, she says.

The result, she says, is “chronic isolation” that typically results in or reinforces persistent poverty, mental-health problems and exclusion from opportunities, particularly access to higher education, jobs, health and human services, health care, and insurance.

The Refugee Community Partnership was founded in 2011 by Asif Khan, then an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who worked at the Human Rights Center, a local nonprofit that served “marginalized communities,” mainly Latinos and refugees in Carrboro and Chapel Hill, Hayes says.

In 2011, the Partnership merged with the Center, and this fall Khan enrolled in medical school at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Operating with an annual budget of $30,000, a half-time executive director, interpreters who work under contract, and over 70 volunteers, the Partnership offers a range of programs for refugee families, students and women.

In its main program, teams of two volunteers each visit 42 families in their homes each week, working collaboratively with the families to find solutions to challenges they identify, such as learning English, finding better housing or navigating the community.

A second program matches about 30 undergraduate students at UNC-Chapel Hill one-on-one with a total of 42 students at Chapel Hill High School and East Chapel Hill High School.

The UNC students serve as academic mentors, helping with tutoring, homework, studying for exams, and charting a path to graduation and college. The students in each high school also meet once a week in a club with volunteer facilitators from the Partnership to practice collective decision-making, critical thinking and self-advocacy.

Through a collaboration with Durham nonprofit Farmer Foodshare, the Partnership is the recipient of fresh local produce donated by farmers and consumers at a “Donation Station” at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market. The Partnership then provides that food to over 130 individual refugees a week.

In the first nine months, it received 8,000 pounds of donated fresh produce for the refugees it serves.

The Partnership also supports two groups of about six women each, with one that meets once a week and the other once a month ind homes of its members on a rotating basis.

The groups talk about issues such as domestic violence and mental health that refugee women often are reluctant to discuss or may not understand, and about how to find services and resources to address those issues, Hayes says.

To help them overcome fear they may have about public or crowded spaces, the Partnership also hosts a community outing every three months for refugee families to destinations such as the Carrboro Farmers’ Market or the UNC-Chapel Hill campus

It hosts about three workshops a year on topics such as the Department of Motor Vehicles, road laws, driving, mental health, college readiness and tax preparation.

It plans within the next year to double — to 100 and 140, respectively — the number of families it serves and the number of volunteers who work with them.

It also plans to make the position of executive director full-time, add a full-time position for a program coordinator, and triple its annual budget.

And it plans within six months to launch a new program to plug refugee entrepreneurs into a collaborative network it has developed among local service providers, businesses, experts, policymakers and other organizations that can help them start new businesses.

“A number of women in our program are housekeepers at UNC, the graveyard shift, and don’t make enough to make ends meet, but back in their home country they were restaurant owners, culinary professionals,” says Hayes, who also works as project director at The Food Mint, a consulting firm in Chapel Hill.

She says the Partnership looks for creative solutions that use existing resources to address challenges refugees face.

While the languages of refugees from Burma and Thailand are oral, for example, local agencies often promote their services by posting printed flyers in community locations. So the Partnership works with over 10 agencies to make voice recordings in the language of refugees of the information on those flyers, and then plays the recordings for the families it visits.

“Our work is not to duplicate what already exists,” Hayes says, “but to connect refugees with resources in ways that are culturally sensitive and socially strengthening.”