Total Giving: Philanthropy on the Outer Banks
It’s been said that North Carolina doesn’t do anything small. From its grand mountains to its ever-spanning coastline, every element of the state seems to supersede its reputation. The Outer Banks is a tiny portion of that grandiose being. It boasts passion that embraces each neighbor tirelessly, giving – even when it isn’t easy.
Just how does Dare County stack up when it comes to giving and charitable resources?
First a look at the need: The Cost of Living Index just released in May 2014 revealed staggering statistics, citing that the cost of living in Dare County is 8.7% above the national average and food costs are 5% above the national average. Dare’s non-seasonal unemployment rates top 20%.
Those are familiar numbers to the Beach Food Pantry. In 2013, they reported providing direct nutritional assistance to 5,100 individuals, which represents a shocking 15% of Dare County residents. The 25-year-old organization has recently expanded their program and instituted a new Board of Directors.
One Person’s Tale
In 2012, Bill Godfrey, a lifelong truck driver, was a bright man following a rocky path. Though at one time he spent his days driving across the country for work, his addiction to alcohol left him homeless, unemployed, and on the side of the road with nothing but his suitcase. Removed from his home and family life through his father’s act of “tough love,” a church member who had heard of his troubles, picked him up and brought him to the Outer Banks Room in the Inn, a church-based, volunteer-run program offering temporary shelter and food at local churches.
After six months at the Inn, Godfrey saved enough money to rent the home where he has now lived for two years while maintaining solid employment. When he came to the program, he was lacking in family – in support. Now, Godfrey finds that he has not only reconnected with his father, but has forged a new family with those associated with the Room in the Inn, where he is considered a mentor and leader.
“When you’re homeless, you have no keys in your pocket. The key is that one must learn to give, to be a part of the puzzle,” said Godfrey, “Now it’s an ongoing process.”
He gives back regularly to his community by serving on the board of Room in the Inn and speaking publicly on behalf of the program. In a karmic way, the charity given to Godfrey continues to give.
Godfrey’s path back to self-sufficiency is a glimpse at the myriad of charitable organizations that weave together a safety net of different services. With over 100 non-profits based on the Outer Banks, it is nearly impossible to track the total giving that occurs locally.
However, there are some other indicators that we are a generous community. Combining data from the Internal Revenue Service, the census, and other sources, The Chronicle of Philanthropy website provides insights into the relationships between giving and various demographic and geographical statistics. The most recently compiled year of statistics shows that Dare County’s 2012 Giving Profile, resulted in 17 million dollars being made in charitable contributions.
Lorelei Costa, the Executive Director of the Outer Banks Community Foundation says, “The Chronicle of Philanthropy study is fascinating…because according to their numbers, most of our neighboring counties are actually giving a significantly higher percentage of their income than we are, and [these] are some of the poorest counties in North Carolina. I think this study tells us to be proud of our philanthropy, but it also challenges us to think more about how we can better help our neighbors and how their giving can inspire us to do even more for our community.” Costa adds, “Without a doubt, the Outer Banks is an amazingly generous community, both in dollars and volunteerism, and I personally feel so gratified to be part of this community.”
Looking at the financial history of another charitable group here on the Outer Banks, the Interfaith Community Outreach (ICO), will bear out Costa’s opinion. Executive Director, Jenniffer Albanese reports their income from outreach contributions has increased more than sevenfold from nearly $26,000 in 2005 to a projected $185,000 this year. Unfortunately, the need and expense column also show exponential growth that has kept pace with their outreach. With only two hired staff members and nearly 100 volunteers, the ICO helps approximately 1,000 families each year (compared to 68 families in 2005).
The ICO provides direct services to people who are facing a temporary emergency crisis and makes referrals for people on the Outer Banks and surrounding areas who have no other place to turn for help. Since its inception as a non-profit 11 years ago, the ICO has given over 1.3 million dollars in monetary donations. Their financial support comes from 48 Dare and Currituck faith communities, local, corporate, and governmental grants, municipal partnerships, civic groups, individuals and fundraising events such as a golf tournament and community festival. Albanese says, “That’s one nice thing, we all collaborate together; our missions may differ, but we work together.”
Likewise, it takes multiple community organizations working together to support the Outer Banks Room in the Inn – the program that helped Godfrey extensively. One group in particular, the Outer Banks Relief Foundation has played a large role, granting financial assistance and donating items like personal hygiene kits, over-the-counter medications, and first aid kits for the program’s guests. Program Director at the Inn, Gail Leonard, says, “I cannot express the gratitude for the Relief Foundation’s generous support which allows us such leverage to help the guests that we serve. Grants like this allow us to provide services to our guests who need more than just hospitality, shelter, and food.”
Since its inception in 2005, the Outer Banks Relief Foundation has worked closely with other charities and organizations in order to support and service the needy during this challenging economy. Executive Director Chris Kelley states that the program “doesn’t promote one organization over another… it simply raises local funds for local folks.”
This year, the OBRF surpassed a major milestone: they have now given over one million dollars in financial aid and support to people living in the Outer Banks – from Corolla to Hatteras – who are struggling due to a debilitating disease or other personal setback.
The Foundation steps in and makes bill payments for everything ranging from rent, mortgage, utilities, medications, or medical services not covered by insurance or Medicaid.
The Other Side of Giving
Picking up the local newspaper or reading notices placed on local bulletin boards on any given day will tell you more about a community’s heart and spirit than any online statistics or IRS census. From local news sources on the Outer Banks, you will read of the many pancake breakfasts, car washes, 50:50 raffles, music festivals, and scholarship fundraisers directed at specific charitable causes. No single entity keeps track of those donated dollar amounts or volunteer hours.
A Community That Pulls Together
McKayla Creef is a softball-playing, horse-loving, 17-year-old student from Manns Harbor, who on July 15th of this year suffered severe traumatic injuries as the result of a near-fatal automobile accident. Her aorta was torn from her heart, a condition offering only a 7% survival rate. A blood clot in her spine has left her paralyzed from the waist down and she will soon be heading to Johns Hopkins affiliate in Baltimore, the Kennedy Krieger Institute, after six-months on the waiting list. McKayla will see one of only two doctors with expertise in this specific area of spinal rehabilitation.
After an extensive series of surgeries and other out-of-town treatments, her parents’ jobs were put on the back burner to remain by her side. With no income being generated, the medical bills were piling up. The community rallied for the cause in a multitude of ways. Within two weeks of her accident, OBX Marina hosted a pig pickin’ with live music, a silent auction and raffles benefitting the Creef family. More than 1,500 residents gathered from all over Dare County to support her cause raising more than $46,000 at that event.
“McKayla is now at home rehabilitating and is anxious to get back on her horse as soon as possible, even if she’s tied to it!” her mother, Anna, said. “McKayla’s faith, perseverance, love and appreciation for her family and her graciousness for all of those who have helped along the way are an inspiration.”
Anna Creef adds, “We have received overwhelming support from around the area, and we are blessed to live in such an awesome community.”
In October, McKayla was voted Homecoming Queen by 95% of her class at Manteo High School. In an effort to stay active and to prepare for the rigorous treatments that she will receive in Baltimore, McKayla makes frequent trips to the Outer Banks YMCA pool. (The YMCA generously sponsors her use of the facility.) “She is a miracle and a trooper,” said her mother.
To Give or Not to Give
The Christmas season is not the only time we are asked to donate our time and money to local causes and charities. A marketing director for a local company employing over 300 staff members is bombarded daily with donation requests for school fundraisers, galas, and benefits. She says, “The requests pour in, not just from non-profits and partner organizations, but also from individuals, from my employees, and team members.” When reflecting on how small this little island is and how much of an impact philanthropy has on so many, she added, “it’s become increasingly harder to say ‘no’ as the requests for support are so personal.”
Whether your company participates by donating as a group or your family donates volunteer time to civic groups, the Outer Banks applauds the many times our residents have said ‘yes’ when asked.♦
Kristi Geske is a freelance writer and marketing professional who has been absolutely mesmerized by the giving nature of the Outer Banks since moving here one short year ago.