Columbia is filled with unsung heroes — everyday people having enormous impacts on the lives of others. Many of these people go unrecognized, unaware of the positive effect their good deeds are having. Seven years ago, Columbia Metropolitan Magazine and Central Carolina Community Foundation founded the Best of Philanthropy awards in an effort to recognize some of these difference makers. This year’s recipients personify goodness and kindness, making indelible marks on the lives of people in the community.
Awards are given in four categories: Individual/Family, Local Business, Student/Student Group and Young Professional. The winners will be recognized on Nov. 10 at the Best of Philanthropy annual celebration. Each will have a $1,000 donation made in their name to the nonprofit organization of their choosing.
For the students at Richland One Middle College, a public charter high school in Columbia, being a part of the Jefferson Awards Students In Action Group (Team VIP – Volunteering in Philanthropy) is a privilege and not an obligation. The school is committed to educating the whole child, preparing them for college and their career, but, more importantly, enabling them to see the value in being a good citizen. Among the group’s most referenced words of wisdom are those of Ghandi, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
Team VIP’s service is far-reaching — mentoring, modeling and ministering. The students have mentored youth through tutoring and other activities, modeled positive teen behavior through their work with youth at the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice, and ministered to the needs of senior citizens through their work with the Palmetto SeniorCare PACE program. While volunteering at SCDJJ, the students cheered on the basketball team to ensure they knew the community had not forgotten them and supported them. In doing so, they were able to model appropriate behaviors, while also providing hope and encouragement to kids who may not always have it.
“The personal growth and development that the students experience through Team VIP is extremely rewarding,” says Deneé J. James, student success coordinator at Richland One Middle College. “To see students move from viewing community service as an unattainable obligation to something that they enjoy doing and get satisfaction from is something that you know will stay with them and help to make them better citizens.”
This year alone, 95 students from Richland One Middle College were engaged in community service, volunteering an impressive 8,550 hours. The students donated more than 285 pounds of food, 157 books and 42 coats and blankets to local organizations. They were also able to raise $475 for The Palmetto Health Foundation’s Walk for Life. To be sure, the hard work and dedication of Team VIP will be felt far and wide. And all it took was making that commitment to help in whatever way they could.
For one student, the thought of volunteering was daunting and, at first, deemed a hassle. “This student was worried about how she would have the time to do community service while also needing to complete her studies and work,” says Deneé. “I still encouraged her to join our SIA Club. When we held our officer elections, she wound up becoming president and was the most vocal supporter for community service. In fact, when we would have volunteer activities, she would pick up her peers who did not drive so that they could also participate. She ultimately was graduated with more than 400 hours of community service!”
For Deneé, it’s about simply getting involved. Once the students see the impact they are making, they do as Ghandi so eloquently said and lose themselves as they gladly and humbly serve others.
Dr. Todd Crump is a fine example of making a life beyond making a living. As an emergency room physician at Lexington Medical Center and the medical director of The Free Medical Clinic, Dr. Crump brings passion to his purpose. He is often seen at the clinic in his scrubs following a 10-hour shift at the hospital or catching up on paperwork on the weekend when time allows. The Free Medical Clinic could not legally operate and fulfill its mission of providing high-quality healthcare to those without access to health insurance or Medicaid without Dr. Crump. He oversees the daily clinical operations, is responsible for recruiting each medical provider volunteer and was the visionary behind the clinic’s signature fundraiser, the Doctors Lounge. Dr. Crump personally recruits other physicians who are also musicians to play at this unique event to raise funds for the Clinic.
Dr. Crump began volunteering at The Free Medical Clinic as a medical student. When he was asked to volunteer as the medical director, he agreed to do it for two years. That was 14 years ago.
“I quickly realized what a tremendous need there is for individuals with chronic medical problems and no resources to address their needs,” says Dr. Crump. “Patients frequently tell me they would be dead if it were not for the care provided at The Free Medical Clinic. We’ve had patients come to us with diabetes and prehypertension stating that at the end of the work week, they would either use their paycheck to buy insulin and blood pressure pills or feed their children.”
For Dr. Crump, it’s incumbent upon The Free Medical Clinic to let these families know they are there to support them with medical visits and free prescriptions so that they can continue to be productive members of society, maintaining stable employment and providing for their families. Many patients are not able to work due to disability, but they are not quite eligible for Medicaid and Medicare. The Free Medical Clinic fills that void.
Dr. Crump becomes vested in his patients. It’s not unusual for him to drive to patients’ homes to ensure they are properly using their medication, to bring clothes for homeless patients or to even secure a proper burial place for patients who have died. “I have been blessed to follow patients for the past 18 years during my time at the clinic,” he says. “I have seen them through bad times and during times of joy. Through it all, it never ceases to amaze me how much good we can collectively accomplish when the community comes together.”
Dr. Crump saw this first-hand when one of his patients died four years ago. Members of the clinic and the community made sure that this homeless man with no family was appropriately memorialized. From churches and four ordained ministers to a funeral home donating its services to hospitals, EMS workers, nurses, physicians and lay people assisting in his farewell celebration, this man was remembered as any human being should be — with respect.
Dr. Crump says, “It was overwhelming to see the good we can do for others when we come together, put all differences aside and simply demonstrate compassion, empathy and respect from the cradle to the grave and beyond.” Dr. Todd Crump is a striking example of why it’s important to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Giving back to the community has been ingrained in the leadership and employees of Cox Industries since the company’s inception. As CEO of the manufacturer and distributor of treated outdoor wood products, Mikee Johnson is committed to carrying on that tradition through the donation of time, talent and treasure on his behalf and that of his entire team.
For nine years, the team at Cox Industries has raised or donated more than $450,000 to the work of Edisto Habitat for Humanity in Orangeburg, and they don’t just give donations. The employees at Cox also put in significant sweat equity, completing the construction of one Habitat home per year. Thanks to the Cox team, nine families have realized their dream of homeownership. Not only does the Cox family and team participate in the home build, they also fully furnish the home — all in time for the new homeowner to move in by Christmas.
“I remember a dedication of a home one year when we opened the doors for the children to see the inside of the house for the first time,” says Mikee. “One little girl ran to her new room and came flying back into the den with tears running down her face. She exclaimed, as she hugged her mother, ‘Mommy, Mommy, I have my own lamp!’ How many children would have such joy over a slightly used bedside lamp?” It’s those life stories that make an impact on everyone involved and prove how invaluable these organizations are to the community.
Cox Industries’ commitment to the community and the state goes beyond their involvement with Habitat for Humanity. Their goal, through all of their philanthropic endeavors, is to create an environment that will help youth reach their full potential and become future leaders. It’s this dedication that served as the impetus for Cox to donate more than $726,000 in cash and material donations in 2015 alone to local communities, youth organizations, local schools, community projects, national charities and state colleges and universities.
The company even provides scholarships to children of Cox Industries employees. Cox was also recognized as a 2015 Pacesetter for the United Way Campaigns, a select group of companies and organizations that choose to complete United Way campaigns before the campaign’s official launch. Under Mikee Johnson’s leadership, the Edisto District of the Boy Scouts had the highest fundraising in the state.
Cox will begin construction of its 10th Habitat home this fall. It will be the 75th Habitat home to be built in Orangeburg, as well as the 25th year that Cox Industries has been building homes and changing lives in the community. But for Mikee, it’s his life that has been changed. “Volunteering is not just about changing the lives of those who are receiving the charity, but changing the lives of those of us giving it,” he says.
As a private banking relationship manager with First Citizens Wealth Management, Erin McCaskill is responsible for providing customized solutions for affluent individuals, families and professional services firms in the Columbia area. While her day job is focused on helping those with much, her free time is often spent helping those with little. Over the years, Erin has volunteered in various capacities for more than a dozen organizations. Today, she serves as vice chair for the Lexington Medical Center Foundation, vice president and gala chair for Women of Hope and 2017 Heart Ball chair for the American Heart Association. She is also a member of Women in Philanthropy, the Young Leader’s Society, the Columbia Museum of Art gala committee and is a United Way member and volunteer. And with a newborn baby, Erin might certainly need more than 24 hours in a day.
Erin is passionate about her involvement with the Lexington Medical Center, where she helps raise funds, decides how those funds are allocated and organizes events to assist in the raising of those monies. The overall focus is on providing services to members in the community so that everyone has access to quality health services. Erin has been able to take part in giving scholarships to medical students financially in need, provide support to a single mother with cancer in the hospital over the holidays and help fund programs that train individuals how to become caretakers for elderly family members, in addition to supporting many other programs to benefit the community.
As member and past chair of the events committee for Women in Philanthropy, Erin was instrumental in the planning of the organization’s signature fundraising event, Power of the Purse. Funds raised from the event have supported The Family Shelter, The Cooperative Ministry, Reach Out and Read Carolinas, among others. This year, she will co-chair the American Heart Association’s Heart Ball with Mike Brenan, her father, a testament to her family’s long-time commitment to giving back and certainly indicative of where Erin first learned to have a servant’s heart.
“There are so many in the Midlands who need help and compassion,” says Erin. “We all have different strengths, and when it comes to volunteering in the community, it’s not how much time you give or how much money you donate, it’s that you care and that you try.”
As a volunteer with the American Heart Association, Erin was able to see first-hand how caring can make a difference in the lives of others. A good friend’s infant daughter needed a heart transplant and was the first baby in South Carolina to use the Berlin Heart to keep her alive while awaiting a heart transplant. “It was so amazing to be a part of an organization that helped in-part to fund the grants that developed this life-saving technology,” says Erin. “It was very emotional to see the direct impact of what we’re doing through this organization.” It’s memories like this that make the giving back that much more special. Even with only 24 hours in a day.
There is no question this year’s Best of Philanthropy winners epitomize selflessness, not with their words, but with their actions. All setting an example of benevolence for those who follow them. Tickets for the Best of Philanthropy awards ceremony can be purchased at YourFoundation.org/bestofphilanthropy or by calling (803) 254-5601.