Six years ago, Columbia Metropolitan Magazine and Central Carolina Community Foundation partnered to create the Best of Philanthropy Awards to shine a light on people and organizations in the Midlands doing extraordinary things for the community. While the objective of many of these efforts isn’t to gain accolades, some good deeds just can’t be ignored. This year’s winners bring heart, dedication and an unstoppable commitment to others. Winners are recognized in four categories: Individual/Family, Local Business, Young Professional and Student/Student Group. The honorees will be recognized on Nov. 5, 2015 at 6 p.m. at 701 Whaley, at which time Central Carolina Community Foundation will donate $1,000 to the charity of the winner’s choice.
Individual/Family – Francis Herndon
Seventy-five years is a long time to be giving back to the community. For Francis Herndon, it’s all he has ever known. He joined the Boy Scouts when he was 12 years old — a relationship he continues to this day as an 88 year old. From Boy Scout to Eagle Scout to Scout Master, Francis has been an integral part of the organization. During his tenure as Scoutmaster, his troop, Troop 10 at Eastminster Presbyterian Church, went from 20 to 120 members. More than 950 boys have passed through during Francis’ tenure as Scoutmaster, and 71 boys have reached the rank of Eagles. He later served as president of the Indian Waters Council. Over a period of 10 years, Francis spent more than 250 nights away from home attending Scout camps and Jamborees — a testament to his dedication to the Scouts. He has even earned the national Distinguished Eagle Scout, which, according to the National Eagle Scout Association, acknowledges Eagle Scouts who have received “extraordinary national-level recognition, fame or eminence within their field, and have a strong record of voluntary service to their community.” The Southern Region of the Boy Scouts of America awarded Francis the Silver Antelope Award for his participation on the national level. Still today, Francis spends countless hours assisting the organization with its fundraising efforts. “It’s very rewarding to see what has happened to that great group of boys from Troop 10,” says Francis. “Many of them are now leaders in Columbia.”
Francis’ service to the community doesn’t end with the Scouts. He has also served with the Columbia Jaycees, the Sertoma Club and the American Legion. “The word Sertoma means service to mankind, and that to me, while I didn’t do it intentionally, that’s the way it worked out,” says Francis. While his humble attitude is admired, his continued service to the community cannot be overlooked. In addition to his commitment to The Boy Scouts, Francis has been an active member of Eastminster for more than 55 years. “I have done everything I can do, except preach,” Francis jokes.
One of the things Francis is most proud of is his involvement with The Red Cross and his support of the blood program. He has worked extensively with the organization since Ann, his wife, died of cancer 25 years ago, and his next donation will be his 475th. One thing is for sure: when Francis Herndon puts his mind to something, there is no stopping him.
Local Business – Lizard’s Thicket
For Bobby Williams, CEO of Lizard’s Thicket, philanthropic giving is just the right thing to do. Focusing on others was instilled in him and his family from a very young age. “My grandmother and mother were always givers,” says Bobby. “It’s just something that has been fostered in our family life and naturally blended into the business.”
Lizard’s Thicket is a family-owned and operated restaurant chain with 15 locations in the Midlands and Florence. The company has long supported local organizations through monetary donations and gives its patrons an opportunity to do the same through its cash register donation boxes. The team at Lizard’s Thicket vets each organization to ensure the legitimacy of the group and confirm that the funds are indeed being used to help those in need. They support six to eight charities a year; from the Muscular Dystrophy Association and Palmetto Health Foundation to Sister Care and Home Works, Lizard’s Thicket’s support runs far and wide. “There are so many great organizations in the area, that sometimes it’s hard to choose whom to support,” says Bobby.
In some cases, a Lizard’s Thicket customer will share a story of an organization that is close to their heart, and they will research the need. That need may also hit close to home, as it did in one case where a local employee of the hospitality industry here in Columbia was involved in a car accident. In no time, they had collected $7,500 and gave the money directly to the employee. They have also supported local families involved in tragedy, such as the families of the nine firemen who were lost in the Charleston fire in 2007. “We knew we could quickly make a difference with these donation boxes,” adds Bobby. “Since we control it, it’s flexible –– and we can help to support an urgent need in the community. There is no red tape. We collect it, we count it and then we give it to the responsible party. We don’t want to get credit for it. It’s just the right thing to do.”
It’s sharing at its purest.
Student/Student Group – Eau Claire High School
Eau Claire High School has been a mainstay in the Columbia community for more than 60 years, providing high-quality education and opportunity to area students, as well as a rich history of community support. The members of the Jefferson Awards group at Eau Claire are committed to continuing that tradition of giving back, which not only strengthens the community but also fosters growth and volunteerism at the school.
In the past year, the school raised funds and awareness for breast cancer in conjunction with Palmetto Health for Relay for Life, through Pink Out sporting events and t-shirt sales. Students have also helped provide meals for Eau Claire’s Community Annual Thanksgiving Feast and the school conducted blood drives with the American Red Cross. The 11 member group of the Jefferson Awards have donated nearly 2,200 hours of service throughout this 2014-2015 school year.
“Eau Claire High School believes in building a culture of success, and the members of the Jefferson Awards at Eau Claire are carrying that belief outside the school and into the school’s community,” says Deon Jackson, Science/School Climate Coordinator and Jefferson Awards Advisor at Eau Claire High School. “The members of the Jefferson Awards have gained valuable insights, including hands-on life experience and skillsets, commitment and making a real difference.” Taking part in a small gesture is having a huge impact on these students.
The students’ involvement in these organizations enables them to learn about the importance of collaborating with others to help meet their goals. Together, the groups suggest different volunteer opportunities around the school and in the community and then decide on which organizations to support through a voting process. The process itself is a learning opportunity.
The impact on both the school and the individual are immeasurable. Through new friendships, increased self-confidence, improved social skills and the overall understanding of the importance of giving back to the community, these efforts will have longstanding effects on the students, the school and those whom they have helped. “The best advice we give to our students is to find a cause that you are passionate about and give your time, energy and efforts to volunteer to help make a difference,” says Deon. It’s advice that these students are taking and making a tremendous difference in the lives of others while doing it. That’s something that these students will carry with them long after they graduate.
Young Professional (Under 40) – Stephanie DeFreese
One might consider having a full-time job and raising five children to be enough. For Stephanie DeFreese, that’s just the beginning. Not only does she strive to be the best she can at her job at Blue Cross/Blue Shield and in raising her children, but she also has a strong drive and desire to help others. It started in the pew of church when she was a child. Stephanie’s father was always sure she and her brother had their allowance Sunday morning so that they had money to put in the offertory basket each week. It taught her a valuable lesson that is still with her today. “Anything that I’m given or earn, there is always an amount to give back to show I am thankful for what I have. I am thankful for what I have, that is what my parents ingrained in me growing up,” says Stephanie.
Stephanie has already given back ten-fold, supporting a plethora of organizations, including Edventure, Leadership South Carolina, Columbia Interfaith Basketball League, St. John Neumann, the Junior League, the American Heart Association and the list continues. From board representation and committee involvement to homeroom mom and basketball coach, Stephanie’s philanthropic efforts touch all areas of her life. While making a change in someone’s life or raising awareness for a cause is extremely rewarding to Stephanie, inspiring others to do the same is equally gratifying. That includes her children. “I want to inspire by example — for my children, the future generation that I coach or lead in sports or Girl Scouts, the people I work with and those that I serve with,” says Stephanie. “Whatever the reason that people volunteer, our community is better served, and I enjoy it most when people join in. Sparking the interest to give back to others has been the most fulfilling aspect of all of my efforts.”
Since her efforts are many, Stephanie says time management is key, as is a supportive family and company. For those just starting down the volunteering path, Stephanie recommends starting small, with something that has a personal connection. “There are so many deserving organizations and people in our community that need help,” she says. “Find something that you can be passionate about and enjoy. Volunteering is very satisfying.”
It’s no wonder Stephanie relates so well to the Winston Churchill quote, “We make a living by what we do, but we make a life by what we give.” If that’s the case, Stephanie’s is a life well lived.
So it is for all of the Columbia Metropolitan Magazine and Central Carolina Community Foundation’s Best of Philanthropy Award winners — each one putting a focus on something or someone greater than themselves to make the community a better place.