In 2010, Columbia Metropolitan Magazine and the Central Carolina Community Foundation joined forces to honor leaders in local philanthropy through the Best of Philanthropy Awards. Every year since, nominations are accepted from the community, and winners are chosen in the following categories: individual, group, student or student group and local business. Central Carolina Community Foundation donates $1,000 to the charity of each winner’s choice. This year, award honorees will be recognized at the award ceremony on Nov. 13 at 701 Whaley from 6 to 9 p.m. The public is invited to join in the celebration, and tickets are $50. Details can be found online at yourfoundation.org or by calling (803) 254-5601.
Heart ’n Soul Band
Many musicians leave their music dreams behind when they choose a professional career over their first love. The members of one local band — Heart ’n Soul — did just that, but are enjoying a second act in the Midlands music scene as a music-making nonprofit. According to Certified Professional Accountant and band drummer Doug Neal, when the founding members decided that they wanted to perform again, they came up with a creative way to scratch their musical itch and make the world a better place in the process.
“We knew we wanted to bring our music back to live audiences, but we opted to build the band on a unique platform: service above self,” says Doug. “It’s gone far beyond what we thought it could do. It’s caught on like wildfire.”
The 11 members of the band, who together perform songs from the 50s and 60s eras, organized the group as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and the individual members receive no pay for their time and talent, instead donating all net proceeds, after paying expenses, to charities of the band’s choosing. The fee the band charges is competitive with for-profit bands, but the net fees are not distributed among the members. “When we play for a charity, a portion of the money goes to them,” explains Doug. “We also accumulate money throughout the course of the year from other performances so that we often have a rather nice lump sum to donate at year end. Each member can submit donation requests and we vote on it. It’s a collective decision which includes fellow band members: Bill Miles, Dick Chappell, Carl Ellsworth, Margery Ballowe, Malcolm Gordon, Curt Rone, Gary Ballowe, Fran Rametta, J.J. Mackey and Marion Brown.”
In the six years since the band was formed, Heart ’n Soul has made donations totaling more than $133,000 to organizations including Epworth Children’s Home, Camp Gravatt, Carolina Children’s Home, Hidden Wounds, Palmetto Health Foundation, USC School of Dance, Pawmetto Lifeline, Sistercare, Dickerson Center for Children, The Lourie Center, The Symphony League, West Columbia Beautification Foundation, Cooperative Ministries, various rotary charities and more.
Perhaps even more astounding is the more than $2 million the group has helped charities raise through increased event attendance and exposure. “Our motto is having fun while giving back,” says Doug. “I do think that because we are doing what we love, it makes the whole experience more powerful. To be able to play music and perform while helping others, it’s a true win-win situation.”
Richland Northeast High School H.O.P.E. 365
Helping Other People Everywhere 365 is a student service organization at Richland Northeast High School. According to the group’s advisor and the school’s Community Service Learning Coordinator, Stephanie Stone, the group began a few years ago with a handful of students who had a desire to make an impact.
“The group started with just 12 kids,” she shares. “Now we have more than 200 members.” Stephanie says many of the group’s members come to Richland Northeast with little understanding about philanthropy. “As they join the group and continue on, they begin to understand it. The leaders set up tours and seek out community needs and organizations that could use help,” she says. According to Stephanie, many of the group’s members actively reach out to help others while barely having their own needs met at home.
This past year, the student group emphasized that philanthropy isn’t just giving money or goods to help charitable causes; giving time is equally, if not more, valuable. When that happened, Stephanie says, the entire school responded. The students’ cumulative generosity was felt at many local nonprofits including Cure San Fillippo Disease, Save Eliza, God’s Storehouse, Transitions, Palmetto Children’s Hospital, the American Cancer Society, the American Red Cross and more. Another great area of need turned out to be the school’s student population where 70 percent of students receive free or reduced lunch. The group’s solution was to establish a clothing closet and food pantry available within the school — 365 days a year.
It’s such inspiring work. In early 2014, the group was invited to share its efforts on the national stage at the 2014 National Youth Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C. At the conference, the students hosted an on-site service project, led a session on Service Learning and the Common Core Standards, and rubbed elbows with local representatives and senators in the process.
“As a group, they found new resources they didn’t have before, and they were exposed to groups and organizations that they can be involved with beyond high school,” says Stephanie. “They came back from the conference even more passionate about their efforts and got to work right away. In fact, many students worked through the summer planning for the upcoming year and volunteered at local nonprofits on their own.”
The day Michelle first ventured into the open field near Gonzales Gardens Housing Community, an area nearly overrun by poverty, drugs and gangs in the Lyon Street neighborhood, she didn’t know what would happen. Nearly five years later, she believes serving the community is one of the greatest gifts of her life.
“I was looking to get my kids involved in something when I received an email about this community,” says Michelle. “We knew there were a lot of children around the area, so a group of moms and kids decided to just go there and play.” Carrying nothing more than games, snacks and hope, the group found a few playmates the first day and told them they’d be back next week if they’d like to play again. Within three months, the weekly play date hosts had dwindled down to mainly Michelle and her children. At that time, approximately 40 Gonzales Garden children flock to the field each week. Michelle knew she needed to do more, but what could a homeschooling mom without any nonprofit experience do?
Michelle funneled her hope and will into founding Prosperity Project, a Christ Church Ministry located in the Gonzales Garden Community, which now offers children after-school tutoring, one-on-one mentoring, cooking classes, preschool and other youth enrichment opportunities. With a mission to aid in the spiritual and educational development of children living in the Gonzales Garden community, Michelle’s hope is now helping to transform the prospects of youth coming of age in a community still plagued by poverty, drugs and gangs.
Through their hands-on service, Michelle and a team of more than 50 volunteers have helped students raise their grades by as much as 40 percent and regularly keep as many as 50 children away from a busy nearby downtown street. Prosperity Place has also united the area’s faith community of more than 14 different denominations in support of the youth. The heart of the work, Michelle says, is deeply personal.
“Growing up, my family had always supported charities, but it was from the comfort of our own home,” says Michelle. “It’s easy to write a check or drop off clothes, but when you help people by lending your hand and building relationships with them, the reward is so much greater.”
Local Business Champion
Kenneth Shuler Schools of Cosmetology
Kenneth Shuler is the founder of seven cosmetology schools across South Carolina, where hundreds of students train each year. Many of those students, it turns out, might not attain the invaluable vocational education and training if not for the school founder himself.
“Education is expensive anywhere,” says Kenneth, who founded Columbia’s Kenneth Shuler School of Cosmetology in 1981. “Even if students can get some scholarships, the amount usually isn’t enough to cover the full cost of their education. So often, they have to get a loan or figure out how they can pay the rest of it back.”
That’s why, at his cosmetology schools, students need only good attendance and good grades to qualify for scholarships. Scholarships range from $500 to $1500 per student during the 1,500-hour course, which takes about a year to complete. Since 2009, the schools have awarded more than $1.5 million in student scholarships. “It’s been very successful for us and for keeping students in school,” he says. “They have incentive to not just ‘slide by’ and many times they actually end up doing better.”
For Kenneth, who also owns and operates the nine-location Cost Cutters Family Hair Salons chain, the scholarships are one facet of a thriving philanthropic program that includes his salon employees, his cosmetology schools and — most important of all — himself. A 40-year charter member of the Optimist Club of St. Andrews, Kenneth has donated more than $250,000 of his own personal wealth to local nonprofits and community-based efforts including Children’s Chance, the American Red Cross, Locks of Love, Sistercare, Harvest Hope Food Bank, Pawmetto Lifeline, Souper Bowl of Caring and the S.C. School for the Deaf and Blind, among others. His lifetime of generosity was recognized earlier in 2014 when he earned South Carolina’s highest award for service to the state and nation, the Order of the Palmetto.
While his personal philanthropic reach is wide, he actively engages his teams of employees and staff to give back, too. Each year, all seven schools hold back-to-school drives, adopt families during the holidays, donate wigs to local hospitals and host free haircut days for homeless individuals. Kenneth believes in leading by example. “Your employees see what you do and many times they learn from it,” he says.