In 2010, Columbia Metropolitan Magazine and Central Carolina Community Foundation teamed up to present the Best of Philanthropy Awards to honor people, businesses and groups in the community who serve passionately but quietly, not for accolades or fame but because they believe it’s the right thing to do. Each year, nominations are accepted from the community, and winners are chosen in five categories: individual, family, group, student/student group and local business owner. The Community Foundation presents the winners at its Annual Celebration and awards a $500 grant to each winner’s charity of choice.
This year’s award ceremony will be held Nov. 1 at 701 Whaley from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. The public is invited to join the celebration. Tickets are available for $50; visit yourfoundation.org or call (803) 254-5601.
Individual: Cynthia Byrd
Cynthia Byrd isn’t rich or famous. She just sees the importance of giving back.
In the fall of 2007, still grieving the loss of her youngest son Brandon, 20, in an automobile accident in March, Cynthia approached the principal at Seven Oaks Elementary School to see how she could help what she calls “the best elementary school in the world.” In one month’s time, she singlehandedly raised $1,000 to donate to the media center. And in the process of helping to meet the needs of other people’s children, she planted the seed within her heart of a “remembering through giving” philosophy.
Motivated to help, Cynthia aimed for an even larger goal the next year. She remembered how important a resource the Richland County Public Library was to Brandon and his siblings, Derrick and Kymberlee, when they were young. It was where they learned to read, used computers to complete school projects, and spent their idle summer days. “It was a big part of their foundation as they were growing up,” she says. So she worked tirelessly, despite being a single mother holding down two jobs, to solicit more than 500 individual donations that totaled $17,500. A sign commemorating Brandon now welcomes visitors to a meeting room in the library’s St. Andrews branch, and a tree in the Main Library’s Children’s Room is dedicated to his memory.
Cynthia didn’t stop there. Four times a year, volunteers clean the section of Lake Murray Boulevard adopted in Brandon’s name through Keep the Midlands Beautiful. And for each of the past four years, she has put on a fashion and talent show fundraiser at Brookland Baptist Banquet and Conference Center to raise money for various causes, including RCPL, Sistercare, Harvest Hope, Lexington Interfaith Community Services and the Brandon LaVar Byrd Scholarship Fund. Family, friends, co-workers and church members volunteer their time, modeling their own clothes and offering their talents for free. Derrick, now 27, and Kymberlee, now 22, take active roles in the event that celebrates their brother’s life. Cynthia secures sponsors to pay for the location, lights, programs, printing, photography and most other expenses. If she can’t get enough sponsors, Cynthia covers the rest out of her own pocket. “We give 100 percent of the proceeds back to the causes,” she says.
The event is a little different each year, but the overarching theme is that every act is something Brandon would have enjoyed. Cynthia points out that the event is not just about her own loss; while she misses her son every day, she wants other people to be able remember the loved ones they’ve lost as well.
Cynthia doesn’t have the luxury of calling a few wealthy pals to write a few large checks and having her fundraising goals met. She writes many letters and makes many phone calls to friends, businesses, doctor’s offices, churches and more throughout the year to get many small donations. But it all adds up, and the hard work pays off when she is able to help others while remembering Brandon.
Family: Dr. Bertrand Gué and Mrs. Jeanne Gué, MSN
Dr. Bertrand “Bert” Gué and Jeanne, his wife, found it hard to sit still after retirement – he from ?? years practicing internal medicine and she from ?? years in nursing. Recognizing a need for affordable healthcare in their beloved hometown of Orangeburg, they decided to team up with Sandi Chaplin to open a free clinic there.
“I was born and raised in Orangeburg,” says Bert. “I went to school here and practiced medicine here. I love it here, and I want to help my home and my neighbors.”
Bert is quick to give the credit to his wife for prodding him into action; her years at the free clinic on Harden Street in Columbia convinced her that the citizens of Orangeburg and Calhoun counties needed similar care. After all, in these mostly poor agricultural counties, access to good, affordable medical care is limited.
The Orangeburg Calhoun Free Medical Clinic opened on Aug. 9, 2009. Funded solely through donations, it provides healthcare to uninsured low-income residents of Orangeburg and Calhoun counties who are not eligible for Medicare or Medicaid. Patients are seen for free by Bert, Jeanne, a nurse practitioner and countless volunteers and nursing students. Bert is proud that the practice is a clinical site for students at several colleges in the area, including Claflin University and Orangeburg Calhoun Tech.
One of the clinic’s biggest hurdles is non-compliance on the part of its patients when it comes to medication. Faced with limited budgets, it’s hard for some to justify the expense. That’s why the clinic works to educate patients on the importance of taking their medicine, and it partners with pharmaceutical companies to provide medications for $4 a month. The clinic used to be able to provide that medicine at no cost; with a weakened economy has come fewer donations.
“Like all nonprofits, we have to beat the bushes for funding,” Bert says. Since no one is charged for services offered at the clinic, and the clinic receives no government assistance, securing donations through fundraisers, church sponsorships and private citizens is a never-ending process. Luckily, to Bert and Jeanne, the clinic is a labor of love, and they enjoy being able to help the people of their community.
“We see many interesting cases here,” Bert says. “The patients appreciate that we try to give them Mayo Clinic-quality healthcare at a free clinic in Orangeburg.”
Group: CASA Quarterbacks
Guardians ad litem serve as the voices of children in family court, representing their interests and sparing them from the trauma of a courtroom setting. In Richland County, a special group of men, called the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Quarterbacks, volunteer their time to ensure abused and neglected children eventually land in safe and permanent homes.
Paige Greene, executive director of Richland County CASA, developed the idea for CASA Quarterbacks in 2005. Seeing the demographic disparity between CASA’s volunteers and the children that they served, Paige gathered the 13 active male volunteers and charged them with recruiting more minorities and men into the program. Taking the ball and running with it, those 13 men brought in 20 new volunteers; the program grew exponentially after that, and, today, 100 men serve as CASA Quarterbacks in Richland County, helping the more than 600 children who come into the system each year.
Playing on the sports motif, the football represents the child the Quarterback is assigned through the family court. The Quarterback gathers facts and information relevant to the child’s case, talks with family, neighbors, teachers and others, and appears in court on behalf of the child. “A lot of times, a child who is removed from the home is placed in the foster care system,” Paige says. “He or she may go through a number of homes and numerous case workers before the case is finished. But the CASA Quarterback is a constant. He makes the commitment to be there for this child from beginning to end. His job is to not drop the ball and to get the child where he or she needs to be.”
Nationwide, there is a shortage of men in the guardian ad litem role. So in 2007, Paige presented the Quarterbacks idea at a national conference in Orlando. She expected 75 conference attendees to show up for her presentation; instead, more than 300 arrived. Today, the Richland County CASA Quarterbacks assist with recruitment and training in communities across the United States, including Texas, Florida, Colorado, Georgia and Washington, as well as Chicago and Washington, D.C.
Locally, the Quarterbacks meet quarterly at get-togethers that they call tailgate parties. Each Quarterback brings a football with him, on which are the names of the kids he has served. Quarterbacks take pride in the number of names listed there; it is a poignant and powerful symbol of the young lives they have changed.
Student/Student Group: Airport High School Student Government
Airport High School in West Columbia isn’t a particularly affluent school. So to find that the entire student body has embraced the idea of a charity drive to raise money for Camp Kemo programs at Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital is nothing short of amazing. But what’s practically astounding is to discover that, in the eight short years the students have been holding the annual fundraiser, they’ve netted more than $167,000 in donations.
“The students here are giving of themselves,” says teacher Julia Boedy, Student Government Advisor and Student Activities Director at the school. “They’re digging deep to donate to the cause.”
The school’s student government had often held charity drives in the past to collect donations for various causes. But in 2004, the School Resource Officer approached the student activities director with the idea of holding a fundraiser for Camp Kemo after she spent some time volunteering there. It turned out that many students either knew friends or their siblings who had attended Camp Kemo, so the fit was natural, and the partnership has continued every year since.
Throughout the annual ten-day charity drive, more than 50 different fundraising events take place before, during and after school, as well as on weekends, including silent auctions, beauty pageants, bake sales, garage sales, kick ball tournaments, t-shirt sales, sticker sales allowing students to wear hats to school and teachers to wear jeans, a car hop and spirit night at the local Sonic and a “Send a Goat” game, where a student can pay to send a real goat to someone in another class, who can then pay to send it to someone else. Each student government officer is required to chair at least one event, although most volunteer for several, and most of the events are intricate and require leaders who are devoted to planning and implementation.
The student government does a phenomenal job of getting the 1,400 members of the student body to participate in the charity drive. They distribute flyers and create posters, speak in classes and individually to their friends about the events they’ve planned, and host a school-wide kickoff assembly, where kids who have been to Camp Kemo programs talk about their experiences. Inspired by their stories, teachers and students alike enthusiastically participate in the charity drive events, and each year donations have exceeded the goal set by the student body president.
“You don’t normally think of teenagers as being philanthropic,” Julia says. “But these kids just get into the whole thing. They see that this is so much more important than themselves.”
Local Business Owner: Kenneth Long
In 1951, Dr. Gene Long opened the first Long’s Drugs in Columbia. Today, the second generation of the Longs family runs the company, which features a delivery service and 20 stores across three states, and the third generation is poised to take the reins. Out of a sense of gratitude and of wanting to support the communities that have supported them over the past 50 years, the owners and employees of Long’s donate to many local charitable initiatives. The National Alliance on Mental Illness, the Babcock Center Foundation, Mental Illness Recovery Center, Palmetto Health Foundation, Special Olympics and HIV/AIDS awareness programs all serve a large part of the Long’s client base, and all have benefitted from the philanthropy of Long’s Drugs. Kenneth Long, president of the company, also serves on the board of directors of Special Olympics South Carolina.
Donations don’t just come from the corporate level, though, nor do they come solely in the form of money. Kenneth believes that giving back takes a bigger commitment than just writing a check; participation is key. “Folks working in our individual stores also have charities they are passionate about helping, and they are always eager to volunteer,” he says. In fact, more than 100 Long’s employees showed up for the latest NAMI Walk in May.
“Philanthropy has become a part of our corporate culture,” Kenneth says. “We are fortunate to be where we are now. For a long time, we didn’t have anything to give back. Now we have the opportunity to help, and we hope to continue to do so as long as we are blessed.”