Charlotte has a big heart. From crusaders for charitable causes to powerful philanthropists, Charlotte is full of those doing good—and doing it often. Some of these faces may be new, while other will be familiar. But they’re all ones you’ll want to know now because their generous work is changing our city.
Wake up. Be kind. Change the world. Repeat. That’s what SHARE Charlotte is all about. And the newly formed non-profit makes it as easy as can be, bringing together more than 400 Charlotte non-profits on one website so that if you want to get involved—whether by donating your time, money, or in kind gifts—you can with just a few clicks.
Founder Kelly Brooks used her own money to launch SHARE after a successful career in marketing for NASCAR and spending some time at home raising her kids. “It really came out of my experience trying to get involved in the community and I found it very difficult to navigate through all of the non-profits, so I thought if I was having these issues, other people were.”
In addition to the website (www.sharecharlotte.org), SHARE hosts two fun communitywide giving events to help get people involved: SummerSHARE is in July and Giving TuesdayCLT is the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. Last year that event raised more than $4.2 million.
Still, Brooks says she is getting more out of this than anyone else.
“I really, really care about this city and I want it to be strong and healthy and this is the best way I know to make that happen.”
SHARE has been so well received, next year Brooks will launch it in other cities.
“I am so fulfilled right now, more than I’ve been in a long, long time and I really believe this is exactly where I’m supposed to be and exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.”
Charles Thomas was uniquely situated to take over as program director at the Knight Foundation when he did so this past February. Before being named the director at the Charlotte chapter of the organization that focuses on journalism and the arts, he ran the non-profit Queen City Forward, an incubator for entrepreneurs looking to tackle social issues, and before that he worked as the education director at The Light Factory.
“It’s a wonderful transition from what I’ve been doing to help build companies that are focused on people,” Thomas says. “The Knight Foundation has similar values and I feel like it’s the right organization for helping Charlotte be more innovative, creative, and thoughtful with how to build a city focused on advancing people and helping them to be engaged civically.”
Thomas has strong ties here. His grandfather was born in Charlotte in 1909 and Thomas moved to the Queen City when he was six. Now married with three boys, the Duke graduate serves on several area boards and is excited to bring positive change to the community he loves.
“My work at The Knight Foundation is really trying to find new voices and new leaders and attracting and retaining talent for the city of Charlotte to help expand economic opportunity and increasing civic engagement,” Thomas says.
You’d think being off the track would mean life had slowed a bit for four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon. But you’d be wrong. Now working as a FOX race analyst, Gordon is also re-dedicating himself to his foundation which helps kids fighting cancer.
Gordon, who lives in SouthPark, says, “I have a platform from which I can make a difference. As a kid in Indiana I never dreamed I’d have the opportunity to reach so many people doing what I love. Using that reach to raise awareness and money for something that’s so important to me—the fight against childhood cancer—is especially meaningful.”
Formed back in 1999, the Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation has granted more than $16.5 million to help fund childhood cancer research and just launched the “Every Hour Counts” campaign in hopes of raising $1 million a year. “We took our $1 million goal, divided it by the number of hours in one year—8,760—to determine a per-hour dollar-amount to reach $1 million. With this formula, we’re urging people to raise an hour for childhood cancer research,” Gordon says. The father of Ella and Leo adds, “As a race car driver, I know what it means to be up against the clock and how every minute of every hour counts. But for kids battling cancer, the stakes are much higher in their race and there needs to be an increased urgency for cures and better treatments.”
Sil Ganzo remembers moving from her native Argentina to the US 13 years ago and worrying about how to hold on to the pride of her heritage while still embracing her adopted country. That’s something she has helped hundreds of Mecklenburg County kids navigate thanks to Our Bridge, the non-profit she has been involved with since 2010. Now serving as the program director, Ganzo runs the afterschool program that works with refugee and immigrant children representing 22 countries on everything from battling the language barrier to homework and cultural awareness.
“It’s very hard for an adult to get to know a new country and culture and that can be hard for the kids, too,” says Ganzo. “There’s a big need to help families feel welcome; that’s why our afterschool programming gets the whole family involved.”
The need is so strong, Our Bridge is outgrowing their Plaza Midwood offices and looking to expand soon.
“I tell people it’s not a melting pot anymore, it’s a salad. We don’t have to lose our contributions, we all bring something different and we need to embrace that.”
Rick & Diane Siskey
Rick and Diane Siskey are known for throwing some pretty spectacular parties at their SouthPark home—picture a big top tent, a full band and stilt walkers greeting guests—and in the process raise millions of dollars. Rick, the co-founder of Siskey Capital, and Diane, a former special education teacher with an MBA, are also still involved in the Siskey YMCA that they helped build in 1995.
Since moving to Charlotte in 1985, the couple has worked with more than a dozen charities (everything from St. Judes to the Allegro Foundation) and just pledged to raise $750,000 to bring a Best Buddies office to North Carolina. (That’s the non-profit founded by Anthony Kennedy Shriver to help give people with disabilities more meaningful lives.) Shriver thought it would take three years. The Siskeys threw one of their signature parties and are already more than halfway there. “Charlotte has always been a very giving community,” Rick says.
Diane says despite all they’ve given back, they’re truly the ones on the receiving end. “When you help people and you see the appreciation from the kids and the parents, I think we’re more blessed getting to see that than anything we give to them.”
Photos by Justin Driscoll.