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Jan 15, 2021

Building Our Community Through Compassion

Sponsored Content provided by Kelly Goss Sechrist - Chairwoman of the Fund Development Committee, Cape Fear Literacy Council

Coretta Scott King once said, “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.” As members of our community here in the Cape Fear Region, we have many opportunities to show compassion to others around us whether through local nonprofits, our churches, or individually. If we invest in the people who live and work in our community, we build relationships and connections that can make a difference for generations. By lifting others up, we create a space of kindness, respect, and ultimately, the greatness that Mrs. King spoke about in her wisdom.
Back in the early 2000s when I was living in western NC, I joined a local women’s organization. I was a busy young mom, but I knew that I wanted to make time to give back to my community. The organization provided crisis assistance, grants, scholarships, and volunteers for the local community with a laser focus on our mission. It wasn’t long before I knew that I had an opportunity to build on our work by joining the leadership team. By the time we moved away from our small town in 2010, I had served almost 10 years on the board of directors. 
Over my years of board service, I saw how many small acts of kindness and volunteerism added up to big changes in the community. We granted money to schools, hunger prevention organizations, homeless shelters, and more, but late in my tenure as president of the board, a crisis intervention drove home the importance of the work of local nonprofit organizations. Each Christmas the board of directors worked with local agencies to offer assistance to families in need at the holidays. We provided clothing, food and necessities, and Christmas presents for each family member. 
One of the families that year was a single mom, let’s call her “Sarah,” with two young children, one who suffered from extreme allergies and painful bouts of eczema. He frequently missed school because of skin infections and respiratory issues. She also had a daughter who was not quite a year old. Sarah, who grew up in our mountain community, graduated from the local high school despite difficult family dynamics and little support. She attended the community college directly after high school with her son already in tow. When I met Sarah, she had recently been accepted to the local four-year university. If she could figure out the next few years both financially and emotionally, she would be the first person in her family to graduate with a college degree. She had the academic ability and planned to major in accounting. Her challenge was financial and the need for someone to offer her outside support.
Women in the organization generously donated gifts and gift cards to help the family that Christmas, and I volunteered to make the delivery. I arrived at her small duplex apartment with items in hand, and we spent the next hour talking. She shared her concerns and her fears with me.We talked about college experiences and the skin issues that both our sons had with eczema. We made a connection that day, and the women in our organization made an intentional choice to help Sarah achieve her dream of graduating from the university. We were not able to provide for all her needs. Her hard work was ultimately responsible for her success, but over the next year or so, we helped in small ways with bills or clothes or grocery gift cards. 
I share this story not to shine a light on what the organization did, but rather to share the outcome of caring for members of our communities in a meaningful way. I was recently on one of my social media accounts when I saw a familiar face. It was Sarah. The nonprofit where she worked as the financial officer was recognizing her years of service to their organization and her completion of a nonprofit finance certificate from a prominent university. Sarah returned the favor to the community. The investment of kindness into this young woman’s journey positioned her to give back to others when she was able to do that. When we lift up people in our own communities, we create a chain reaction and an ongoing force of paying forward goodwill and service. 
Since my board days at the women’s organization, I have worked with nonprofits across the state both as a volunteer board leader and as a development staff person. I am currently the immediate past president of the Cape Fear Literacy Council board and the Development Director of the Ranked Choice Voting Resource Center. Nonprofit work is hard. It is relentless. It is a constant balancing act to figure out how to raise enough funds to cover the mission-centered programs that you are charged to administer. That challenge has become double with the issues that have faced us in 2020, but ultimately, the success stories and the relationships that come from working in this sector far outweigh the challenges. 
I share this story to offer you a call to action. The difficulties we have faced over the past year have almost brought us to our knees in communities across the nation. We have trust to rebuild. We have our democracy to protect. We have community members who need us to build relationships and extend a helping hand. The relationships we build by giving back to our communities can only push us in a positive, forward trajectory. My call to action to you is to find a place to volunteer. Find an organization that could use your specific skills on their board of directors. Step out beyond simply giving a few gift cards or a few cans of food. Encourage your company to sponsor a nonprofit organization this year. Participate in leadership giving by making a long-term pledge donation or including a nonprofit in your estate planning. We have the ability to make big changes that will resonate throughout our community and provide growth and healing. We are stronger together when we give back to our communities. 
Kelly Goss Sechrist, a Wilmington resident for over ten years, has many years of experience working with nonprofits. While she started her career as an educator, she quickly transitioned to the nonprofit sector. She has worked closely with numerous local and national nonprofits, ranging from education and literacy to community crisis support to medical research. She has served in some capacity, as a volunteer, board member, or development staff member for over twenty-five years. Additionally, Kelly served on several local and state election campaigns as a volunteer, including state senate campaigns in 2006, 2008, and 2010 where she served as the assistant campaign manager and public relations liaison. Currently, she is the Chairwoman of the Fund Development Committee for CFLC and served as a member of the board for almost four years. Kelly works as the Development Director at the Ranked Choice Voting Resource Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit that provides resources for ranked-choice voting. She is also an entrepreneur and owns a small business. A mom to three young adults, she enjoys reading, writing, playing tennis, and fitness. 

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