Giving: It’s on the rise

At a time of giving thanks, it’s best to start by recognizing those who give.

And that would be us – or, the people and businesses in and around Rappahannock County. Though official statistics are hard to come by, there’s much evidence that the county benefits from an exceptional generosity – of time, money and spirit.

At the 16th annual Child Care & Learning Center (CCLC) auction on Nov. 12, Washington Mayor John Sullivan took the stage to ask those in attendance to raise their hands to donate money – essentially, selling an opportunity to give. In fewer than 10 minutes, $26,750 in cash was generated, to help fund scholarships for CCLC children, college tuition costs for staff and ongoing capital and maintenance expenses.

“That kind of generosity is what makes Rappahannock so special,” said Rose Ann Smythe, CCLC’s executive director for 23 years. Besides the cash donated on the spot, Smythe said the auction program itemized 138 local donors and businesses who donated all items sold that night, which raised an additional $35,584 for children.  

“It is extraordinary how much money is raised in this county,” Sullivan said, joking that “one wonders if there is a donor fatigue problem.”

Sullivan himself appears to have a built-in resistance to the condition. Each spring, he and his wife, Beverly, host a fundraising dinner for the volunteer-run Rappahannock Food Pantry (this year sponsored by Melissa Harris and Flavor Magazine).

And if anyone is immune to donor fatigue, it would be Food Pantry founder Hal Hunter.

Hunter – at the piano – helped generate $1,000 for the Food Pantry at last Friday night’s old-fashioned singalong at Trinity Parish Hall in Washington. He spent Monday distributing fliers in Sperryville, Flint Hill and Amissville for Thanksgiving morning’s Turkey Trot 5K in Sperryville, which will benefit the Food Pantry and the Rappahannock County School Sports Association. And Hunter still had time to help hand out free Thanksgiving boxes, including a turkey and all the fixings, to families in need outside of the Food Pantry in Washington later on Monday.

Sometimes generosity does not come with a name tag. Earlier this month, a Rappahannock resident who wishes to remain anonymous announced his donation of a $4,000 challenge grant to the Food Pantry in memory of Lynn Jackson “Runt” Atkins of Flint Hill, who, in the words of the donor, “spent a lifetime helping people in the community.” The donor will match any other donations received from now through Christmas, which could mean $8,000 worth of food for Rappahannock residents in need.

Rev. Jenks Hobson of Trinity Episcopal Church in Washington has been involved with charities in Rappahannock for 38 years, through the church and otherwise, and recalls a number of economic upturns and downturns along the way. In 2008, he and other concerned members of the community created the Benevolent Fund, which provides emergency financial assistance to down-and-out residents.

“The first Benevolent Fund grant was given in December 2008, when the economy was already headed south,” Hobson said. “The level of need in the county was rising and the program came along at the right time. And the response has been marvelous. Each year we have met, or exceeded, our goals.”

In his years of fundraising, Hobson says, he has come to the conclusion that in Rappahannock, “when you let people know, they respond.”

For example: Union First Market Bank president Mike Leake, Lions Club president Roger Welch and Northern Piedmont Community Foundation (NPCF) executive director Cole Johnson learned that Rappahannock County Elementary School needed a new playground when they read about it in the Rapphannock News Sept. 25. Within a couple of weeks, $40,000 was rounded up by the three, including $5,000 from the Hampton Fund, to jumpstart the construction of a new playground.

Swept by the spirit of giving?

Contact information for the nonprofits mentioned in this article and a few others:

Northern Piedmont Community Foundation: (540) 349-0631

Child Care & Learning Center: (540) 675-3237

Rappahannock Food Pantry: (540) 675-1177

Rappahannock County School Sports Association: (540) 227-0745 ext 3461

Benevolent Fund: (540) 675-3216

Rappahannock Lions Club: www.rappahannocklions.org

Headwaters: (540) 987-3322

Friends of the Library: (540) 675-3780

Rappahannock-Rapidan Community Services: (540) 825-3100

Hospice of the Rapidan: (540) 825-4840

Rappahannock Animal Welfare League: (540) 937-3336

“I think in a small town, there is a stronger level of committment and connection between the people living here than there is in any city,” said Beverly Hunter, who, like husband Hal, is actively involved in a number of local nonprofit organizations that rely on donations for support.

Welch said that the Lions Club made as much or more money than ever in this year’s annual “coutdown raffle,” where tickets to the 19th annual Lions Club fundraising dinner were sold for $150 per couple and the winners of a $5,000 raffle were announced at the Nov. 5 dinner. The dinner’s proceeds benefit a number of local nonprofits, including the Girl and Boy Scouts, scholarships for young musicians in the annual James Bland Music Competition, college scholarships, the DARE program, Headwaters, Piedmont Softball League, the Rappahannock 4-H, band boosters, baseball association, Rappahannock Soccer League, the elementary school playground fund, RCHS scoreboard, Food Pantry, Senior Center, Shop With a Deputy, Camp Fantastic and many one-time requests as well.

“I can remember back to when I was in high school, when the Lions Club was an important part of the community – and as a young boy you looked up to them as a big deal in the county,” Welch said, adding that the Lions made no budget cuts this year and are already close to topping last year’s $8,000 cash donation for the scoreboards. “And I’d like to think that’s still the case.”

The annual fundraiser for Headwaters and its programs – Starfish Mentoring, Next Step, Farm-to-Table, mini-grants and now an after-school pilot program – also surpassed the expectations of board members. The 14th annual “Taste of Rappahannock” at Belle Meade Farm in Sperryville in September had record numbers of attendees, auction items and donations.

While Headwaters executive director Jane Bowling-Wilson said that the board was not prepared to give a final figure of how much the event brought in, she said that this year’s event was “unequivocally the best – and with the economy the way it is, that just blew everyone’s minds.

“Even though the money is what really makes things roll, the time that our volunteers give is what is most awe-inspiring,” said Bowling-Wilson. “We have some volunteers that work every single day with the school. And I have a great board that makes our programs fly – 11 dedicated people, all volunteers.”

Lois Snead – who runs the Book Barn, which sells books on Saturdays to benefit the Rappahannock County Public Library next door – said people have been not only generous with their money but with their time, which in a lot of cases can be harder to give.

“We have an outstanding library for such a small town, and the Friends of the Library is the reason,” Snead said, referring to a dedicated group of volunteers who raise money, find and save books and work hours each week. Almost every Saturday, six to seven people work steadily in two shifts from 9 to 12 and 12 to 3, Snead said. “It takes a lot of work, a lot of time,” she said. “[But] every time someone has to drop out for one reason or another, someone always steps in.”

Volunteer & Aging Services manager Lola Walker oversees local activities in the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) for Rappahannock Rapidan Community Services. RSVP is a national volunteer management program meant to promote opportunities for those 55 years and older to remain active in their community.

“To show how vital, engaged, and important seniors and retired folks are to our community,” Walker said, “from July 2010 to June 2011, 101 Rappahannock County RSVP volunteers provided service to 11 different stations, providing a total of 7,370 hours of service.” That includes, she said: seniors devoting 2,170 hours to the Rappahannock Food Pantry, 1,911 hours to the Rappahannock Historical Society, 1,975 hours to the Rappahannock Senior Center and 658 hours to the Rappahannock Visitors Center.

Members of RSVP are also working with Hal Hunter to enact a program that allows volunteers to give rides to seniors for reasons other than medical appointments (a program already associated with the RSVP). Hunter’s shop-with-a-shut-in service allows drivers of any age to coordinate with Senior Center manager Darcy Canton to offer rides to the “one in four older people in Rappahannock who live alone,” Hunter said.

“At last month’s Northern Piedmont ‘nonprofit summit,’ the need for transportation emerged a number of times, and not just for seniors needing rides to medical appointments; there are people here that can’t even get to the grocery store,” Hunter said, noting that so far seven volunteers have stepped up to offer transportation services.

Cole Johnson, executive director of the NPCF – which is charged with managing the $2 million left to the NPCF by Rappahannock resident Richard Lykes “for the good of Rappahannock County” – sees the role of the NPCF as that of a “convener.”

“That’s how we see ourselves, not just being a source of funds, but an organization to bring people together to point out, address and solve some of the county’s biggest problems,” Johnson said, adding that the NPCF hosts a public meeting at the Rappahannock Library at 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 5 to give members of the community a chance to weigh in on the needs of the county.