By Todd Cohen
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As a college student, Chris Teat spent Thanksgiving and Christmas vacations at her stepfather’s nature retreat in Lancaster County, S.C.
Now, as president and CEO of The Family Center, Teat is overseeing a $7 million capital campaign to develop that 624-acre site as a summer camp for poor youngsters.
“Poverty is the toughest thing on a family and the leading indicator for child abuse and neglect,” says the former sales and marketing manager for IBM.
When Teat returned to Charlotte from Mississippi nearly 10 years ago and applied for the top job at The Family Center, she did not know her stepfather had contributed $428,000 for the charity when Myers Park Presbyterian Church and the Junior League of Charlotte created it in 1978 to fight child abuse.
Her stepfather, the late Fred Wikoff, board chairman at Wikoff Color Corp. in Fort Mill, S.C., also surprised Teat in 1997 when he told her he was donating TreeTops, the nature retreat, to The Family Center.
The camp, which serves two North Carolina counties and three in South Carolina, offers a refuge for the growing number of youngsters who face abuse and neglect, problems more likely to occur in poor families, Teat says.
In the past 10 to 15 years, the number of cases of child abuse or neglect reported in Mecklenburg County has quadrupled to 8,000. Abuse or neglect later is confirmed in more than 2,300 of those cases.
The Family Center, which serves 8,000 to 10,000 children and families a year, has increased its staff to 75 from 30 in 1993, while its annual budget has grown to $2.7 million from $700,000.
“We don’t want to grow too fast,” says Teat. “The family is the most important entity on earth. It’s also the most delicate. So you have to row slowly enough to have really quality service.”
The group’s services, delivered at its own facilities and in neighborhoods, homes and schools, range from prevention and intervention to education and treatment aimed at eliminating child abuse and neglect.
The Family Center, for example, serves 16 elementary schools, offers clinical therapy and adoption-support services, and runs the Arosa House group home at Covenant Presbyterian Church and a 14-hour parenting helping.
The Family Center leases the TreeTops lodge, built in 1949, as a retreat for businesses, nonprofits and church and scouting groups.
And last summer it provided a weeklong overnight sleep-away camp for 246 youngsters in four cabins built and donated by R.T. Dooley Construction Co. in Charlotte.
Teat expects the camp to serve 300 youngsters this summer and, after five more cabins are built, as many as 10,000.
The capital campaign has raised $2.5 million, including $75,000 from the J. Marion Sims Foundation in Lancaster County and $50,000 from the Springs Foundation in Fort Mill.
Both are considering making major gifts.
The Family Center also hopes to increase to 60 percent in 2005 from 55 percent now the share of its total revenue generated by earned income.
And it is developing plans to launch a planned-giving program.