By Todd Cohen
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In tough economic times for black students and schools, the North Carolina office of the United Negro College Fund has turned to a mainstay of its support since it was founded nearly 60 years ago.
The Charlotte-based office, which raises about $2.3 million a year, has launched a drive to increase that by at least $100,000 through contributions from area churches.
And while the goal is to raise $1 million over 10 years from churches in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, Marilyn Richards, state development director, hopes to expand to other cities and raise $5 million by 2005.
“The faith community initiative is an effort in Charlotte that we hope to expand throughout North Carolina, and it may even grow throughout the country,” she says.
She expects UNCF offices in California, Georgia, Ohio, Texas and Virginia to launch similar drives.
Alan Kirschner, UNCF executive vice president for development, says the Charlotte initiative “will be a model that other markets will want to replicate.”
Religious institutions founded 38 of the 39 colleges and universities that are UNCF members, including six in North Carolina, among them Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte and Barber Scotia College in Concord.
“Churches have always been solicited, but we’ve advanced it here in Charlotte and asked the churches in these tough economic times, when the needs are so great for our schools and our students, to again reach a little higher,” says Richards.
Created in 1944, UNCF has raised $2 billion to support its member schools, and helped more than 350,000 students earn undergraduate and graduate degrees.
UNCF raises more than $170 million a year and supports 65,000 students at more than 950 U.S. schools.
Those students include 5,000 from North Carolina who attend schools in other states, and 8,000 from other states who attend 27 schools in North Carolina.
UNCF also is running a $1 billion, 20-year program launched in 1999 by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to provide scholarships for at least 20,000 low-income, high-achieving students,
The North Carolina office gives directly to UNCF schools in the state three of every four dollars it raises, and sends the remainder to the national organization, which returns four to six times that amount to those schools.
Twelve Charlotte-area churches so far have made commitments to the fundraising drive, co-chaired by the Rev. Claude Alexander at University Park Baptist Church and the Rev. Casey Kimbrough at Mount Carmel Baptist Church.
Those churches are among seven that have pledged to give $100,000, along with five others whose pledges range from $10,000 to $50,000.
While the drive initially has focused on black churches, Richards says, she plans to recruit other local churches and expand this fall to the Triangle and Triad.
“It’s important we raise as much unrestricted money as possible in order for our schools to operate,” she says.