Family Center looks to future

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As it nears its 30th anniversary in 2008, The Family Center in Charlotte is preparing itself to continue handling growing demand for services that aim to eliminate and prevent child abuse and neglect.

The nonprofit this month completed a four-year capital campaign that raised $7 million for construction at TreeTops, a camp it has operated for five years in Lancaster, S.C.

It also has hired Jennifer Nichols, former major gifts manager for the Greater Carolinas Chapter of the American Red Cross, as its development director.

And it is conducting a search for a new CEO to succeed Chris Teat, who retired last fall after 14 years.

“We’re in a period of transition, but we’re on the right track,” says Carmen Schultz, development officer.

In its fiscal year that ended June 30, 2005, The Family Center served over 11,000 children and families, including 8,000 youngsters who participated in a program to learn safety skills.

With an annual budget of $3.9 million and a staff of 72, including contract workers, the nonprofit offers a broad range of community and family services and school-based services in addition to its camp.

In a free program funded by United Way of Central Carolinas, for example, a full-time staff member visits roughly 80 Charlotte-Mecklenburg elementary schools a year, spending a full day at each school teaching personal safety to first-graders.

And parents can voluntarily enroll in another program, known as FAST, or Families and Schools Together, and visit their schools one night a week for eight weeks for parent-empowerment classes.

The center also provides an intervention team that offers clinical therapy in 18 elementary schools for children identified as having behavior problems.

And in three of those schools, the center offers an after-school therapeutic program in which the intervention teams spend an hour with the children on academic work, and another hour on building social skills such as self-esteem, anger-management and cooperation.

TreeTops, sitting on 624 acres, offers 10 one-week sessions during the summer for at-risk children who take part in typical camping activities like canoeing, fishing and hiking, and also learn a different skill each day like trust, respect, cooperation and faith.

Different organizations bring their own children and counselors each week, with the camp staff providing the programming.

While the cost of providing programs totals $300 per child, the camp charges only $50 per child, and generates the revenue to subsidize those costs by charging fees throughout the year to groups that use the camp’s challenge course, retreat and conference center, environmental-education and wilderness programs, and outdoor academic classrooms.

The Family Center covers 47 percent of its budget through fees, mainly through Medicaid reimbursements, insurance and client payments, and 53 percent through charitable contributions.

On June 2, the center will host its 15th Annual Best of Charlotte event from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. at the Hyatt Charlotte at SouthPark.

The event, including food from over 20 local restaurants, plus music and a silent auction, aims to net $155,000 for the center.

“Although we can’t erase the problem of child abuse and neglect,” Schultz says, “we strive to prevent this problem and bring healing and hope to those who have been affected.”

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