GREENSBORO, N.C. — James Seramba faced hard times as a kid: Raised in a tough neighborhood in Edison, N.J., Seramba would go 24 hours at a time without food, and Christmases without presents, because his alcoholic father would drink away what little money the family had.
“I know what it’s like to grow up with nothing,” says Seramba, managing partner of Grey Oak Wealth Management in Greensboro.
But a handful of teachers and coaches took an interest in Seramba and “made sure I stayed on the right path,” he says.
Now, he is trying to give back by helping local kids go to summer camp.
He has launched two fundraising campaigns, one to raise $80,000 to send 100 kids to Camp Easter Seals UCP in New Castle, Va., the other to raise another $80,000 to send another 100 kids to YMCA Camp Weaver in Greensboro.
With Seramba and his clients already committing an additional $20,000, the two campaigns will send letters and email appeals to civic groups, churches, companies and friends.
Both efforts then will follow up with email messages and phone calls, encouraging those organizations and individuals to sponsor one kid and then ask their members and employees, friends and colleagues to pitch in.
Seramba says he was a “pretty good student but I don’t know that I would have excelled as much as I did” without the encouragement and guidance of his teachers and coaches.
He applied to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and, once accepted, received a scholarship from a local civic group to pay for the shoes and $500 deposit he needed.
He graduated in 1986 and served in the U.S. Army, always in forward combat units, including a tank force that was part of the Second Brigade, First Infantry Division, in the first Gulf War.
He draws 30 percent disability compensation from the Veterans Administration, compensation that he donates to paralyzed veterans.
After his Army service, while working for a glass company in Michigan, Seramba attended a career day sponsored by Merrill Lynch, which hired him.
He moved to Greensboro in 1995 and, in October 2006, started Grey Oak Wealth Management.
In 2001, he started hosting what has become an annual toy drive, known as “Breakfast with Santa,” inviting clients, friends and business associates to bring their children to brunch, where the kids could have their photos taken with Santa.
The price of admission was toys for underprivileged children in the community.
And in 2008, he expanded the drive to include children with physical or developmental disabilities served by the local office of Easter Seals UCP North Carolina.
Seramba, who was 19 years old when his father died at age 46 from cancer and has supported his mother since he graduated from West Point, serves on the Triad advisory board for Easter Seals UCP.
Without the opportunity to go to camp, he says, many kids with disabilities, particularly those in foster care, would have nothing to do in the summer but “sit and stare at four walls all day,” and because at-risk kids would not get the “guidance and a helping hand” that could keep them from the “wrong path.”
Seramba, who advises some clients to use charitable giving as a way to share their values with their children and grandchildren and get them involved in philanthropy, says he has been fortunate because he “got a couple of good breaks and had a few people who took an interest in me.”
Seramba says being a “servant leader” is core to his giving.
“People say rank has its privilege,” he says. “Rank has its responsibility.”‘