by Erin Breeden
Giving Tuesday may have been last month, but that doesn’t mean giving and the work of nonprofits in the Charlotte area have stopped. Actually, it never slowed down. In honor of the fearless leaders of local nonprofits, we have put together a list of notable women in Charlotte nonprofits. Highly educated and extremely dedicated, these women are the heartbeats of our city. Some you may know and some you may not, but all are unsung heroes. We are honored to create, list, and to include these women who fight the good fight daily for those in our community who are underserved, often forgotten, and those who deserve all the chances in the world to succeed.
Please note this list does not reflect all of the amazing women in the Charlotte nonprofit world, it is just a sampling based on reader feedback and nominations. Please do nominate yourself or your personal heroes in the COMMENTS section below, so all can see and support.
The Arts A-Team
Natalie Frazier Allen
Founder and Executive Director, The Arts Empowerment Project
Natalie Frazier Allen, an attorney and child advocate and former Chief of the Domestic Violence Unit in Washington, D.C., founded The Arts Empowerment Project in 2011. The Arts Empowerment Project promotes art as a way for children impacted by violence to have an outlet for positive self-expression and healing. Natalie believes that through art, children can be empowered no matter their circumstance. Through art, there is hope.
Director of Education and Outreach, Charlotte Ballet
Dancer, choreographer and teacher, Bianca oversees programs, such as Charlotte Ballet REACH, for the Charlotte Ballet. Charlotte Ballet REACH is an outreach dance scholarship program. Teachers, including Bianca, go into the Charlotte-Mecklenburg community to recreational centers to teach dance to students between the ages of 7 and 10 who may not be able to afford dance classes at a studio. Bianca is working to make dance accessible to all.
Executive Director, Arts for Life
Rachel Zink started her journey with Arts for Life in 2009. Her roles have changed from art educator to administrative director to assistant director and, in 2013, to the role of executive director. Arts for Life is dedicated to providing an outlet of various educational art programs for children facing serious illnesses and disabilities. These programs help to ease the stress of children, and their families, during a healthcare stay and to add a little fun during a hard situation.
Wendy Hickey, Founder of ArtPop Street Gallery ; Witnie A. Martinez, Director of Development at the Harvey B. Gantt Center ; Alli Celebron-Brown, President and CEO at McColl Center; Kathryn Hill, President of Levine Museum of the New South ; Kelly Finley, Founder and Executive Director of Girls Rock Charlotte ; Mary A. Deissler, President & Chief Executive Officer with the Charlotte Symphony ; Hilary Cooper, Director of Advancement & Communications at The Mint Museum; and Beth Hansen, Executive Director with Opera Carolina .
The Education Advocates
Executive Director, Communities in Schools
The focus of Communities in Schools is to empower at-risk students to feel supported in their education journey and to have the tools to reach his or her greatest potential. Molly Shaw is an education advocate and, when hired as executive director, took the time to go into the schools that Communities in Schools serves. She saw firsthand the needs of the community and has been able to shape how the organization serves over 6,000 students.
Jenni Gaisbauer, CFRE
Chief Community Officer and Executive Director, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library Foundation
With more than 15 years as a fundraising professional, Jenni Gaisbauer provides leadership, strategic direction, and generating awareness and financial support for the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library Foundation. Prior to joining the Foundation, Gaisbauer spent nine years as the Senior Vice President of Development at the Levine Museum of the New South.
Founder/Executive Director, INTech Foundation, Inc.
Khalia Braswell is a digital diva whose love of technology began in the fourth grade when she received her first computer. She was hooked instantly. As a result of her early interest in tech, she enrolled in Charlotte’s own Phillip O. Berry Academy of Technology. Throughout her journey in the technology space, Braswell noticed that few people in her niche looked like her–a black woman. That was unacceptable to Braswell and she eventually founded INTech Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to inspire girls, through hosting one-day camps, summer camps, and mini-camps, to fall in love with the technology industry, just like Braswell did.
Emily Elliott, Executive Director with Heart Math Tutoring ; Jane Blount, Co-founder of Philip’s Academy ; Patsy Burkins , Executive Director of Charlotte Community Services Association; Helen Hope Kimbrough, HELPS Program Director of the Augustine Literacy Project; Sil Ganzo, Executive Director of ourBRIDGE; Susan Andersen, Founder of ANSWER Scholarship ; Michelle Estrada Abels, Founder, The Key Resale Shop; Jill Bjers, Executive Director, Code for Charlotte ; Angela Gala, Co-founder and Executive Director of Youth Meditation ; Rosie Molinary, Founder of Circle De Luz ; and Kristina Cruise, Founder and Executive Director of Promising Pages.
Program Manager, Sustain Charlotte
Meg Fencil is first and foremost an educator. Prior to her role at Sustain Charlotte, Fencil designed and implemented original research programs as a U.S. Fulbright grant recipient and taught through Project L.I.F.T. and Ten80 Foundation. She also holds her Ph.D. in Marine Sciences from The University of Texas at Austin. In her role with Sustain Charlotte, Fencil educates, engages and unites the community through programs, fostering partnerships, and assessing program outcomes all to create a more sustainable focus in the city.
Margaret McGee Brantley
Capital Campaign Director, Catawba Land Conservancy and Carolina Thread Trail
With over 12 years experience in marketing and development, Margaret McGee Brantley understands the importance of getting your message out, fundraising, and growing organizations in rapid-paced environments. Her love of fundraising and land conservation have made her a force in nonprofit fundraising. She’s so good, she even created her own company, M. Brantley and Associates, where she successfully helped clients create and implement fundraising and marketing strategies for their organizations.
Chief Program Officer, Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont
Raquel Lynch joined Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont in 2017 and oversees all Career Services departments located at the Goodwill Opportunity Campus including the Job Resource Center, Basic Needs Fulfillment, Career Development Services, and partner relations. Prior to serving at Goodwill, Raquel managed all of the assistance programs at Crisis Assistance Ministry as their Chief Program Officer. She understands fully the impact lack of resources can have on whether or not a person can elevate themselves from poverty.
Co-founder and Executive Director, Refugee Support Services
As Dorothy once said, there is no place like home. Rachel Humphries is the co-founder of Refugee Support Services, a post-resettlement organization that helps newly arrived refugees make Charlotte their home. Humphries and her team empower our neighbors to thrive in their new lives through food distribution, medical clinics, ESL classes, help centers, and mentoring.
Chief Executive Director, Crisis Assistance Ministry
Carol Hardison’s job as the chief executive director of Crisis Assistance Ministry is to ensure the mission of the agency is carried out through work with the Board of Directors, staff, volunteers, and donors. Hardison joined Crisis Assistance Ministry in 2000 and is passionate about helping those in poverty receive the tools and care they need to improve their situation.
Dr. Stephanie Cooper-Lewter, Executive Director of Leading on Opportunity ; Laura Belcher, President and CEO of Habitat for Humanity CLT ; Fontella McKyer, Director of Workforce Development with Dress for Success ; Shreya Mantha, Founder of Foundation for Girls ; Meredith Dolhare, Founder of RunningWorks ; Noel Humphreys McCall, Executive Director of Patriot’s Path ; Tammy Martin, Founder and Vice President of Programming for Young Black Leadership Alliance ; Rebecca Wofford, Founder of The Lunch Project ; Suzanne Yoh, Co-founder of Servants With a Heart ; Becky Santoro, Co-founder of Foster Village Charlotte ; Donna Dunlap, Chief Executive Officers of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Carolinas ; Danielle Mintz, Founder of Player EQ; Michele Dudley, Founder and Executive Director of Fashion & Compassion ; Amanda Hollingsworth, Director of Development with Elon Homes ; Jan Kimble, Co-founder of Jamie Kimble Foundation for Courage ; and Sonja Chisolm, Co-founder and Director of Gracious Hands Transitional Housing.
The Health Fighters
Founder and Executive Director/President, Isabella Santos Foundation
Erin Santos took the heartbreaking loss of her daughter, Isabella, and turned it into something positive. Santos founded the Isabella Santos Foundation in 2007 to help bring awareness and funding to neuroblastoma, the rare disease that cut Isabella’s life short. Since it was created, the Isabella Santos Foundation has raised over $1 million to fight against and find a cure for neuroblastoma.
Founder and Executive Director, Brave Step
Crystal Emerick survived childhood sexual abuse by burying the pain, but, it would be an emotional breakdown and breakthrough in her 20s where she realized surviving wasn’t enough. In 2011, the idea for Brave Step was born and it was officially incorporated in 2014. Brave Step’s mission is to strengthen men and women impacted by sexual abuse through inspiration, education and personalized care.
Elisa Chinn-Gary, Clerk of Superior Court
Co-Chair, Race Matters for Juvenile Justice
Not only is Elisa Chinn-Gary the first African American elected to hold the office of Mecklenburg County Clerk of Superior Court, but she also launched the Race Matters for Juvenile Justice initiative in 2010. The initiative includes judges, lawyers, police, and educators who are tasked with informing themselves and others on how judgments based on race, ethnicity and class still permeate the criminal justice system and in everyday life. Chinn-Gary’s goal is to make you uncomfortable and then to make you change.
Emily Harry, Heather Leavitt, and Cat Long, Founders of Baby Bundles ; Liz Winer, Trustee at the Winer Family Foundation ; Mara Campolungo, Co-founder and Executive Director of The Sandbox ; Carrie Cook, Executive Director of GreenLight Fund Charlotte ; Amy Cervantes, Co-Founder of Bright Blessings ; Stamie Despo, Executive Director at Susan G. Komen Charlotte ; Meg McElwain, Founder of Mitchell’s Fund ; Charlie Marquardt, Co-founder of Adoption Support Alliance ; Alyson R. Kuroski-Mazzei, DO, MRO, FAPA, CEO and Chief Medical Officer of HopeWay ; and Kara Olsen, Co-founder of The HEARTest Yard .
For the love of animals
Executive Director and Founder, Stand For Animals (formerly Spay Neuter Charlotte)
Cary Bernstein created Stand For Animals (formerly Spay Neuter Charlotte) to decrease the high number of animals being euthanized in Mecklenburg County. Stand for Animals has performed over 75,000 surgeries on cats and dogs and has grown to three clinics now offering low cost veterinary care. Thanks to Bernstein and her team, everyone, no matter their income, can properly care for their animals.
Community Leaders and Nonprofit Supporters
The women and organizations listed in this section have a vast history of supporting the community and multiple nonprofits in Charlotte.
Kelly Brooks and Amy Jacobs
SHARE Charlotte founder, Kelly Brooks, and SHARE Charlotte executive director, Amy Jacobs make giving, volunteering and overall supporting community easy and fun. SHARE Charlotte ensures that nonprofits in the Queen City receive the support and funds they need to best serve the community. They have figured out the secret sauce and are now expanding via SHARE Good into other cities to support more nonprofits.
Kim Lanphear, Lavonne McLean and Stephanie McKee
When we received nominations for women in nonprofit, we received multiple nominations for these three women from Apparo, and rightly so. Apparo, which is Latin for ‘to provide,’ is a hub for nonprofit information technology needs. Apparo provides strategy, implementation, consulting and support services for nonprofits in the Charlotte area. Kim Lanphear (CEO), Lavonne McLean (Director of Programs and Pro Bono Partnerships) and Stephanie McKee (Director of Technology Engagement) are three power houses who ensure nonprofits are equipped with the tools they need to be successful.
Chief Executive Officer, YWCA Central Carolinas
Kirsten Sikkelee began her career at YWCA Central Carolinas in 1994. Her roles and successes have included creating Women in Transition, a housing program for unaccompanied homeless women, while she was program director, and creating a similar program, but for families called Families Together as chief program officer.
As CEO since 2009, Sikkelee also oversees the nine YWCA Youth Learning Centers, which serve over 300 children daily with free, out-of-school programming.
All of the women past & present of the Women’s Impact Fund, Junior League of Charlotte, Assistance League, Latin Americans Working for Achievement (formerly Latin American Women’s Association, and Good Friends Charlotte; Sarah Belk Gambrell and Sally Belk Gambrell; Marcia Simon, Rabbi Judith Schindler, Queens University; Amanda Pagliarini Howard, The Society Guide; Kathy Izard, “The Hundred Story Home”, Susan McDonough; Felicia Gray, civic leader; Christine Edwards, MPA, Community Relations Coordinator for Mecklenburg County ; Tiffany Hemming Pratter, National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc. Queen City Metropolitan Chapter; Katrina Louis, Managing editor of qcitymetro.com; Judge Shirley Fulton, President/CEO at Law and Community Foundation; Jania Massey, CEO/Founder of Philanthropy Circle 365 and Stiletto Boss University
This article is one of many we plan to do to highlight the Charlotte women doing great work to make our town the vibrant, growing, exciting place we all call home. While we are focused on Women in Non Profits here, we promise, at scoop we are all about the QC women, so you’ll be hearing a lot more from us on the topic of women who work in CLT over the next months. If we missed one or more of your favorite notables here, Please share in the COMMENTS section below, so all can see and support.