Inspiring speeches, lively bidding wars, generous supporters and impromptu dancing highlighted our Build People, Not Prisons fundraiser on March 21 at Warehouse 242.
More than 160 guests mixed and mingled, listened to live music by Crystal Fountains, enjoyed noshes and sipped local craft beers and kombucha cocktails before Emcee Francene Morris kicked off the program and made introductions.
“We help people by creating the conditions and environment for change to occur by building skills and providing information so they can make choices that are right for them,” said Myra Clark, executive director. “If we help people reach their highest potential, we won’t have a need for prisons.”
She added, “We’re very proud of the work we do and some of you might say we have a great staff and they do great work. But the truth of the matter is, we have great clients. They are the ones who have found a place where they can reach their potential.”
Guest speaker Daryl Atkinson, co-director of Forward Justice, noted there are 2 million people in North Carolina with a criminal record. “These people are at their most vulnerable and they need an injection of hope. CCT meets the most pressing basic needs so people (in Mecklenburg County) can begin to rebuild their lives and work a plan,” he said. “We have to systemically make change at a local, state and national level … CCT has been at the forefront of that.”
Atkinson encouraged party-goers to pull out their checkbooks and make a donation to “an important organization that is literally giving chances to folks that society has given up on … we should be concerned about all of our citizens being able to have equal opportunity to the American dream even if they made a mistake.”
The event also included testimonials from former Center for Women clients Ashleigh Mellon and Evelyn Hill, who shared their stories about life after incarceration and how CCT helped them re-enter society.
Mellon said she was relieved when she entered the center because she was encouraged to start enjoying life again. “Prison is not about enjoying life; it’s about punishment. What’s great about this program is it’s an opportunity. It’s not a handout,” she said. “Your success will be determined on how hard you’re going to work. CCT provides the stepping stones and you have to take the steps.”
During her time at the center and since her release, Ashleigh has saved money, maintained a sales job for two years, moved into her own apartment and discovered a passion for yoga. “I would not have had any of those things if it wasn’t for center. This is a wonderful, wonderful program,” she said.
Hill noted it “takes a village to raise a person,” and prior to entering the Center for Women, she was a “person who was lost.” She’s now using her experiences to help others by serving as a peer mentor for other women in the center.
Before the live auction began, Morris implored attendees to “raise that hand in the air like you just don’t care.” And indeed, they did. The bidding war for a week in Hot Springs, NC, at Glenn Smith’s cabin ended up going for an impressive $4,000.
Development Director Laura Heiser said the event more than doubled its goal and was grateful to all the supporters who helped make it such a fun and inspiring night.
“Big thank you’s to Francene Marie Morris for doing an incredible job as emcee and to our inspirational speakers Daryl, Evelyn and Ashleigh for making the night extra special,” she said. “We also thank our event sponsors, in-kind donors, and those who donated to our live and silent auction.”
She added, “If you didn’t attend this year, be sure not to miss our 3rd annual Build People Not Prisons next Spring!”