Stars of Memphis philanthropy sparkle at AFP Crystal Awards

Stars of Memphis philanthropy sparkle at AFP Crystal Awards
(Source: WMC Action News 5)
(Source: WMC Action News 5)

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - An 8th grader from an inner city South Memphis school rallied her classmates to donate 6,500 bottles of water to the residents of Flint, Michigan.

Fifty high school students in East Memphis raised $64,000 for Memphis based Ducks Unlimited.

An incredible foundation created by the sale of St. Francis Hospital in 1994 has thoughtfully distributed nearly $250 million to all kinds of causes for the greater good in Memphis and the Mid-South.

A dedicated servant leader at Memphis Jewish Home and Rehabilitation has helped raise funds that have made the highly regarded institution the finest of its kind in our region.

A former CEO of family-owned cement and steel firms gave her heart to the non-profit sector and ignited major improvements at Metropolitan Interfaith Association and Memphis Botanic Garden.

A Memphis non-profit veteran who welcomed the 39th President of the United States and a former First Lady to Memphis and put them to work alongside an army of volunteers has become a rising star at Habitat for Humanity not only in Tennessee but across the globe.

A committed group of hard-working women and men have devoted over four decades to supporting the Pink Palace Family of Museums and have helped create one of the top crafts fairs in the Southeastern United States.

A Memphis based Fortune 500 company annually contributes $14 million to philanthropic causes across the world, $4 million of that great gift right here in Memphis!

All these great people and organizations were honored on Tuesday, Nov, 14, 2017 alongside a true Memphis treasure who took a rare step into the spotlight to celebrate a lifetime of giving.

"My hope is through my writing, my photography, and my work with BRIDGES that I can help my children, my grandchildren, and others in this community see the world around them from a new perspective," said Becky Wilson, honored as 2017's Outstanding Philanthropist.

Becky's father-in-law, Holiday Inn founder Kemmons Wilson, made a $15 million gift to create the school where more than 400 people cheered the spirit of giving by the aforementioned big-hearted honorees at the 2017 Crystal Awards luncheon.

The AFP presents the Crystal Awards each year and could literally give one member of the Wilson family or another a Crystal Award on an annual basis. The Wilson family's fingerprints are nearly everywhere you look across the spectrum of charitable giving in Memphis and the Mid-South.

The Kemmons Family Foundation was honored by the AFP in 2005 for its vast generosity to so many causes and indeed, Becky Wilson's brother-in-law Kemmons Wilson, Jr. was named Outstanding Philanthropist back in 2012. Giving by the Wilsons has been so lavish and substantial, it took Becky Wilson's husband, Spence, about 45 minutes articulate a bullet point laundry list of all their amazing magnanimity to the East Memphis Rotary Club in another program last year.

But this was Rebecca Webb Wilson's moment in the sun. As the BRIDGES website reveals: as a community volunteer, she brought a program called Bridge Builders to what was known in 1988 as Youth Service.

"Her idea was to bring together high school students from diverse backgrounds for summer conferences and year-long activities that would build leadership skills and forge ties between future leaders of the community," the website says.

Over the last thirty years, the program she established to create ties that bind adopted the name BRIDGES and has become a national model for uniting young minds in a spirit of friendship while confronting the world's joys and vexing challenges.

Zora Person is the kind of young student every teacher would want in his or her classroom.

Now a ninth grader at Soulsville Charter School, Zora won the 2017 Individual Youth in Philanthropy (Individual) award for the "Flint Water Drive" in 2016.

In addition to 6,500 bottles of water, she helped convince students and teachers to donate water filters for people living in Flint homes contaminated by lead.

At Memphis University School, a freshman named Wyatt Berry started a new Ducks Unlimited chapter two years ago. Now a junior, Wyatt's chapter has grown to 50 members who have held a banquet and a tailgate party to raise funds.

The money is donated to DU's conservation projects in wetlands and other waterfowl habitats.

The Assisi Foundation of Memphis, Inc. was honored as the 2017 Partner in Philanthropy and like the Wilson Family, could rightfully be singled out each year for the constructive, thoughtful, and significant gifts it makes to nonprofits across Memphis and the Mid-South.

The AFP's special Partner in Philanthropy Award is presented rarely (this is the 5th time in 28 years) and it turns out, the foundation seldom steps into the limelight to accept any kind of recognition.

Quietly and with careful discernment, the foundation has invested nearly $250 million to improve lives in the areas of health and human services, education and lifelong learning, social justice and ethics, cultural enrichment, and the arts.

Every facet of the Memphis community has been impacted by the generosity of the foundation.

In fact, the Assisi Foundation even teaches nonprofits how to seek its support in a series of educational sessions called Before You Ask.

The Assisi Foundation has convened a series of meetings between nonprofits and leaders to address community issues to avoid duplication of effort, find root causes of vexing challenges and help create community-wide transformation.

Joel Ashner, CFRE was named 2017's Outstanding Fundraising Executive by the AFP Memphis Chapter, an organization she has served as a board member for four years.

As Director of Philanthropy and Community Engagement for Memphis Jewish Home and Rehab (MJHR), she united volunteer leaders to create a successful golf tournament.

In addition, Joel has helped secure funding for art therapy, pet therapy, the Restorative Nursing Program, weekly Shabbat luncheons, the annual Thanksgiving family luncheon, Alzheimer's training for staff, and many other needed programs and equipment for MJHR.

Joel has also chaired the Senior Services Collaborative, working to make sure Jewish seniors in Memphis are cared for, connected, and engaged.

The 2017 Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser is the living embodiment of the award that now bears her name.

Julie Raines, a native Memphian, attended Hutchinson School and the University of Tennessee Knoxville and ended up living in East Tennessee for 17 years.

Returning to her hometown in 1978, Julie stayed active in business with the Carlisle Collection and then chaired the board of her family's business, Fischer Lime and Cement Co./ Fischer Steel Corp.

Julie applied her business acumen to service at MIFA starting in 1993, helping the agency establish a new headquarters and create the Starry Nights holiday lights display at Shelby Farms Park.

Julie returned to serving MIFA in 2015, co-chairing a successful $15 million dollar endowment campaign and is now working on the effort of celebrating MIFA's 50th anniversary next year.

Julie also chaired Memphis Botanic Garden board in 1995-96 and oversaw construction of a new Visitors Center and Hardin Hall.

She more recently was a member of the Live at the Garden campaign.

Julie was a founding board member of the Redbirds Baseball Foundation (1998-2009), served on the Orpheum Board for six years and was one of the fifteen appointees who oversaw construction of FedEx Forum (2002-04) Julie is an ordained deacon at Idlewild Presbyterian Church.

Dwayne Spencer, the 2017 Outstanding Fundraising Executive, has worked in nonprofit management for 24 years, the last 16 at Habitat for Humanity in Memphis.

Growing the Memphis Habitat team from nine people and a $1 million budget in 2001, the office now puts 40 staffers to work with a budget of $9 million.

Programs have expanded under Dwayne's leadership from serving 15-20 families a year to 200-plus through the agency's Aging in Place program.

Memphis Habitat ranks among the top 10 among the 1,300 affiliates in North America.

The agency's work attracted national attention in 2016 by hosting Habitat for Humanity's Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project which brought former President Carter and the former First Lady to work alongside 1,500 volunteers including country music stars Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood.

Spencer has now taken his gifts for organizational nonprofit excellence to Habitat's international efforts and will soon apply lessons learned in Memphis to the agency's work in Africa in Cote d'Ivoire.

Friends of the Pink Palace was named Outstanding Philanthropic Organization for its nearly 60 years of support.

The innovative volunteers at Friends have created all kinds of fundraisers but the most successful is the Pink Palace Crafts Fair, now in year 45.

The Friends also host "Stomp in the Swamp," a fundraiser for Lichterman Nature Center.

Volunteer docents guide history tours at the Mallory-Neely and Magevney historic homes.

Over nearly 60 years, Friends have donated almost $1.8 million to the Pink Palace Family of Museums and since 2001, have served nearly 120,000 volunteer hours!

International Paper's Amy Grow accepted IP's Outstanding Philanthropic Organization award at the AFP's annual luncheon with an inspiring story about the company's generous employees.

Grow said about 500 IP team members live in Houston where Hurricane Harvey struck in August.

She said most of the IP team in Houston lost homes or suffered significant losses in the storm that left a record $200 billion in damage across the region.

Grow said some IP team members moved into the International Paper facility in the wake of the storm with nowhere else to go.

Even in the face of such a tragedy, Grow said IP held its annual United Way campaign and scored astonishing results.

The Houston IP team actually increased its United Way gift, and Grow said, "our people said they wanted to contribute to the very agencies that were helping them recover from the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey."

With 55,000 employees in 24 countries, IP global community engagement efforts include grants, financial contributions, volunteer service, and product donations.

The company embraces four signature causes: education, hunger, health, and wellness and disaster relief.

To learn more about IP's $14 million in global giving (including the $4 million for Memphis based organization), click here.

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