By Peter Vankevich
Ocracoke was front and center at the Outer Banks Community Foundation’s (OBCF) annual meeting and luncheon on Feb 20.
It was fitting that this celebratory event took place at Nags Head’s Jennette’s Pier, a true survivor. Battered by storms, especially Hurricane Isabel in 2003, it has been rebuilt many times throughout its 70-year life. These days it looks as good as ever with a nice facility for meals and meetings, an aquarium and a great place to fish.
After the foundation’s president, Scott Brown, welcomed everyone and provided highlights of the past year and how Hurricane Dorian dominated its activities, Ocracoke was handed the ball when Pastor Ivey Belch of the Life Saving Church on Lighthouse Road provided the blessing.
OBCF exists to give out money to those who need it. One of the most important gifts are scholarships, and $167,820 provided by about 40 organization and memorials were awarded this past year, said Nancy Sugg, the scholarship chair.
Jane Webster outlined another distribution of funds which are grants to nonprofits. More than a quarter of a million dollars were dispersed.
By way of introduction to the keynote speaker, Ocracoke’s county commissioner Tom Pahl, Executive Director Lorelei Costa provided the drama of Hurricane Dorian’s approach and how quickly the OBCF began receiving a record amount of money from all over the region and country to help those who suffered damage on Hatteras and Ocracoke islands.
So far, more than $1.4 million has been raised and of that, $1.2 million was designated for the Ocracoke Disaster Relief Fund by about 6,000 donors, according to Brown.
Pahl began with humble and grateful thanks to OBCF and the many donors. He then outlined the toll that Dorian, the most damaging storm ever, had on Ocracoke, even worse than the Hurricane of ’44. The list was long and disheartening. More than one third of the buildings on Ocracoke were severely damaged; 88 of 105 businesses sustained significant damage; hundreds of cars and trucks totaled; the electric and water systems were severely damaged and temporarily out of commission as were the EMS and health center and three miles of road at the north end destroyed and took several weeks to repair.
“On the day following that storm, another storm blew in,” Pahl said. “And like the hurricane, it was unlike anything we’d ever experienced. It was a storm of generosity. And that storm just seems to keep coming and coming. We are grateful.
“In those first weeks, not a day went by that we weren’t moved to tears by the kindness of friends and strangers. People giving in ways so generous and selfless that you had to collect yourself just to say thank you.”
He noted how people immediately began brainstorming, coming up with good ideas on how to get out of this, no doubt, long-term crisis.
“We set up in the firehouse, with the gracious agreement of the OVFD, and began to build a group of people,” he said. “We assigned tasks. I’ve described it as if you had found yourself out in the middle of the ocean, treading water with nothing around you but a bunch of boards floating nearby. And you decide to build a boat. That’s what we did and every day that boat gets a little higher in the water and a little more watertight.”
Out of the chaos and initial stunned feeling has come many positive accomplishments–the formation of the Ocracoke Interfaith Relief Recovery Team, the “Firehouse Committee” that is dispersing the OBCF funds to those in need and the support of the Hyde County manager, the Hyde County Board of Commissioners, the Hyde County Emergency Management, Gov. Cooper and his offices, the island’s state Rep. Bobby Hanig and the many faith-based organizations that have been so helpful in getting people’s lives and homes back.
“We’re vulnerable, but we’re resilient,” Pahl said. “We go back to work. We bend; we don’t break. We’re Ocracoke Strong! We’re like those beautiful cedar trees you see along our shores–the ones that are bent by the wind but thrive and grow and protect. That’s who we are.”
Ocracoke news wasn’t over. Islander Ruth Toth was unanimously elected to the foundation’s board of directors for a three-year term. Toth is a former Ocracoke School teacher, owner of the former Cafe Atlantic and ex-president of the Ocracoke Preservation Society. She will join another islander, Greg Honeycutt, who agreed to serve on the board for another year. Pat Regan, a retired food industry executive from Martin’s Point, will also join the Board.
The foundation also gave out two special Dorian-related Champion Awards. TowneBank, for its lead gift of $150,000 for Dorian relief efforts, which the Bank committed just 24 hours after the storm. Taylor Sugg, President of TowneBank Currituck accepted the award.
The other Champion Award went to Bob Mueller for his tireless volunteerism for the foundation and heroic efforts in fundraising for Dorian.
Costa concluded the meeting by announcing an anonymous donation of $105,000 called Vision 2020. This will be a competitive, one-year grant for one or two nonprofits serving the Outer Banks to receive $50,000 to $100,000 awards to address an urgent community need or opportunity.
“The catch to this gift is there’s no catch,” she said, saying the foundation has free discretion on how and who to award this money. They will issue a press release soon on how to apply.
The Outer Banks Community Foundation, formed in 1982, is a 501(c)3 nonprofit charitable organization to help meet local needs in Dare County and all Outer Banks communities, from Corolla to Ocracoke Island. It accomplishes its mission by increasing charitable giving in the area, by managing charitable funds for individuals and agencies and by targeting grants toward the community’s most pressing needs and promising opportunities.
The Community Foundation manages more than $20 million across 190 charitable funds for individuals and agencies, awards grants to local nonprofits, administers 55 scholarship programs, and provides tailored services to help donors leave a legacy and pursue their charitable interests. Since its inception the Community Foundation has awarded more than $10 million in grants and scholarships to local nonprofits and students.
Ocracoke remains in hurricane recovery mode and is still accepting donations for that. To donate Ocracoke or one of the many the funds managed by the foundation, click here.