While this week’s murder trial of Jonathan Broyhill has drawn up memories of how political activist Jamie Kirk Hahn died two years ago, a foundation started after her death works every day to promote how she lived.
Friends and colleagues conceived of the Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation as she lay in the hospital with stab wounds received in an attack at her home in April 2013. One goal was to inspire others to carry on the ideals of a young woman who was considered a rising star in local and state political circles.
“We are working on building a cadre of leaders, an Army of ‘Jamies,’ across the Triangle and across the state,” said Alexis Trost, the foundation’s executive director.
Broyhill, 33, has also been charged with the attempted murder of Jamie Hahn’s husband, Nation Hahn, who was injured in the attack at the couple’s North Raleigh home. Broyhill was Nation Hahn’s childhood friend and best man at the couple’s wedding in 2009.
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Nation Hahn was among the small group of people who conceived of the foundation as they sat vigil at WakeMed before Jamie Hahn died, said Joyce Fitzpatrick, a close friend and a founding member of the foundation.
“I remember Damon Circosta, executive director of the A.J. Fletcher Foundation, and Kel Landis, Plexus Capital founder, both expressing the same sentiment, ‘We have to do something with all this energy. We cannot let a light so bright burn out so soon,’” Fitzpatrick said.
The foundation was launched in October 2013, with a first-year operating budget of $221,000 that came largely from grants and contributions. The organization embraces the ideals and issues that the 29-year-old Hahn was passionate about: poverty, hunger and developing new leaders who have the potential to change the communities where they live.
“She believed deeply that if we had more leaders who led with love, who listened, who were humble, and who took action, then North Carolina would be a better place,” Fitzpatrick said.
One of the leaders identified by the foundation is Shana Overdorf, director of the Raleigh-Wake Partnership to End and Prevent Homelessness. Overdorf credited the foundation with helping her agency expand its network with like-minded people and other organizations.
“The Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation has helped us connect in so many ways to the greater community,” she said.
Each weekend since June, Overdorf’s agency works with the foundation and others to provide meals to people who are hungry or homeless through an effort called The Oak City Outreach, housed in the Salvation Army warehouse on Person Street.
“It provides a place for people to come, to where they not only have dignity, but a place to be,” Overdorf said.
Trost said one of the first things the foundation did was identify and invite a diverse group of activists, community leaders, organizations, politicians, business people and others to a series of meetings called “Gathering For Good,” to share home-grown solutions to problems such as poverty and food shortages.
The term “food deserts” gained currency in Raleigh after the closings of two Kroger grocery stores in Southeast Raleigh in recent years. Residents worried about affordable, healthy food in their neighborhoods after the stores shut down. (One of the stores, off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, will soon be replaced by a smaller grocery, Sav-A-Lot.)
The Hahn Foundation started “Second Saturdays” to help residents build new relationships with food. Foundation volunteers encourage residents to visit farmers markets, participate in educational seminars and help turn vacant lots into gardens.
“It’s a celebration of food and community,” Trost said. “There’s a lot of energy around food.”
Volunteers have created three community gardens in Southeast Raleigh. One garden, near downtown on Camden Street, was created by the foundation in partnership with the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle. Volunteers transformed another small patch of ground near Person and Blount streets near William Peace University.
“The gardens are filled with plants that anyone in the neighborhood can pick,” Trost said. “Volunteers are teaching the community how to plant, how to harvest and how to prepare the plants for cooking.”
More than 500 people have participated in 11 “Gathering for Good” meetings, with more than 1,000 volunteering in the 10 “Second Saturdays.”
This summer, the foundation will start a mentoring fellowship program for the Triangle’s emerging leaders, people who are already deeply involved in their communities. They include young people and others of varying ages, gender and race who are working as community volunteers, Trost said.
The organization hopes the program will allow the new leaders to work alongside people with more experience.
“We want to connect them with mentors, connect them with initiatives and help them to meet change-makers,” Trost said.
One of those emerging leaders, Overdorf, never met Jamie Hahn, but feels like they were kindred spirits.
“Everyone who did know Jamie says this is exactly what she would be doing,” she said. “I heard the foundation embodies who she was, how she was able to bring everyone together and mobilize people.”
The Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation
For more information, go to www.jamiekirkhahnfoundation.org