Midtown: Community

Muse: Raleigh woman prodding others to give

Noel Anne Lichtin gets it.

In April, I had lunch and conversation among the Boys & Girls Club family and supporters, learning from seven Youth of the Year recipients how the clubs guided them through life as they know it. I heard the kind of story Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington tells in those Boys & Girls Clubs commercials, and in his book, “A Hand to Guide Me” – just in living color.

Then, last month, I dined over a boxed lunch at The Green Chair Project with members of the Women’s Giving Network of Wake County, a circle of women grant-makers committed to putting their money where women and children need it most. The lunch-n-learn educated us on homelessness among Wake County women and children; how they get into the system, and how they can, or should, move through it and out of homelessness with training, sobriety, shelter or mental health treatment.

Both times I was Lichtin’s guest.

I accepted her first invitation by email soon after I told you in February about the Boys & Girls Clubs’ annual Positive Place for Kids Campaign, which, I later learned, she co-chaired.

But that wasn’t Lichtin’s message. Instead, the long-time Boys & Girls Club donor and board member, and WGN co-founder, wanted me to know what she knows is happening in Raleigh. That way, she says, I can tell you.

“There’s not enough people sharing the voice of all of these people that have no voice, and somebody has to speak up for these people,” she told me during a recent chat. “Just because they’re not your neighbor does not mean that what’s happening in their lives doesn’t impact you.”

That’s what Lichtin gets that so many of us either ignore, can’t fathom or won’t embrace: We all have to use what we’ve got – be it time, money, talent or energy – to make the world a better place, for you and me. She gets that change requires action and for the news to get out about it, it first has to be shared – by you, the community.

“If I don’t do it, who will? That’s part of what I think is a responsible person’s job in being part of a community,” Lichtin added, “There just aren’t enough voices out there.”

At 63, Lichtin, a long-time Raleigh resident and a former special education teacher, is a veteran volunteer. She’s also a seasoned philanthropist.

In the late 90s, Lichtin and her husband, Harold, started The Lichtin Family Foundation to support Wake County with gifts to improve education, families and the arts.

After first becoming a Boys & Girls Club donor about 12 years ago through her family foundation, Lichtin joined the organization’s board and has “held all the offices you can hold,” she said.

“I am 100 percent committed to what their programming is to help disadvantaged youth,” Lichtin said. All four of the young men and women she’s mentored at the clubs – a personal mission “to make a difference one-on-one” – have graduated from college. One just got his master’s degree.

“What can I tell you,” Lichtin said, “They’re my family now.”

That’s the role the clubs play in the lives of the young people to whom they give a safe place to learn and grow into productive, caring and responsible citizens.

At the Youth of the Year luncheon, each of the seven award recipients told a story of club membership that eased pangs of poverty, a mother’s illness, discrimination, social alienation, divorce and job loss. Each also talked about doors the clubs opened to academic and social success, and personal triumph.

A woman’s role

Lichtin helped opened another set of doors after noticing a void in women philanthropists, and a void in women, many with their own money to give, being asked to give. She helped start WGN in 2007.

“Men were giving the money and some were doing the work, but for the most part, there was no personal involvement,” Lichtin said, describing the quid pro quo of the business-related giving common among men.

“Women’s giving is a different kind of giving,” she said, “Women give from their hearts and then put in the work.

“Women give because they care.”

Since it was founded, WGN has grown from 35 to over 175 members, 20 of whom joined this year and all of whom make an initial five-year, pledge of $6,000, or $1,200 a year. Renewed, two-year memberships follow.

To date, the WGN has awarded about $600,000 to non-profits organizations they invited to apply.

No WGN gift is less than $25,000.

“We don’t spread our money around too thin because that doesn’t make an impact,” Lichtin said, noting WGN’s process relies on accountability, sustainability and measurable outcomes.

Yes, Noel Anne Lichtin gets it and, now, so will we.

That’s because, in Lichtin’s words, “Women do such powerful things, don’t we?”