Builders and Shapers: Outer Banks Relief Foundation

Builders and Shapers: Outer Banks Relief Foundation

May 2nd, 2023

It started as a way to help a family that became homeless because their daughter was fighting childhood cancer. Nearly two decades later, it has since become a financial savior for hundreds of Outer Banks families in their most desperate hour.

The Outer Banks Relief Foundation, based in Nags Head, will host their sold-out, signature annual fundraiser event “Couture By The Shore” on Saturday, May 13.

The spring fashion at Duck Woods Country Club features Barr-ee Station, Birthday Suits, Foxy Flamingo Boutique, Gray’s Sportswear, Miss Lizzie’s, Sojourn, The French Door, Untucked, Whalebone Surf Shop and Zen & Zip, and supports the Outer Banks Relief Foundation’s work assisting people facing personal tragedies.

Patty McKenna has served as Executive Director of the Outer Banks Relief Foundation since 2016, and strikes a pose with us for this edition of “Builders and Shapers” to tell us what they do, how they do it, and detail the local organizations that have similar names but much different missions.

Who do you serve, and how?
The Outer Banks Relief Foundation eases financial burdens when tragedy strikes people who live or work in Dare County and the Currituck beaches. How it’s possible is through our amazing donors. They are my heroes – neighbors helping neighbors.

Besides philanthropy from residents and businesses, our work is also made possible by the donations of visitors and second-home owners and also by the generous people who organize and attend our many fundraising events throughout the year.

How we do it is by paying household bills directly to landlords, mortgage companies, or automobile insurance and loan companies. We call this relief funding because it lessens people’s suffering and provides them with stability and hope during a crisis.

Examples include battling cancer, putting the pieces together after the suicide of a family member, or losing your home to a house fire.

In 2022, 148 families received $413,000 in relief funding. That’s an average of almost $2,800 per family. Since 2005, Outer Banks 1,365 families have received relief funding of $3,089,935.

When and why was your nonprofit created?
In the late 1990s, a group of people on the Outer Banks raised money for Leukemia research in honor of a local child battling the disease.

This particular family lost their home during their daughter’s illness.

That’s where the idea for a local “relief foundation” was born. Three Outer Banks residents, John Gillam, Millie Ward and Ervin Bateman, rolled up their sleeves and founded the Outer Banks Relief Foundation in 2005 to provide financial stability and referral services to other local families facing similar situations.

What are some of the benefits of your organization’s work?
When 100-to-150 local families are given the gift of relief each year, the whole community benefits.

A young teacher traveling back and forth to Chapel Hill for cancer treatment can make ends meet and focus on getting well and returning to work.

The family of a boy in middle school with visual impairment can receive vision-saving surgery and continue his education. Some of our brave beneficiaries have allowed us to tell their stories, which you can read here.

Outer Banks Relief Foundation Executive Director Patty McKenna.

Do you think the issues you address will ever go away? Why or why not?
A wise donor shared with me a reflection on three different ways to make a positive impact in the world. This was formulated by the theologian Richard Rohr.

He says to imagine a river flooding out of control, symbolizing the circumstances that bring about suffering. The overflowing river sweeps those in its path off their feet.

At the first level, we rescue drowning people, assist with the immediate problem right in front of us. That’s where the Relief Foundation is found, at this first level.

At the second level, we help people not to fall into the swollen river in the first place. That’s where you find schools or health care providers.

Finally, on the third level, we build a dam to stop the river from flooding in the first place. Those are the people seeking systemic change.

I believe a thriving community should have all three movements present.

The Relief Foundation is responding to the problems associated with personal tragedy. To build a dam, so to speak, people might dedicate their lives to eliminating cancer.

To stay out of the river, we all endeavor to secure the resources we need to comfortably weather personal crises.

But that’s not always possible.

There remains a place for easing the suffering right in front of us. The Outer Banks Relief Foundation at its best is a lifeboat to those unexpectedly swept away in the swollen river of life, or more like the angry ocean of life.

What else would you like readers to know (perhaps an interesting insight or heartwarming story)?
Unfortunately, it is confusing to people that our name is so similar to that of the Outer Banks Community Foundation and our mission is so similar to that of Interfaith Community Outreach.

Here are the differences:
The Community Foundation is a home for people’s donor advised funds and general funds for community benefit. The Community Foundation essential pools many donations and uses them to address community needs and support local nonprofits.

They are our umbrella or our mothership, to mix metaphors.

A person does not apply to the Community Foundation for assistance (except in the case of scholarships). Nonprofit organizations apply to the Community Foundation for funding.

Interfaith Community Outreach provides assistance to individuals facing a temporary emergency crisis, and that encompasses a wider range of issues than the Relief Foundation’s focus on personal tragedy.

That is, if a member of our community has a temporary financial need for any reason (a storm came through, your employer cut your hours) ICO is your go-to.

When a specific personal tragedy strikes, (paralysis from a stroke, a debilitating disease) the Relief Foundation is your go-to.

ICO is the generalist in our community for gap funding for families, and the Outer Banks Relief Foundation is one of the specialists.

And all three of us work together all the time. If you contact any one of us, we’ll make sure you get where you need to go. There is no wrong door.

What’s new? What are your upcoming events or initiatives?
If you want to know more about all the local human services groups here, come to a meeting of our Community Services Collaborative. Click here for more information.

The Outer Banks Relief Foundation coordinates the Community Services Collaborative. It’s a group of local nonprofit and public services providers who meet face to face quarterly to maximize referral opportunities (for clients) and to increase mutual support (for one another’s organizations).

Meetings are open to the public and are a great way to learn about the organizations that make up the human services sector in our community.

This Collaborative allows the Outer Banks Relief Foundation to refer our beneficiaries to the full range of services available and to avoid duplication of services.

Also relatively new is Butch’s Night Out. In 2020, two local donors helped launched Butch’s Night Out at the Relief Foundation in memory of their father.

It is a program that provides the funding and opportunity for families to enjoy fun experiences together as they face short-term or long-term personal crises such as terminal illness.

Participants in this program might go fishing on the pier with lunch, have a fun day at the Water Park, try a new restaurant, or enjoy a catered dinner at home. Click here to apply for Butch’s Night Out of for relief funding.

Couture by the Shore 2022 guests, donors, volunteers, sponsors and retailers raised $140,000 in 2022.

Finally, May 13th is the 2023 date of the Outer Banks Relief Foundation’s signature event, Couture by the Shore, a fashion show held at Duck Woods Country Club featuring ten local retailers.

Last year, everyone who sponsored, organized, volunteered for, attended, and donated to Couture by the Shore raised a huge $144,000 for relief funding on the Outer Banks.

This year’s event promises to be even more fun and successful. I’m afraid that it is sold out already. But get in touch if you’d like to be a sponsor next year!

For more information on the Outer Banks Relief Foundation:

In conjunction with the Outer Banks Community Foundation and the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, WOBX has launched “Builders and Shapers: Nonprofits for a Greater Outer Banks” a weekly series featuring the nonprofits that serve our area. They share details about how they are working to make northeastern North Carolina and the Outer Banks a better place to live, work and play.

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