CLEVELAND — For its “2013 Small Business of the Year,” the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce broke the mold a little bit. Then again, the winner breaks molds as a matter of course.
Carlton McDaniel, who leads the nonprofit organization Able to Serve, claimed one of seven awards at the chamber’s eighth annual awards banquet on Feb. 4.
Able to Serve provides opportunities for physically and cognitively disabled participants to serve in the community, building a community of their own along with the self-esteem of participants.
“Larger organizations have come in and wanted to observe what we were doing. They couldn't believe the outcomes that we were having,” said McDaniel, the Cleveland organization’s only full-time employee. “One said ‘We have donors, you have friends and supporters; we want to see how that happens.’ I thought that was a really good compliment.”
Donna White, the co-chair for the chamber’s awards committee that organized the event, said the nonprofit’s inclusion for nomination and win was “phenomenal” and a pleasant surprise. A bigger surprise awaited her when the Cleveland School Rotary presented its “Woman of the Year” award.
White had just introduced the presenter for the award and returned to her seat to focus on the next part of the ceremony during the presentation. Her ears didn’t perk up until she heard “born in Southport,” but even then she said it didn’t click.
“I remember thinking I’ll have to tell her I was also born in Southport,” White said.
Again paying half-attention, more clues eventually caught her attention before her name was called.
“It was extremely surprising, almost to the point of me hitting the floor,” White said.
White – aside from a day job as a nursing consultant and her elected role on Johnston County’s school board – serves on the YMCA board of directors, Clayton Board of Adjustment and Johnston County transportation board. She also contributes to a radio show aimed at exposing telemarketing frauds for senior citizens and is involved in her church as well as the chamber.
She also had kind words to say about “Man of the Year” Jerry Ferguson, an award presented by the local Civitan club.
“He is such a gentleman, he is such an icon in the Cleveland community, county-wide really,” White said. “Jerry's card says he's a professional retiree but he's anything but a retiree.”
Ferguson serves as vice chair of the board of Harbor Inc. He also serves on the board of deacons for First Baptist Church in Smithfield, as well as on the Johsnton County and Smithfield Public Library board.
“I’ve had more success than I deserve in life,” the retired senior VP of a Raleigh insurance firm MCM Corporation said. “I’m totally surprised and totally grateful...It was something that meant a great deal to me, because the chamber itself and the Civitan do such great work in our community.”
Fred and Doris Huebner won Business of the Year, and White was blunt describing the owners of several McDonalds restaurants in the region.
“You cannot out-give the Huebners,” White said of the couple that gives everything from free meals to scholarships. “They give and they give.”
Cleveland Elementary School teacher Tana Brinke won Teacher of the Year, Ryan Laferrier of ID America took the chamber board’s Director of the Year, and Patricia White of ARCO earned Volunteer of the Year honors to round out the awards.
More than Able
McDaniel officially started Able to Serve about a decade ago. At the time he was a consultant and trainer who helped groups deal with special needs individuals. Since then it has taken off; four years ago he took the organization on full-time when the part-time executive director he had stepped down to start a family.
Now the nonprofit located on Technology Drive near I-40/N.C. 42 has more than 40 active members. They come from the immediate area and from as far as Clayton, Apex and Knightdale. Abilities and ages vary, but he said all have some physical or cognitive limitation and most are high school to adult age.
“The mission statement is that we get involved in their lives, and they in turn get involved with the lives of other people in the community,” McDaniel said. “When they're giving back, they feel better about themselves. They're not just a taker but a giver.”
The organization works hand in hand with other civic organizations, especially Civitan, providing volunteers for various events.
“There’s job programs out there, there’s programs where people need a safe place to be. We’ve found a niche where we’re doing a lot of life skills,” McDaniel said.
Some funding for the $130,000-$150,000 budget comes from sponsorship, but much comes from small individual donations. McDaniel calls it labor-intensive to fund through so many small sources, but likes that “it’s as if the community as a whole owns the organization.”
The participants – with the help of McDaniel and a number of volunteers – have helped sort food for the Community of Hope food pantry in Garner, prepared dental packages for dentists heading to do charitable work in Costa Rica, and whatever other projects they can find. Some mount up as much as 400 hours of community service in a year.
McDaniel said some even take leadership roles, and that allowing and encouraging leadership from within proved a big turning point about five years ago. Others involved find ways to use their talents to help others – he cites one participant with some video editing skills who applies them for videos the organization makes. In addition, they hold social events and establish lifelong friendships – and learn how to do it themselves.
“Hopefully we don't become their world, we hope their world becomes bigger,” McDaniel said.
He points out that the organization fits along with other businesses in the category just fine, as it has to deal with budgets and expenses like any for-profit organization; he just has a zeroed-out profit margin.
“It’s not how much money you’re making. It’s what kind of positive impact you’re making,” McDaniel said of the purpose of the award.
“What an honor. What an absolute honor.”
Jahner: 919-829-4822; Twitter: @garnercleveland