Phyllis Young has volunteered for countless community events, nonprofit boards and fundraisers, but being able to help Willa Carson Health and Wellness Center in Clearwater, Fla., this year means more.
Duke Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas asked its employees to choose the recipients of more than $1 million in grants to advance social justice and racial equity. The money will be split between 80 nonprofits in the seven states the companies serve. This is the first time that employees selected recipients – and the first time the Willa Carson Health and Wellness Center received a Duke Energy grant.
Young, a Duke Energy billing supervisor at the Bayside Call Center, grew up in the North Greenwood neighborhood where the center is located. She remembers when it opened in 1997 and has watched it provide health care and education for more than 4,000 people – including her mother – ever since.
Without this center, Young said, many would rely on emergency rooms and urgent care clinics for primary care. It’s costly for the patient and for the health-care system. More importantly, when chronic conditions like diabetes and high-blood pressure aren’t managed, the patient’s health outcome is worse.
“It’s so gratifying [to help] when you know the need personally, it’s close to home, and it’s the people you love that are being impacted,” Young said. “It’s very special, and it truly makes me proud to be here at Duke Energy and see the company stand up and make a difference.”
In 2019, roughly 30 million Americans were uninsured. Most are low-income families with at least one person employed. Though they’re employed, they don’t have access to adequate insurance through their job or cannot afford it. Studies have shown that without insurance, people are less likely to seek preventative care.
Kimberley Nunn-Crawford, a mental health professional and volunteer president of the Willa Carson Health and Wellness Center, said the need has been even greater since the pandemic started. Their medical providers are volunteer doctors and nurses who have been too busy at their hospitals and clinics to volunteer, and supplies have been hard to come by, but, as much as they can, they’ve been educating patients about how to avoid getting sick, handing out masks and testing people for the coronavirus.
Duke Energy asked each of its chapters of Advocates for African-Americans to determine which organizations in each state would receive grants and how much. Chiquita Clark, chair of Duke Energy Florida’s chapter of Advocates for African-Americans, led the selection process for Florida. She pulled together a committee of the chapter’s officers and a few co-workers from other parts of the state – they, along with members of the state’s diversity and inclusion cabinet, selected 23 organizations to split $180,000 allocated to Florida. Each committee member, she said, had a connection to the organization they nominated.
“I don’t think we took it lightly,” she said, “we knew that we were tasked to be change agents in our community.”
Clark was recently appointed to the company’s new Diversity and Inclusion Council, which has members from all of Duke Energy’s states. The council, along with a series of hosted conversations about diversity and inclusion and this grant, were part of the company’s response to the civil unrest following George Floyd’s murder. Clark said she’s still processing everything that’s happened this year but is proud of the company’s response and appreciates the opportunity to be part of the strategy to strengthen a culture of inclusion.
“I am so proud of our CEO and leadership who took the time to create courageous conversations but not just talk about it,” she said. “They really want to take an intentional approach on transforming to be a company that encourages change and has a workforce that looks like the customers we serve.”
She said while it’s important to continue these conversations, it’s also important to look for the good. For the Willa Carson Health and Wellness Center, $10,000 will do a lot of good.
Nunn-Crawford said they are appreciative of the money and will buy supplies for the pandemic, like masks and disinfectants, but also tablets to provide virtual care so patients who don’t want to or can’t come to the center can still get help.
“Even in situations that are not so good, we can look for opportunities and chances to grow,” she said. “We’ll make sure the money is put to good use.”