Volunteers and small business owners share how they make an impact at four Chatham County, NC nonprofits
Photography by John Michael Simpson
Chatham Animal Rescue and Education
“I’ve always been an animal lover,” says Amy Coughlin. When she and her husband, Andy Pignatora, traded the bustling streets of Boston for the charm of Chapel Hill in 2014, an unexpected sight caught her eye and tugged at her heartstrings: animals struck by vehicles and left unattended along roadsides. “I never really saw that before and it was disturbing,” she says.
Soon after, a Facebook post inspired Amy to do her part to prevent strays and aid sheltered animals in finding their forever homes, and since then, Amy has opened her home and heart to dozens of cats and dogs. Currently, she’s down to four foster cats and two lucky dogs, Sadie, a black Labrador retriever mix, and Rocky, a pit bull terrier mix, who have found a permanent home with her.
Amy’s first experience as a canine foster parent was through Peak Lab Rescue in Apex about nine years ago. Sadie had been found roaming the streets and suffered from a bad skin condition. Fortunately, she was taken to the Orange County Animal Shelter where she was nursed back to health and adopted, but Sadie eventually ended up back at the shelter. “When I got her as a foster, she pretty much had no fur,” Amy recalls. “We had to do several treatments and throughout that process, she gained a lot of trust with us. I can’t let her go.”
And then, there’s Rocky.
“He’s not the easiest dog to deal with,” Amy says. “I worked a lot with a trainer and got to the point where I could walk by other dogs and I knew how to handle him.” Through Chatham Animal Rescue and Education (CARE), Rocky was adopted by a family only to be returned a year later. Amy took him home. “He’s with us now, and we love him.”
“With fostering, you get to know the animals well, you make sure that they’re healthy. Then, you get to interview the people who are interested in adopting, because you know that animal best and can help them find the right home.”Amy Coughlin
Amy has volunteered regularly with CARE for the past five years and currently serves on their board of directors. She appreciates the thorough training and support the organization provides its foster volunteers, teaching them not only how to care for the animals but how to interview and appropriately match them to adoptive individuals or families. CARE not only oversees a robust foster network and education program, it also manages feral cat colonies and offers a low- to no-cost spay and neuter service to low-income families in Chatham County.
Amy’s dedication to animal welfare extends to the restaurant menus at Breakaway Cafe. She and Andy, who own both the Briar Chapel and Carrboro locations, carefully select ingredients on their menus. “If we’re going to have meat in the restaurant, it has to meet certain ethical standards,” Amy says. “Sometimes people question our prices, but I’ve told them I will not sacrifice by importing lesser ingredients to serve cheaper food. I just can’t do that.”
Photos of cats and dogs available for adoption through CARE are displayed at the Briar Chapel location, and for the past two years, a CARE-themed burrito bowl has raised more than $5,000 to support the organization (Amy says to look for a new fundraiser menu item this season). Additionally, the cafe offers a refreshing pale ale on tap called “Peace, Love, Paws,” a collaboration between CARE and BMC Brewing. For each glass purchased, Breakaway donates $1, and BMC Brewing allocates a percentage of their sales to the rescue’s cause. – by Anna-Rhesa Versola
Communities in Schools of Chatham County
Shirille Lee is a firm believer that everyone has a gift. Caring for children is hers.
A fourth-generation native of Siler City, Shirille began babysitting when she was 16, served as a youth leader at Holy Trinity United Holy Church for 20 years and went on to foster 47 children, eventually adopting two daughters of her own.
Around the same time that she decided to be a foster parent, Shirille felt called to volunteer as a mentor with Communities in Schools of Chatham County (CISCC). She first mentored a young boy, supporting him at school and building a relationship with him and his family. Among their favorite activities were bowling and going to the movies. She then mentored two teenage girls, and enjoyed taking them out to eat and allowing them the opportunity to vent about their home lives. Shirille went on to serve on CISCC’s board of directors, eventually joining fulltime as a staff member in 1998. “Some things just feel right,” Shirille says. “This felt right.” Now, Shirille is the general youth services coordinator for CISCC.
Shirille is known for her warm presence and joyful dedication to her job, and her colleagues refer to her as “the queen of CISCC.” “Shirille is our CISCC queen because she embodies our mission statement through her actions: she calls, hunts down people when they are unresponsive to children’s needs and has the patience to explain services to families,” says Jazmin Mendoza Sosa, senior program director at CISCC. “[She] has impacted many lives with her ability to match mentors and mentees that create lifelong relationships.”
“I knew from the minute I met Shirille that she was the kind of person I wanted to know, embrace and learn from. She has a way of reminding you of family.”Tych Cowdin, executive director of CISCC
Finding the right match is Shirille’s top priority as she recruits volunteers to be mentors, lunch buddies or reading buddies at schools across Chatham County. Shirille works most closely with Pittsboro Elementary School and George Moses Horton Middle School, bringing yoga instructors to the schools, partnering with Chatham Community Library for reading groups, coordinating tutoring services and more. “I do it because I really believe this is what I was meant to do,” Shirille says. “This has spoken to something inside me that was just waiting for the right opportunity to work with students, be a voice for them, be a listening ear for them.”
While Shirille isn’t one to brag about herself, her colleagues often do. “I can think of no other single person who has made a more positive impact on the lives and well-being of her community than Shirille Lee,” says Tych Cowdin, executive director of CISCC. “Her influence, across multiple generations, will be seen for years to come throughout Chatham County, and I have no doubt that legacy will be one worth celebrating.” – by Leah Berry
Most folks in our community know Bold – its companies range in focus from construction to residential and commercial real estate to development – but it also reaches out to serve Chatham through its philanthropy arm, too. Bold Foundation cofounders Jana Ehrenfeld, Chris Ehrenfeld, Jason Dell, Jill Ehrenfeld and Kristine Holm, Bold staff and several volunteers roll up their sleeves to serve local children in need, both during the holidays and throughout the year.
“Whether we are donating school supplies to Chatham County Schools or ensuring students at those schools have a cheerful holiday, we are grateful to give back and support our amazing community,” Kristine, the director of operations for Bold Real Estate, says. “The Bold Foundation’s philosophy is simple: Be bold, and support local.”
The nonprofit began as a way to organize the generosity that the team was already doing within its group of companies. “We always tried to think of how we could do more,” Kristine says. “It became the natural process to formalize [our work] with a 501(c)(3) to expand our programs and increase the number of beneficiaries as well as our volunteers and donations.”
At the beginning of the 2023-24 school year, the Bold Foundation donated more than 120 back-to-school supply kits to North Chatham Elementary. It is important to the nonprofit that every child has the tools they need to succeed in the classroom, and that teachers have the resources to lead their students, too.
“[For] the teachers of the year for each school in Chatham County, we give them a personal donation as a thank you for their service,” Kristine says. “We do the same for the district teacher of the year and the principal of the year. … We would love to increase what we do for the teachers with that initiative.”
The organization’s signature event is its annual Holiday Cheer program, which began in 2016. Every child in need receives a winter coat and accessories like gloves and a hat, in addition to other items on a wish list the foundation receives from the kids’ school. The organization often gives extra support to families with specific requests as well.
“We’ve had some families ask for a space heater, and we provide that,” says Kristine, who has attended every holiday cheer delivery over the past seven years. “We were able to assist more than 225 children last year.”
“I am very proud of Bold Foundation’s evolution from being just an idea a few years ago to today, where we are able to provide winter clothes and holiday gifts for [that many] children every year in such a short period of time,” Jana, executive director of Bold Foundation, adds.
“Nothing makes me happier than seeing the children running around the school playground with the new winter gear they received from us.” – by Lauren Rouse
The Women of Fearrington
Jo Bolig joined the Women of Fearrington club shortly after she and her husband, Paul Bolig, moved from Bowie, Maryland to Fearrington Village in 2013. Six years ago, she had a delicious idea.
“I approached people [who could] be bakers,” Jo recalls. “I encouraged them to go through their recipes and think about things they enjoyed as children, maybe their mother’s recipes or their grandmother’s.”
The annual bake sale and market has blossomed into one of the club’s largest fundraisers for the year; last year, the fourhour event rallied 80 volunteers who rolled up their sleeves to bake and craft, and their efforts raised about $5,600. The funds were added to the club’s total efforts, which this year granted more than $44,000 to 17 local nonprofits. Since the club’s inception in 1987, nearly $500,000 has been raised.
The all-volunteer club became a nonprofit organization in 2014 with a mission to help serve the needs of women and children in Chatham County; currently, there are 140 club members. The group also adds vibrancy to the lives of its members, as well as other Fearrington and Galloway Ridge residents, with a year-round lineup of social, cultural and intellectual programs.
The club actively seeks partnerships with other organizations, like the Fearrington Garden Club, which runs a fundraiser each year selling poinsettias to support horticulture students in the Chatham Central High School greenhouse and nursery program. “All the money that the Fearrington Garden Club makes they give back to that program and it’s healthy seed money to keep it going,” Jo says.
“[Our market] is very festive and a nice kickoff for the season,” she says. “I have found over the years that part of what is so appealing to our volunteers who work the day of the event is that it becomes very nostalgic for them. Whatever cookie they make, they make it year after year because it reminds them of the holidays.”
A holiday theme now sets a festive scene that includes handcrafted goods such as cards, baskets and knitted items. Jo recommends showing up early to get the best selection of cookies and handmade crafts. “It’s usually so crowded, we couldn’t have a stout Santa fit into the room,” she says. “We’ve got so many people in there you can’t stir ’em with a stick.” – by Anna-Rhesa Versola