Philanthropy is All in the Family

LaVerne Rayford (pictured right) has always been a volunteer in her home community, giving her time, talent and treasure to causes that she’s passionate about. Raised in Greensboro, North Carolina, LaVerne volunteered in her church, the United Way, children’s causes and the Greensboro Historical Museum – where she once won the Governor’s Award for Volunteerism.

Her daughter Ericka Ellis-Stewart (left) said, “Philanthropy is in my genes.” She grew up volunteering with her mom, and recalls serving at the homeless shelter before opening their own Christmas gifts. Ericka is a long-time Charlottean who worked for MHA from 2015-2021, first as Donor Relations Specialist and later as Director of Education & Advocacy. She said, “I have lived experience with a mental health diagnosis, so I understand MHA’s impacts and how adults and families can benefit from support and education.”

As MHA’s Donor Relations Specialist in 2015, Ericka helped MHA create the inaugural Wake Up for Wellness Breakfast and was on the Development team that founded the 1933 Society – a multi-year giving society for passionate donors who wish to sustain MHA’s work. In 2022, Ericka and her husband Marcus Stewart joined the 1933 Society with a desire to be trailblazers, “bringing mental health to the surface” and recognizing the importance of access to care and support in Latinx and Black communities. She said, “I love that MHA is going into new territory with the MHA Counseling Center; serving more vulnerable community members and addressing health disparities.”

LaVerne and her husband Lewis Rayford moved to Charlotte in December 2021, to be closer to family. LaVerne says, “Ericka spurred me on for the importance of mental health,” but she has long recognized that “women of color shoulder a lot” of stress. She knows just how important self-care and mental health checks are. In May 2023, LaVerne and Lewis also joined MHA’s 1933 Society. Lewis recognizes that mental health is a significant issue and said, “I want to see things getting done in our community and I feel good about the difference we are making.”

Ericka is currently pursuing a Master of Social Work degree at UNC Charlotte and is the Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at Atrium Health. LaVerne is an independent Consultant/Trainer and a volunteer on MHA’s Development Committee, helping ensure the sustainability of the organization for years to come. Together, they are focused on issues in our community that are bigger than supporting any one individual.

MHA is a stronger organization thanks to donors at every level, and we could not reach more than 4,000 community members each year without generous volunteers and supporters!

The 1933 Society honors the year MHA was founded and is for donors who wish to sustain the organization’s rich history through an undesignated multi-year pledge of $1,000 or more per year for five years. You can join for a monthly donation of $83.33. Donate Now

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