Charles Lea Center

Foundation History


When community volunteer Marianna Habisreutinger met Karl Reed for lunch in 1985, she was asked a question that would change her life, and the lives of many, many others for years to come.

Karl and his wife reared a granddaughter with disabilities and special needs. She lived at home with them, and was provided services daily at the Charles Lea Center (CLC), a local facility that supports individuals with disabilities and special needs in Spartanburg County. Karl was profoundly grateful to live in a community that supported such an institution. But he knew there were needs that were not being met for its day clients and residents under its public funding structure.

Could Marianna help him find a way to fill those gaps?

“Our conversation reflected on those needs,” remembers Marianna. “I believed that a foundation was the answer. It could perpetuate the center’s ability to respond to client needs by raising funds that could be specifically directed—to support a good program, to provide seed funds to support the CLC’s application for project funds, to donate equipment, or start a new initiative.”

Marianna said yes, and an extraordinary volunteer machine ground into gear to create the Charles Lea Center Foundation.

Celebrating its 25th year, the Foundation is a well-known staple of community giving, famous for its continuously running and successful fund-raisers, and noted for the work it does to enhance the daily lives of the individuals served by CLC in ways large and small.

But the Foundation’s real story is not the nuts-and-bolts of foundation structure, fund-raising, and grant-making. It is the dedicated and unparalleled hands-on work of the board members, volunteers and Foundation presidents who make it a reality every day in the lives of those it serves, and of those who serve it.

The Charles Lea Center

A lot of people moved to this location because of the CLC. People don’t want to be transferred because they have a child here.  There just aren’t that many places like CLC, with its excellent reputation.

Nancy Crowley, CLC Foundation Board Chair (1993-2002)


Founded in 1971, the Charles Lea Center (CLC) is a singular accomplishment for Spartanburg County and South Carolina. Its array of services for individuals with disabilities and special needs not only supports the local population, but draws families from all over the country to choose to live and work nearby.

The CLC provides residential, educational, and developmental day and employment services, service coordination and case management, and individual and family support for more than 1,400 individuals with special needs—newborns to seniors—and their families at two campuses and some 60 group homes in Spartanburg County.

It has grown from an agency serving 275 individuals and a budget of $500,000 in 1971 to a budget surpassing $24 million in 2011. The Center employs approximately 625 individuals, most of whom work in direct care and services.

The Center is the county’s second-largest nonprofit (after Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System) and is considered a driving force in Spartanburg County’s economy.

The Beginning

The mission of the Charles Lea Center Foundation is to raise awareness about the Charles Lea Center and to provide funds primarily from the private sector to assist with the Center’s mission of improving the quality of life for those with disabilities and special needs.

The original CLC Foundation Board of Trustees was composed of volunteers with many cumulative years of experience in volunteer work and fund-raising. They believed, as Marianna did, that the foundation concept was the best way to support the CLC.
“I was convinced that it would be very beneficial for the clients,” says Nancy Crowley, an original board member and chairman from 1993-2002. “The idea was to step into areas that other funding could not cover.”
Although the CLC could have created its own development office, Foundation board members believed that the Center should devote its efforts to serving its clients and client families. Monies for the foundation could be raised locally and dispersed under the Foundation’s guidelines. Foundation funding could take many forms – from fund-raisers and annual campaigns to creating levels of leadership giving, as well as legacy giving, memorials, in-kind gifts, and tributes.

The Foundation would serve as reliable funding that is not affected by variable government regulations, government funding variations, or changing political tides.

The board took satisfaction in the expanded community involvement in the CLC that a foundation would encourage, believing that the donors and volunteers would bring more spirit and loyalty to its work.

A working board from the start, early board members labored effectively to create the Foundation’s structure, acquire its 501(c)3 designation, and solicit donations to build their funding base.

The choice of a Foundation President was critical. The board selected the late Robert Liggitt, a retired Converse College development executive. “Bob had worked in fundraising before and was skilled,” says Marianna. “He had a very refined appearance that appealed to people. He was businesslike and professional, and communicated well the values of the CLC, and what a foundation would mean to the Center.”

Bob Liggitt had a particular talent for retaining board members who served for many years, and for raising funds for sponsorships from corporations. His elegant imprint still lives on in the Foundation. He served until he died on Nov. 19, 1998.

Road Rally

One of the gaps in CLC funding that concerned families such as Karl Reed’s was the lack of summer services for CLC clients. Unable to care for their children full-time over the summer, families were struggling to cope. The first urgent need that the nascent Foundation addressed was funding a summer camp.

It became clear early on that the Foundation needed a signature fund-raiser. In a town replete with fund-raisers, an original idea was needed. Board member Hank Barnet had one.

“I had attended a social road rally the year before that was a true road rally. I threw out the idea of a road rally that would be goofy and silly. Nothing like it had been done in town before then,” remembers Hank. “I had absolutely no idea how much work it was.”
The now-famous Road Rally—the longest, most successful, continuous fund-raiser in Spartanburg—came together piece by piece, with Hank serving as the first author of a sophisticated and complex rally in 1986 with clues in 100 percent rhyme.

“My goal was to make it singularly different,” Hank says. “It was a very time-consuming creation that had to be perfect. Any time you put on a one-night performance, it has to work.”

Hank created a rally with a race car theme that took the participants on a combination of a road trip and scavenger hunt, capped by an elegant dinner and prizes under tents on the lawn of the stately former home of the Montgomery family. The rally
was punctuated by out-of-car activities by the participants, and judged by time and answers to clues. As the annual rally continued, the themes and the routes changed, always ending at a secret destination. Hank wrote the first four rallies, the 10th rally, and the 25th rally. Others took over in his stead, including Jack McBride, Gloria and Lee Close, Susan Dunlap, Judy and Brant Bynum, Tom and Patty Armstrong, Cyndi Beacham, and Ashley Fly. Months of rigorous planning of the routes, the clues, the prizes, the entertainment, and the sponsorships required full board participation and numerous volunteers. Each year, a dry run of the route ends in a gathering at a board member’s home to perfect the process.

The CLC Road Rally remains one of the signature charitable annual events in Spartanburg, eagerly anticipated for its creativity and fun. After a quarter-century of rallies, the Foundation has raised an average of $40,000 yearly, and created unforgettable memories for its participants.

Giving More Than Dollars

“If I was having a bad day, I’d go to Cannon Manor. I’d leave with a smile on my face and 6,000 hugs.”
Susan Dunlap, Foundation President (1998-1999)

One of the accomplishments of which former Foundation President Susan Dunlap is proudest is the adoption of CLC houses by volunteers under her tenure. 

“Christmastime was rolling around, and I found out that a lot of the adult residents didn’t have family members to give them gifts. I asked Cassie Grier to take it on,”

remembers Susan. With every house soon adopted by a volunteer, hundreds of gifts were bought from wish lists provided by house residents.

“The volunteers could also deliver the gifts, and some would take food and their families to deliver the gifts,”

Susan says.

“Our adopted house was in Hampton Heights. The response was always bigger than the gift. Their enthusiasm and their appreciation and their joy made you feel like you had bought them a new car.”

Pancakes, Golf Balls, and More The Kiwanis Pancake Supper, another highly anticipated annual fund-raiser for the CLC Foundation, is a partnership between the Foundation and the Kiwanis Club that has raised an average of $17,000 each year over a friendly pancake supper. The Charles Lea Center provides the location, and the Kiwanis Club cooks the batter. 

The RJ Rocker’s Golf Tournament originated in 1998 when brewmeister Mark Johnsen, owner of local brewery RJ Rockers, asked to start a golf tournament that supported the Center. Now sold out year after year with more than 30 foursomes, the tournament
raises $12,000 each year for the Foundation.

Shoot ’n Shuck is a clay shooting tournament held each spring at The Clinton  House Plantation located on the Spartanburg/Laurens County line. A Charles Lea family, the Grants, own and

A tradition that continues to this day, holiday house adoption has become a gratifying part of the spirit of Christmas giving for many volunteers who joyfully insist on remaining involved with their adopted houses year after year.
For Susan, the generosity of the community toward CLC meant unexpected surprises.

“Humble, quiet people in Spartanburg would think this is a good thing that I want to be a part of. I opened the mail one day, and a painting company had sent us a $5,000 check.” It wasn’t unusual for people or organizations to drop off donations of supplies, from kitchen items, to craft items, video games, even candy. The Junior League of Spartanburg adopted Cannon Manor under Susan’s tenure to help the residents do crafts or take field trips.

Elizabeth “Beth” Laughridge (Foundation President, 1999-2008) started a clothing closet for residents across from her office. “Houses came in and picked out donated clothing and shoes. We had house managers choose clothing for folks who didn’t have any,” remembers Beth.

The Gala for CLC adult members originated during Beth’s tenure. Designed for adult clients, it provides an opportunity for them to attend a prom-like party complete with formal clothing, ice sculptures, and fancy food.

“The Cinderella Project of the Women’s Bar Association let us have their dresses, and some of the moms altered them. The guys got a lot of tuxes, some donated, some discounted. We had hairdressers come in to do hair and nails,” Beth recalls.
Still an exciting annual event now organized by the Center, 2010’s Gala at the Spartanburg Marriott featured a live band and 400-500 in attendance.
“The Foundation is there to make special things happen,“ says Beth, who remembers an elderly female client whose dream was to fly in an airplane. The Foundation hired a small airplane and volunteers physically picked her up and put her on the plane. “Now, I can fly!” she exclaimed.
The Foundation board members, very much dedicated to their volunteer efforts, often brought their children along to help, creating a legacy of

operate The Clinton House. The shooting tournament, followed by an oyster roast and live hunting-themed auction, raises approximately $40,000 annually.

The BMW Charity Pro-Am has selected the CLC Foundation as a beneficiary every year since its inception in 2001. The BMW tournament is played in May at three golf courses in the Upstate. Money is raised through ticket sales and volunteers.

A Wine Tasting, the newest fundraiser, debuted in 2009. Approximately 100 wine enthusiasts attended each of the first two years, raising $22,000 in its second year.

During Foundation President Susan Dunlap’s tenure, Princess Diana’s dresses went on display at Belk’s Department Store under the aegis of the Foundation. Accompanied by the sale of Princess Diana memorabilia and a low admission price of $5, the beautiful dresses were such a hit that they earned $40,000 for the Foundation.

The Gil Hooper Society of Giving

Gilman S. Hooper’s enormous impact on the Spartanburg community as CLC’s founder and first Executive Director was recognized by naming the Foundation’s giving society The Gil Hooper Society of Giving.

The leadership giving society honors donors who wish to make unrestricted gifts to the Foundation with a fall event that includes the presentation of the Elaine T. Freeman Award for Exceptional Commitment to the Charles Lea Center. Elaine was a founding director of the CLC. Levels of annual giving include: Membership ($1,000); Stepping Stone ($2,500-$4,999); Corner Stone ($5,000-$9,999); and Key Stone ($10,000 and up.)

Funds & Endowments

These special funds and endowments are maintained at the Spartanburg County Foundation.

Beeson/Fogarty Endowment – Dedicated to supporting the programs, activities, and capital improvements associated with the adult work program at The Charles Lea Industrial Corporation, dba as the WorkAbility Center.

Charles Lea Center Foundation General Fund – Dedicated to the programmatic and capital needs of CLC.

Elsie G. Tinsley Memorial Fund – Dedicated to recognizing employees who have demonstrated longevity and performance excellence.

Ethel Chase Davis Perception Court Endowment – Dedicated to the care and maintenance of the Ethel Chase Davis Perception Court at the Center’s main campus.

Gilman S. Hooper Endowment – Dedicated to the programs and activities of The Charles Lea Center.

Larabee Endowment – Dedicated to both the endowment and capital improvement programs as needed by CLC.

Brian Lawrence Memorial Fund – Dedicated to providing annual scholarships for deserving students with disabilities to participate in recreational events, especially summer camp.

Mary G. Lominack Endowment – Dedicated to support professional staff development activities.

Oppenheimer Barnet Endowment – Dedicated to any program or purpose benefiting clients of CLC.

Foundation Maturation and Expansion

As the Foundation matures, its board members and Presidents continue to hone its mission and define its vision.

Under President Susan Dunlap, the database was developed, the newsletter originated, and annual reports were produced. She provided public relations work for the Center, and started the original website. A schedule of board member rotation was instituted, and the donor base expanded.

President Beth Laughridge, who had served on the CLC board for a number of years and whose son, Christopher, benefited from CLC’s services, combined her professional expertise with the perspective of a client parent. She found the ground fertile for further expansion, with board retreats helping to detail the board’s role and flesh out information about CLC to strengthen fund-raising. She helped develop the USC Spartanburg (now USCUpstate) curriculum for the profoundly disabled that included active daily living skills and enrichment courses. Lunch and Learn, a program to invite the public in to learn about CLC, was started by Elaine Freeman during Beth’s watch.

Throughout the Foundation’s history, a series of capital fundraising campaigns has brought in major blocks of private funding to make possible all kinds of programming and projects to benefit the children and adults supported by the CLC. Campaign 2000 raised funds for facilities remodeling, respite care, summer programs, and computer upgrades. The Circle of Friends Campaign from 2001 to 2005 included funding for a self-advocacy group called “People First”; for the relocation of the Vera Parsons Center on the Burdette Street campus which offers educational and developmental day programming for special needs adults; and for the construction of a therapy pool in the new McCarthy-Teszler School when the school moved from the Charles Lea Center to its current location “down the hill” to serve as a free-standing public school for disabled children serving all seven Spartanburg County school districts.

In 2006, the Foundation kicked off the Quality of Life Capital Campaign, a three-year funding commitment that raised more than $1 million for enhanced health services and recreational opportunities for clients, staff development, the College of Educational Enrichment partnership with USC Upstate, a summer enrichment program at the McCarthy Teszler School, and the campaign’s centerpiece, the purchase and renovation of a new industrial center on Highway 176 to increase employment opportunities for the disabled. Today, 350 special needs adults are employed at the WorkAbility Career Center through work contracts  with local and regional companies.

Foundation President Cyndi Beacham came to the Foundation in 2008 from her position as Vice President for Community Improvement and Education at the Spartanburg Area Chamber of  Commerce. With deep community connections and experience with fund-raising and sponsorships, Cyndi’s tenure saw the birth of two new fundraisers: Shoot ’n Shuck and the Wine Tasting and Sale.

Empowering Independence, an initiative that began in 2010 and continued into 2011, was a significant funding effort to ensure that clients gained greater control of setting their own life goals and of planning the services through a best practice called Person-Centered Service Planning. A life skills training center was built at the Burdette Street Campus in 2011 and 2012 to enable independent living and self-reliance as much as possible.

“For the Charles Lea Center, this is a shift from a more custodial service delivery to person-directed services,” says Cyndi. The initiative required funding and technical support from a number of partners, including the Milliken Foundation, Spartanburg
Regional Healthcare System Hospital for Restorative Care, Women Giving for Spartanburg, the Spartanburg County Foundation, Bi-Lo Charities, and other organizations and private individuals. Empowering Independence includes funding for three areas: training for CLC employees in person-centered service planning; technology and communications tools to make person-centered service planning possible;

Robert Liggitt
CLC Foundation

Susan Dunlap
CLC Foundation

Elizabeth Laughridge
CLC Foundation

Cyndi Beacham
CLC Foundation

Marisa Cecil

Annual Giving/Planned Giving

Every November, an annual fund solicitation letter is sent to a broad list of prospective donors (past and current) seeking contributions for the Center through the Foundation. Growing the annual fund donors is a priority.

The Foundation implements a formalized planned giving program encouraging long-time supporters to consider bequests, trusts, gifts of real property, or life insurance policies. The Foundation communicates regularly with donors and supporters about planned giving opportunities, including an article in the quarterly Center Circle newsletter and a planned giving brochure.

Planned giving options, held in partnership with the Spartanburg County Foundation, include provision by will; life insurance; charitable remainder trust; charitable lead trust, charitable gift annuity agreement; gifts from retirement funds; and designated use of your legacy fund.

The Future

“When I come to work every day, I see hustle.
I see great attitudes. I see independence. It’s very uplifting.”

Cyndi Beacham, Foundation President, 2008-2020

In line with its mission, the Foundation will continue to work with the Center to identify funding initatives and large capital campaigns.

“We’ve tried to set the Center above its peers,” says Cyndi. “We know that our funders have paid attention to that. Even as state funds have been cut, the Foundation has managed to add a computer lab and a wellness program for those we serve and a special education teacher with private monies.”

Still, as sources of government funding for the Center wax and wane, the Foundation maintains its focus on making the Center special, a role that Cyndi describes as “icing on the cake.”

“It is the goal of the current leadership of the Center and Foundation, both staff and board, for the Charles Lea Center to be the vanguard in the State of South Carolina for services for the disabled and to be on a par nationally,” Cyndi says. “This community values the Center and wants this exemplary level of programming and services for its citizens with disabilities and special needs”

The Foundation believes that there will always be champions who will support the CLC, and that their hearts are with the people that the Center serves. Supporters recognize that the Center is a treasure for Spartanburg County that few places are fortunate to have. Through the Foundation, they can give to make Spartanburg’s services for the disabled the very best.