Wanda Cheeks Received the Mary L. Thomas Award for Civic Leadership and Community Change

April 3, 2012

SPARTANBURG, SC – April 4, 2012 – Wanda Cheeks is known throughout Spartanburg for her ability to rally the community together, restore parks and playgrounds, and reach out to at-risk youth.   On Tuesday, March 27, 2012, Cheeks received The Mary L. Thomas Award for Civic Leadership and Community Change at The Spartanburg County Foundation’s Annual Meeting. 

The Mary L. Thomas Award is named after Mary Thomas, the executive vice president of The Spartanburg County Foundation.  This award is a legacy from Thomas’s 2006 recognition as the recipient of the Council on Foundation’s Robert W. Scrivner Award for Creative Grantmaking. Upon receiving the Scrivner award and $10,000 cash prize, Thomas used these funds as seed money to open The Mary L. Thomas Award for Civic Leadership and Community Change Fund and started a similar recognition program in Spartanburg. Through the support of numerous individuals and the Spartanburg community, Thomas’s initial gift of $10,000 grew to exceed $100,000, which has permanently endowed the award. The award annually honors individuals who, like Mary, are community leaders, innovators, and contributors to positive community change.

This year’s recipient, Wanda Cheeks, is the founder and Executive Director of Southside Unity in the Community, a nonprofit organization that promotes volunteerism, engages citizen participation in community-related events, provides opportunities for at-risk youth, and increases awareness among residents regarding the need for safe and drug-free parks.

To say it best, Wanda is truly a grassroots organizer, said Mary Ann Washington Deku, nominator.  She is continuously giving of her time, effort, and energy.

Through Southside Unity in the Community, Cheeks secured national funding from KaBOOM! to renovate Irwin Park and build a playground at the Spartanburg Charter School.  She also worked to renovate Priscilla Rumley Park.  Her efforts to improve the parks and playgrounds have led to national recognition for Spartanburg, which has been designated a Playful City USA for the past five years.

By identifying the problem of inadequate play equipment in some of the city parks and then providing the solution, she has significantly contributed to a healthier and safer city, said Deku.

In addition to renovating and building playgrounds, Cheeks has worked diligently to provide programs and activities for at-risk youth.  Last year, she partnered with the Palmetto Boy Scouts to develop a program called Unity Squad, which serves young men, ages 14-20, by connecting them with mentors. 

Cheeks is also involved in improvements on the north side of the city.  Through her service on the Northside Community Advisory Board, Cheeks has assisted in projects such as the intersection improvements by Chapel Street Park and the Mobile Market.  She is also a volunteer with District Seven schools, serving on the School Improvement Council, Walk to School Committee, and assisting in dropout prevention programs.

Wanda is making a real difference in this community, said John Dargan, president and CEO of The Spartanburg County Foundation.  She is connecting with youth, city officials, community leaders, and using her voice to promote positive improvement.

Cheeks was presented the award and a $5,000 cash grant, which she has chosen to grant back to Southside Unity in the Community.  In addition to the award presentation, attendees of the Annual Meeting learned more about the many ways in which The Spartanburg County Foundation is impacting the community.  In 2011, The Foundation received more than 3,500 contributions, totaling approximately $9.6 million dollars, and welcomed 53 new funds.  The Foundation served as a conduit for donors to distribute 1,600 grants, totaling $7 million, to support a variety of donor causes in the areas of health and human services, education, arts and culture, environment and historic preservation, and recreation and youth.  The Foundation’s trustees granted more than $540,000 in discretionary grants from the Community Fund. 

The dinner concluded with a presentation honoring retiring trustee Rev. Dr. Clay H. Turner, who recently completed his seven-year term as Trustee of the Foundation. 

Spartanburg County Foundation
The Spartanburg County Foundation is a community trust established for the purpose of promoting such charitable pursuits, as in the judgment of the Trustees of the Foundation, will best make for the mental, moral, intellectual, and physical improvement, assistance, relief, and well-being of the citizens of the Greater Spartanburg County, South Carolina area.