The Susan M. Tillis Foundation is LKNConnect’s Outstanding Non-Profit for May 2020. Last week, we learned where the inspiration for the foundation came from, this week we learn more about its beginnings and its mission. — EH Stafford, Managing Editor
Ever wonder what happens when the dog actually catches the car? Well, Susan Tillis found out really quickly.
A Foundation is Born
After the stunning success of the first Red, White and Bundled shower, Tillis realized that to guarantee the sustainability and accountability of the effort a formal organization needed to be established. In 2016, she founded the Susan M. Tillis Foundation (SMTF) with the mission of recognizing and supporting active duty junior enlisted families with newborns. Upon finalizing the incorporation of her eponymous foundation, Tillis commented:
“These men and women are fighting for our freedom. It seems the least we can do is to ensure a happy homecoming for their new babies. The SMTF will fulfill my promise to never forget our military families.”
It Takes a Village
Tillis sought out talented and dedicated volunteers to lead her new Foundation. The SMTF has no paid staff. Danica Thomas, a military wife whose husband died by suicide after being catastrophically wounded in Afghanistan, serves as President of the Board. Anne Clifford, also a military wife, serves as Administrator, Melisa Taylor serves as Finance Director, Pat Murray serves as Donation Coordinator and South Carolina Director, and Lynette Rinker serves as Communications Director. Tillis, as Founder, continues to serve on the Board of Advisors which provides direction for the Foundation but isn’t involved in its ongoing operations.
Critical to the SMTF’s success are its 21 Ambassadors who hail from the mountains to the sea in North and South Carolina and the District of Columbia. These representatives promote the Foundation’s mission, solicit donations and coordinate mini-showers throughout the year in their respective geographic areas. They also help staff the annual shower in the spring.
The Independence Fund (TIF) has not only provided grant funding for the SMTF, but also provides logistic support. Consider for a moment how much warehouse space baby gear consumes and how much manpower is required to move it. The SMTF and the TIF also jointly sponsor refreshments at the Charlotte VA clinic every December during a Day of Service.
Businesses have been extremely generous in their support of the SMTF. Two in particular include Elegant Baby of Burlington, NC who donated 18 cartons of high-end baby items this last year and First Quality Tissue of Anderson, SC who donated half a semi-trailer of diapers in 2018.
One of the most special partnerships the SMTF has is with dozens of sewing and knitting groups across the Carolinas who each year craft hundreds of homemade blankets, hats, toys and booties for the new babies.
Making it Look Easy
The SMTF operates on a simple concept — one individual donating a small baby item has a profound impact. It is working brilliantly. The SMTF is approaching having served nearly 10,000 military families since 2015.
For more information
Photos By James Piedad
Susan Tillis was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts. She graduated with a degree in Marketing Management from Bentley College in Waltham, Ma. Susan and her family moved to North Carolina in 1998.
Susan began a successful career in real estate in 2005 where she is currently the branch leader for the Allen Tate Davidson office.
During her travels around the state, Susan began to realize that our military families needed help which led to the founding of the Susan M Tillis Foundation. Susan has been recognized for her community volunteer work, especially with the military with a Top Woman in Business award in the Charlotte region, the Allen Tate Community Service Award and the NC Serves Award for her work with military families and veterans. Susan continues to travel the state as a volunteer spokesperson, visiting and supporting the military, veterans and their families. During her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family, especially her first grandchild, Sawyer Marie.
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