If you’re reading this, chances are you’re an LGBTQ community member or ally who has benefited in some way from a non-profit organization. Although not always readily apparent, they do much more for LGBTQ folks than many of us ever realize.

According to the National Council of Nonprofits Organization, they “foster civic engagement and leadership, drive economic growth, and strengthen the fabric of our communities, every single day.”  

In doing so, many of our nation’s 1.3 million nonprofits have valiantly provided food, healing, housing, education, inspiration and nurturing to United States citizens of every demographic imaginable. This is an important factor, particularly for those whose intersectional identities – like age, gender, race and orientation – can place them in positions to be underserved and/or marginalized. 

For these communities and the LGBTQ community in particular, a nonprofit that purposefully functions with our needs in mind is even more valuable. However, finding the provider to fulfill the services we so desperately need can be quite challenging for these noble and dedicated nonprofit entities. Thankfully, for those operating in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area, there’s The Plus Collective. 

The Plus Collective: Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s LGBTQ+ Community Fund is managed by Foundation for the Carolinas. Twenty years ago – and in the truest spirit of serving and assisting our own – a group of Charlotte residents “saw the need for prioritized funding for LGBTQ+ non-profits.” This led to the establishment of the Charlotte Lesbian and Gay Fund. 

Over time the affirming name was changed, to reflect and embrace the diversity of our community. In 2021 the Charlotte Lesbian and Gay Fund was renamed The Plus Collective (TPC). Frequently described as a Collective Giving Fund, The Plus Collective’s mission of sharing humanity based in love is married to their vision of being “guided by principles [and] inspired by diversity and supported by community.”  

TPC Chair, Shelly Schoenfeld. CREDIT:  Lee Robertson

During the TPC 20th anniversary celebration, it became clear the Collective’s mission and vision had been realized for so many of those who have benefited from the group’s two decades of service and funding support. Funding and support many would have otherwise gone without as a result of being left out of rooms whose doors have been historically closed to LGBTQ community members. 

On Wednesday, May 17, LGBTQ+ community members, advocates and allies gathered at the Foundation for the Carolinas headquarters in Uptown Charlotte to celebrate TPC’s 20 years of service. The first voice to be heard from the podium that evening was TPC’s Chair, Shelly Schoenfeld. 

She talked about the history of the Collective, while attendees attentively listened and applauded at appropriate moments. This was but the beginning of a purposeful good time. But those present weren’t just there to eat, drink and give kudos. They were dedicated supporters of TPC who had put their money where their praise is with the purchase of $120 admission tickets. Those tickets bought them the ability to do more than network, delight in hors d’oeuvres, an open bar, live performances and the musical stylings of DJ Little Betty. 

All proceeds from the event were slated to be used for directly supporting essential work in the LGBTQ+ community with $20 from each ticket sold going to TPC’s Endowment Fund to support future grant making. Providing those funds has been an effort The Plus Collective has assisted nearly 50 grantees with over the course of the 20-year span they’ve been operating. 

This year, one such grantee is Corey Mitchell; a recipient of a $5000 award, the maximum amount gifted in the Projects, Programs & Events category. 

Mitchell is a creative artist and founder of Theater Gap Initiative – a nonprofit college-prep program for recent high school grads who aspire to apply for Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) and conservatory programs. For years Mitchell taught theater as a teacher for CMS Schools, with many of his students going on to perform on stages that ranged from venues at local productions to American Idol. 

No longer with CMS, he’s taken his efforts a step further. As founder and artistic director for the Theater Gap Initiative where he facilitates his ‘gap year’ (between High School and College) program for kids interested in acting or musical theater, he offers a plethora of classes and coaching opportunities within a wide range of performance arts disciplines. For Mitchell this skills-building labor of love is about “Giving kids an opportunity that they literally never forget.”  

While driven to assist underserved young people to overcome barriers on their journeys to performance arts careers, Mitchell laments, “I want them to know, I see you, I hear you.” 

With the Plus Collective grant, Mitchell will be able to continue his valuable work, like the type of work many attendees stressed the importance of supporting for The Plus Collective. It’s also the type of work Steve Bentley, TPC grants Committee Chair spoke of while sharing with attendees the necessity of unrestricted funding. 

The 2023 Grantees

Operating Grants

  • Charlotte Black Pride, $10,000
  • Charlotte Pride Band, $14,000
  • Charlotte Royals Rugby Football Club, $5,000
  • Charlotte Trans Health, $5,000
  • Gay Men’s Chorus of Charlotte, $13,000
  • One Voice Chorus, $13,000
  • PFLAG Charlotte, $20,000
  • Time Out Youth, $20,000
  • Twirl to the World Foundation, $10,000

Project, Program and Event Grants

  • Carolina’s CARE Partnership, $5,000
  • Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, $4,000
  • Quality Comprehensive Health Center, $2,000
  • Theatre Gap Initiative, $5,000
  • Trips for Kids Charlotte, $4,000
  • We Rock Charlotte, $5,000

TPC Treasurer, Becky Hoover personally and eloquently announced many of the awards. During her congratulations of the 2023 recipients, Hoover said to the crowd, “The urgency of the work is being done on the ground, every day in this city and just can’t be understated, particularly not when our community is under attack both in our state as well as across the county. And I know we’re all feeling it – [though] we’re lucky we live in a largely supportive city. But it can’t be stressed enough that the environment being created just makes the work being done by our grant recipients all the more critical and necessary. Quite frankly, not just for our community to thrive, but as you heard – for so many people just to survive.”  

Hoover concluded by reminding guests how important it is that we all do our part. “So this organization will continue to support the work that our grant recipients are doing. Not just today, but 20 years into the future.”

Clearly, the work being done and supported by The Plus Collective is vital. Vice Chair, Lee Robertson has echoed and confirmed those sentiments when he shared his thoughts about TPC. “It is the unsung hero of Charlotte’s LGBTQ+ organizations, because it exists in the background but ensures that our LGBTQ+ organizations survive.”  

Robertson continued: “With an endowment of about a million dollars it’s provided long term growth, especially during the pandemic, it has given orgs what they need to operate and has done so for almost 20 years.” 

Robertson has been elected to become Chair next month when Schoenfeld’s two-year term comes to an end. He looks forward to continuing to work with The Plus Collective and proudly shared how the funding entity has provided almost two million dollars in grants to various applicants. “For a number of them, it’s the only reason they exist. For organizations like Charlotte Pride and PFLAG it’s how and why they have been able to grow,” he said.

As the evening came to a close, staunch TPC supporter and financial advisor Marcia Tillotson reiterated the importance and necessity of the organization many speakers before her had mentioned and expressed her gratitude. 

Marcia Tillotson, Financial Advisor and TPC Supporter. CREDIT:  Tillotson Kenefick

“I love that there are so many supporters and grant recipients from within our community and a whole lot of straight allies throughout the years,” she offered. “You – we– are The Plus Collective.”

But Tillotson didn’t stop there. She took her earnest plea to help future generations a step further and asked attendees to consider post-mortem donations to keep TPC going even after the donors have passed on. 

“If you care about this organization, and the work they’re doing, leave them money. Instead of your ungrateful alcoholic nephew,” she chuckled.  

While little could be heard over the raucous laughter of the attendees, the passion for the work The Plus Collective does and fosters was surely felt.

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