by Shawn Nowlin
Studies show 1 in 10 Virginians live in poverty and lack access to clean water, housing and healthy food. A deeper look at the data suggests those numbers are even higher for minorities. For decades TAP, a community action organization founded by Cabell Brand in 1965, has lead efforts to deal with such aforementioned issues that continue to plague much of modern society.
TAP celebrated “50 Years of Hope” Friday (10/23) at a much anticipated event inside the ball room of the historic Hotel Roanoke. A capacity crowd of around 400 supporters, elected officials and city employees came out in full force for the momentous experience that lasted a little over 4 hours.
Throughout the event a host of individuals were acknowledged for their recent accomplishments or their overall impact made through the years. TAP President and CEO Annette Lewis emceed the event with grace and flair.
Dennis Leftwich, Marine Corps veteran; Tiyanu Merchant, TAP’s first generation college program, Radford Univ, Dyan Gaston–Grant, accomplished public speaker) and Amanda Lucado, education advocate were all recipients of the Client of the Year Award.
The winners were nominated by TAP employees and voted on by the board’s Client Services Committee.
“TAP helps people throughout 11 counties in Southwest Virginia and we have an annual economic impact of 32 million,” said TAP Chairperson Steve Cronemeyer. “For the last 50 years TAP has been there for anybody who needed us.” A text to donate to the system was created to help TAP further its mission.
Pearl Fu, founder and organizer of Roanoke’s Local Colors, received the Cabell Brand Hope Award. As Roanoke’s cultural ambassador, her story is one of incredible inspiration and perspective.
As a native of China, Dragon Fu, (her real name) attended Maywood College in Pennsylvania and earned an Artist Diploma from Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, MD. Since coming to the United States she has gone on to become an accomplished special events coordinator, interpreter and lecturer. A few years ago she earned the title of “Roanoke’s Ambassador of Goodwill.”
Featured as keynote speaker was Leigh Anne Tuohy. Her family openly welcomed an at-risk youth in their home– a story that was later portrayed in the 2009 critically acclaimed movie “The Blind Side.”
The film grossed over 300 million worldwide and became a New York Times bestseller. The story and acclaim have given Leigh Anne a powerful platform which she uses to address necessary subjects as homelessness and giving back.
Authenticity is a critical factor when creating a biopic movie. A willingness to tackle controversial topics and overall perspective are also vital and The Blind Side contains all of the above.
Tuohy says actors as Sandra Bullock (who played her in the film), and the other immediate cast members did an exceptional job accurately telling the story from start to finish. Although it didn’t win Best Picture at the 2010 Academy Awards, the impact of Blind Side will be cemented forever. Even though the story of Michael Oher captures the essence of such conditions as depicted through the movie, millions of youth all over the world have similar stories.
“LeAnne and TAP’s Chief Financial Officer Kim Butler attended the same school. Her story is very similar to what we do at TAP every day,” commented Lewis. Some have accused Leigh Anne for exploiting Michael Ore’s story for her own agenda. When discussing such criticism she holds nothing back.
“The idea that I knew all of this would happen from my family simply extending our home to a young man in need is crazy. Look yall…I’m not that smart,” she joked.
Due to her impressive track record with TAP for almost three decades, Lewis was well groomed for the position when she took over as organization president.
“When I started working at TAP in 1988 they had already done so much….in May (2015) the Board made the decision to appoint me as president,” she said.
Highlighting the significance of collective support she said, “Certainly there is no way TAP could successfully impact the lives of more than 5,000 individuals annually without the support–both financially and in terms of hands-on assistance, from the many sponsors and the community.”
Lewis also saluted Cabel Brand’s family who traveled from Texas and other areas to celebrate the grand occasion with TAP.