‘Our humanity is being challenged’
Alex Funderburg on the COVID-19 crisis and the community’s inspiring show of support
A decade before the COVID-19 crisis, Alex Funderburg, chair of the board for the Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center Foundation, found himself on the front lines of a different and much more personal healthcare battle.
In 2009, when his daughter was 11 years old, she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, a condition that causes chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. Funderburg started researching everything he could, learning about treatment options and the best places for care. In the process, he learned a lot about the world of healthcare. He saw challenges, as well as opportunities for improvement, and he wanted to help.
“A year after my daughter was diagnosed, she was getting better, and out of gratitude, I asked her doctor what I could do to get more involved. I ultimately was asked to rebuild the Carolinas Chapter of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation in the midst of the Great Recession,” Funderburg said.
It wasn’t his job, but it became his passion.
“The power of philanthropy — not just the power of giving, but the gratitude that comes when people rally and support a cause — really moved me,” Funderburg said. “It made me want to become more involved locally. With Novant Health, their focus on healthcare quality aligned perfectly with my interests.”
That rebuilding experience gave Funderburg the opportunity to pursue a philanthropic mission in a time of economic crisis — experience that is proving particularly valuable now, as Funderburg shepherds the board through an unprecedented time in healthcare.
“In rebuilding the chapter, I went way outside my comfort zone. I recruited board members. I called on individuals and corporations to build support,” Funderburg said. “The sense of purpose and the mission orientation was something I’d never experienced before in my professional life.”
He’s seeing it again now, as the COVID-19 crisis has taken hold and the community around Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center has risen up to support healthcare workers on the front lines, Funderburg said.
In April, Presbyterian Medical Center Foundation launched a fundraising campaign with the goal of matching up to $1 million of unrestricted funds to support the Hope for Remarkable Team Aubergine Fund (formerly the Novant Health COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund). So far, the campaign has raised almost $1 million from donors across the Charlotte community and beyond to fund critical resources, such as rent and child care assistance for healthcare workers in need. Following an initiative begun by fellow board member Emily Harry, Funderburg teamed up with several other board members to launch ribbon campaigns in their respective neighborhoods, asking their neighbors to donate to the fund and then hang purple ribbons in their yards as a show of support.
“I would say virtually every member of my block has donated, and it’s spreading throughout a number of neighborhoods,” he said. “Just like when I organized my first walk for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, people come out of the woodwork to do incredible things, and it’s always inspiring. I just spoke with a couple who will be launching a ribbon campaign in their subdivision of over 1,400 homes.”
That inspiration is coming from all across Charlotte. Funderburg has seen a local nurse put together a GoFundMe campaign to purchase food for healthcare workers from local restaurants.
“They’ve served thousands of meals to our healthcare workers, and it’s been an entirely grassroots effort,” he said.
Students at Charlotte Latin School, with the help of a few parents, have designed and are producing face shields for medical workers. Brewers are switching from brewing beer to making hand sanitizer. There’s been a rebirth of chalk art to share messages of love and support, Funderburg said.
The country is now beginning to open up, but that doesn’t mean those efforts should stop. Healthcare workers will continue to be on the front lines, testing, treating and managing cases of COVID-19. And many of them will need support to do that work. Some have spouses who have lost jobs, putting them in financial hardship. Some need access to child care. Some can’t risk taking the virus home to immunocompromised family members and need temporary lodging away from home.
The current circumstance facing each front-line healthcare worker calls to mind that of a soldier, Funderburg said, someone putting him or herself at risk in support of the greater good.
“Unlike a soldier, I don’t think they signed up for what they’re in the middle of right now, but like a soldier, they’re stepping up and answering the call. And they deserve all of our support,” he said. “Our humanity is being fundamentally challenged right now. This disease is forcing us apart from each other. And figuring out ways to stay connected, to show that humanity to each other, that gratitude, that’s so important right now.”
You can do your part, too, by making a gift to the Hope for Remarkable Team Aubergine Fund (formerly the Novant Health COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund).
It’s an opportunity to make a difference for those doing everything they can to bring our community and our world out of crisis. And a little goes a long way.