A Year of Igniting Change: 2019

Leading on Opportunity

In 2019, we set our sights on our North Star Goal
with input from hundreds across Charlotte-Mecklenburg along the way.
Learn about our work and community impact this year.

A Message from Our Executive Director

December 2019

Dear Friends:

It's the season of hope, filled with gifts of community, family, resilience and possibilities.

In 2019, we set our sights on our North Star Goal with input from hundreds across Charlotte-Mecklenburg along the way: Within a generation, all children in Charlotte-Mecklenburg will have an equal chance to achieve social and economic success. Honoring the dignity and agency of those facing barriers to opportunity, we listened to so many across our community. Sharing our inspiring vision with a strengths-based equity lens, I worked closely with Leading on Opportunity Council members to establish infrastructure, set strategic direction, identify organizational core values and adopt a racial equity framework into our decision-making.

It's going to take all of us to move us from 50 out of 50 in economic mobility, so we built an Opportunity Movement that celebrates everyone's contributions and reshaped the way our community addresses economic mobility.

And while there is still so much work to be done, our collective commitment is already showing tangible results. Early wins in our first phase include: outreach to thousands across our region; a massive increase in early childhood funding to implement Universal Pre-K by 2024; over $270 million in new affordable housing investments; focused attention from our business sector on economic mobility; engagement of neighborhood residents and communities of faith building community will; alignment of the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County budgets with our report recommendations; improved collaboration among nonprofits and the philanthropic sector for greater collective impact addressing economic mobility; increased minimum wages for workers across various organizations, and many more examples of action taken in the initial implementation phase post-release of our Leading on Opportunity report.

I believe a person’s starting place, zip code, gender, ethnicity, race, background or present circumstances should not determine their ultimate destiny in life, access to opportunity or second chances to achieve their dreams. Since my very first day in February 2018 at Leading on Opportunity, this vision aligned with my personal journey, professional calling and core values. As I step into a different community leadership role in January 2020 focused on expanding financial security pathways to build greater child and family stability and address the racial wealth gap (Strategy O), I am excited to see Leading on Opportunity move beyond its launch phase continuing under the strategic governance of our Council. Brian Collier is temporarily stewarding the work in his current capacity as Executive Vice President at the Foundation For The Carolinas supporting our dedicated team as they continue the work with a systems lens in our four pillars of work: engage, amplify, influence and change.

Thank you for your trust, belief and investment in our children, youth and families so that all in our community can rise. It's been an honor to champion opportunity and equitable outcomes as an agent of change alongside each of you. I wish Leading on Opportunity continued success in 2020 as I remain connected to the work and our community in a new way, and look forward with hope to the next chapter ahead.

With gratitude,


Stephanie Kripa Cooper-Lewter, Ph.D., M.S.W.
Inaugural Executive Director, Leading on Opportunity

Our Leading on Opportunity Council

The Leading on Opportunity Council consists of passionate community leaders sharing a range of backgrounds, perspectives, strategic insights and expertise. Co-Chaired by James E. Ford (Filling the Gap Educational Consultants) and Andrea B. Smith (Bank of America), other esteemed Council members include: Erin Barbee (Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership); Alicia Bell (Free Press); Laura Clark (United Way of Central Carolinas); Jesse Cureton (Novant Health); Dr. Kandi Deitemeyer (Central Piedmont Community College); Dena Diorio (Mecklenburg County); Jim Dunn (Atrium Health); Miriam Espaillat (Raydal Hospitality); Dr. Ophelia Garmon-Brown (Novant Health); Marcus Jones (City of Charlotte); Janice Little (Lowe's Companies, Inc.); Dr. Michael Marsicano (Foundation For The Carolinas); Dee O’Dell (U.S. Bank); Edwin Peacock III (The PomFret Financial Company, Inc.); Federico Rios (City of Charlotte); Mike Rizer (Ally Bank) and Earnest Winston (Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools).

Read more about each of our 2020 Council members here.

Building an Opportunity Movement in 2019

Below are highlights of ways we built our Opportunity Movement and public, amplified actions taken connected to our 21 strategies and celebrated community successes connected to our work.

Igniting Change in 2019

When Charlotte ranked last among major US cities in economic mobility for our children, our community took action. Our report provides a road map for improving social and economic mobility for our residents. Following our strategies and the ongoing leadership of Leading on Opportunity, our community's public, private and nonprofit sectors are focusing on systemic and structural change to improve our children's future. We are so proud of the many ways our community has continued to rally around implementation of Leading on Opportunity's Task Force Report. Below are some highlights of 2019 actions taken influenced by our 21 strategies for transformative impact in our community.

  • Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools played a significant role in the community-wide conversation to increase equity and excellence in our schools and in our community. In May 2019, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools released the second annual "Breaking the Link" report focused on equity. Learn More.
  • City of Charlotte FY 2020 approved budget aligns with 16 of Leading on Opportunity's 91 recommendations investing millions to expand opportunity for all, including the creation of a new Office of Equity, Mobility and Immigrant Integration. The budget also invests millions in our neighborhoods, including promoting the creation and preservation of affordable housing by doubling the 2020 affordable housing bond allocation from $25 million to $50 million, providing $7 million to be used primarily for Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing (NOAH), investing $1.8 million in Charlotte’s Eastside and Westside neighborhoods, and more. Learn More.
  • Mecklenburg County FY 2020 budget allocated $36.9 million by the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners to expand Meck Pre-K and early childhood education funding, an increase of $21 million from the year before demonstrating an immense investment in the future of our children. The budget also designated an additional $15.2 million towards affordable housing, $6.8 million for mental health supports, $6.3 million was invested to increase funding in reducing racial disparities, and $161.2 million toward social services which provides essential supports to children and families. The County also continued significant investments in Central Piedmont Community College and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, directly tied to our College and Career strategies. Learn More.
  • With the leadership of the Foundation For The Carolinas, eighteen private sector investments totaling $6.2 million committed to strengthen the early care and education workforce in support of the County's expanding Meck Pre-K program. The money will support college scholarships & related expenses for books, materials, transportation and stipends for childcare assistance for UNC Charlotte and Central Piedmont Community College students studying to become Pre-K teachers. Learn More.
  • Charlotte Executive Leadership Council, made up of a collection of the city's most prominent chief executives, continued to adopt and aligned its work with our strategies. Learn More.
  • Year Two of a $20 million five-year commitment continued from Bank of America and Albemarle Corp. to seventeen Charlotte-area nonprofits focused on our report’s three key determinants. Learn More.
  • Central Piedmont Community College welcomed their first class of Gambrell Opportunity Scholars in 2019 assisting CMS grads to forge a path to greater economic mobility, funded by a gift of $1 million by the Gambrell Foundation. Learn More.
  • Johnson C. Smith University launched a new Pinnacle Opportunity Scholars Program to increase the number of Charlotte students accepted at JCSU, working with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and other area schools to identify perspective Pinnacle Scholars as early as middle school. Learn More.
  • UNC Charlotte Urban Institute welcomed an inaugural cohort of twelve Opportunity Research Faculty Fellows focused on economic mobility through seven research projects. Learn More.
  • Foundation For The Carolinas engaged multiple donors surpassing their $50 million goal among the private sector raising $53 million to support affordable housing through the Charlotte Opportunity Housing Fund. Major gifts came from Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Ally Financial, Barings, Leon Levine Foundation, Duke Energy, Howard R. Levine Foundation, Atrium Health, Fifth Third Bank, Novant Health, Brooks Sandwich House, BB&T, Crescent Communities, Sun Trust, along with Moore & Van Allen. More than $270 million has been committed in public and private sector funds to support affordable housing and neighborhood development. Learn More.
  • Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) Charlotte launches, pledging $25 million to address Charlotte's affordable housing crisis and managing the Housing Opportunity Investment Fund. Learn More.
  • United Way of Central Carolinas announced investments of $26 million in grant awards with more than half of the investments addressing economic mobility across Charlotte-Mecklenburg to organizations aligned with strategies to move the needle on economic mobility and improve neighborhoods within their economic mobility framework aligned to our report. Learn More.
  • GreenLight Fund Charlotte announced a $1 million investment in early care and education bringing the ParentChild+ program to Charlotte in partnership with the Inlivian (formerly the Charlotte Housing Authority), Charlotte Bilingual Preschool and the UCity Family Zone. Learn More.

Thank You To Our Community Supporters

Across 2019, our work intersected with multiple organizations through speaking, meetings, programming (e.g. On the Table CLT, March Day of Opportunity, etc.) or partnering in other ways including A Child's Place, Ada Jenkins Center, Against All Odds Empowerment Center, Aldersgate, Apparo, Arts and Science Council, Atrium Health, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Carolinas, Bloomberg: What Works Cities Initiative, Brookings Institution, Camino Community Center, Care Ring, Carolina Panthers, Carolina Youth Coalition, Center for Community Transitions, Central Piedmont Community College, Charlotte Area Fund, Charlotte Bilingual Preschool, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, Charlotte Hornets, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Charlotte Family Housing, Charlotte Opportunity Insights, Charlotte Regional Business Alliance, Charlotte Resilience Project, Charlotte Rotary, Charlotte Works, Child Care Resources Inc., City of Charlotte, Common Wealth Charlotte, Communities in Schools of Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Community Building Initiative, Community Link, Council for Children's Rights, Creative Mornings Charlotte, Crisis Assistance Ministry, CrossRoads Corporation, Davidson College, Digital Charlotte, Duke Energy, Dupp & Swatt, Eliminating the Digital Divide, Ernst & Young, Falfurrias Capital Partners, Family Forward NC, For Charlotte, Financial Security CLT, Foundation for Girls, Freedom School Partners - Charlotte, Generation, Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont, GreenLight Fund Charlotte, Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts + Culture, Hope Vibes Inc., Inlivian, Intentional Movement - Center for Intentional Leadership, International House, Johnson C. Smith University, Junior League of Charlotte, Lakeview Neighborhood Alliance, Latin American Coalition, Latin Americans Working for Achievement, Latino Faith and Health Coalition, Leadership North Carolina, Levine Museum of the New South, Local Initiative Support Corporation - Charlotte, Manolo's Bakery, MeckEd, Mecklenburg County, Meck Pre-K - Smart Start of Mecklenburg County, Network for Southern Economic Mobility, North Carolina Assets Alliance, North Carolina Justice Summit, North Carolina State University, Northside Baptist Church, Novant Health, Parent Child+, PBS Charlotte, Q City Dance, Queens University of Charlotte, Profound Gentlemen, Race Matters for Juvenile Justice, Read Charlotte, Red Ventures, Renaissance West Community Initiative, SHARE Charlotte, Teach for America Charlotte-Piedmont Triad, The Carole Hoefener Center, The Park Church, Thompson Child and Family Focus, United Way of Central Carolinas, University of North Carolina - Charlotte, Urban League of Central Carolinas, Upstream North Carolina, WCOS-TV/Telemundo Charlotte, Whitewater Middle School, Year Up Charlotte, Young Black Leadership Alliance, YMCA of Greater Charlotte, YWCA Central Carolinas and many, many others.

Thank You to Our Incredible Sponsors

Thank you to all those who invested in our work in 2019 including Annie E. Casey Foundation, Bank of America, Charlotte Mecklenburg Community Foundation, Foundation For The Carolinas, John M. Belk Endowment, John L. and James S. Knight Foundation, J. P. Morgan Chase, Lowe's Inc., Sabor Latin Street Grill, TIAA, Wells Fargo, Winer Family Foundation and others. We would not have had the infrastructure and successes we had this without your unwavering support.

Featured Stories in 2019

Selected media highlights throughout the year: