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Caring for Fort Bend County

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Fort Bend Cares, a local charitable foundation, celebrates 10 years of service to disadvantaged youth

Written by Crystal Rawls

Sugar Land, TX News - The first Fort Bend Cares fundraiser almost didn’t happen. Threatening thunderclouds rolled in above the golf green that spring day in May 2005 and organization co-founders and fundraising novices Bob McLendon and Jim Rice considered canceling the event. But McLendon’s faith wouldn’t let the pair quit so easily.

“Bob and I held a brief discussion, and he said, ‘We need to step forward in faith and hold the golf tournament,’” says Rice. “The sky cleared up, and we held the golf tournament netting $15,000. We donated all of this money to the Boy Scouts.”

Local charities are recipients of Fort Bend Cares’ grants


An Act of Faith
In 2005, McLendon and Rice were simply two doting dads trying to do a little more to fund their sons’ Boy Scout troops. But after that first golf tournament, they realized their newly formed organization had the capacity to help so many more.

“As we continued our work, we realized there were many children who were not in Boy Scouts who also were in need in our community and decided that Fort Bend Cares’ mission needed to expand to fill this gap,” says Rice.

Filling the gap required rolling up their sleeves. Bob and his wife Gail spearheaded the organization’s growth, recruiting volunteers, planning fundraising events, and promoting the organization’s cause. Rice admits the early years were a difficult balancing act of raising a family, maintaining a full-time job, and growing a grassroots organization. But the late hours and time-consuming planning was well-worth the effort.

“[It] reminds me of the story of an older man walking along the beach,” muses Rice. “Presently, he came upon a young boy who was busy throwing [dying] starfish that had washed up on the beach…back into the ocean. The old man observed there were more starfish on the beach than the young boy could save and asked him, ‘Do you think you are making a difference by doing that?’ to which the young man replied as he threw a starfish into the ocean, ‘It made a difference to that one.’”

Fort Bend Cares’ Doggone Fun Run supports disadvantaged youth


Making the Difference
To McLendon and Rice, the decision to focus their organization on Fort Bend County was simple. “Charity begins at home, and this is our home,” explains Rice. “Serving our community with the volunteers of Fort Bend Cares makes me proud to know they are willing to stand up and make a difference in the lives of children who will one day grow up to be adults and help contribute to society.”

According to Executive Director Angie Wierzbicki, the organization has granted more than $1.5 million to more than 60 local nonprofit organizations. “These funds have improved the lives of thousands of disadvantaged children in myriad ways, including medical care, basic human needs, [and] emotional needs, just to name a few.”

Rice notes that the sheer number of youth helped by Fort Bend Cares is what motivates him to keep working to make those life-changing differences – even if it is one at a time. Likewise, Wierzbicki is motivated by knowing every little bit helps.

“I’ve worked and volunteered for various charities with different missions, but when it comes down to it I just want a better place for everyone to live, work, and play in. And Iknow we can be a part of the solution,” she says. “I want to work myself out of a job. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live to see the day we don’t have disadvantaged youth and children in Fort Bend, or anywhere? It’s not likely, but if we don’t walk the talk, then it will be impossible.”

In the short decade since its founding, Fort Bend Cares’ reach has extended far beyond Boy Scout Troop 441. From funding summer programs for children at the women’s shelter to therapeutic rehabilitation to educational services for abused children, Fort Bend Cares’ work runs the gamut of community service.

“In 2008, we received a grant application from an amazing woman, Michele Harris,” she says. “Her dream was to create an organization that could provide before- and after-school child care for physically and mentally challenged children and their siblings – a previously unserved population in Fort Bend County.”

Harris founded Pooh’s Panda Special Needs Academy and Fort Bend Cares was one of the first grants written to help support this mission. “This has exponentially improved the lives of many families who previously were not able to keep their children together,” says Wierzbicki. “We are proud partners with Pooh’s Panda and are humbled by the impact they have on kids in our community.”

Jim Rice, Sandy Curtis, and Bob McClendon

Just the Beginning
“Fort Bend Cares is celebrating its 10th anniversary, and we are ready to take our efforts to the next level,” says Wierzbicki. “As much as our county is growing and economically prospering, so is the population of those who need a helping hand and that gap between the haves and the have-nots. We want to ensure we’re able to fulfill part of that gap here in Fort Bend.”

Through the work of Rice, Wierzbicki, and the hundreds of volunteers serving Fort Bend Cares, the clouds are slowly lifting over the disadvantaged youth of Fort Bend County – much like they did on that first fundraising day nearly 10 years ago. SLM

CRYSTAL RAWLS is a freelance writer and marketing specialist at Fluor.

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