NCBF Open Door Fund Campaign Announced at Annual Meeting

The campaign to endow the Open Door Fund of the North Carolina Bar Foundation is officially underway. Formal announcement of the fundraising drive took place on Friday, June 21, at the North Carolina Bar Association Annual Meeting in Charlotte.

NCBA + NCBF Past Presidents Caryn McNeill and Mark Holt, who serve as founding co-chairs of the Open Door Fund and Fellowship, made the announcement during the Annual Meeting Luncheon and Business Meeting at the Charlotte Convention Center.

“Over the past year,” Holt said, “a small group of volunteer leaders has worked quietly to build a solid foundation for the Open Door Fund, which will provide perpetual support to the Open Door Fellowship and other diversity, equity and inclusion programs of the North Carolina Bar Association and the North Carolina Bar Foundation.

“Our Open Door Fund campaign goal is $1 million, and I am very excited to announce to you today that, thanks to the generosity of our founding donors, and a few other donors who couldn’t wait for this public launch today and jumped right in, we have raised over $700,000 in gifts and pledges. We offer these founding donors our deepest gratitude for their leadership and their shared commitment to our values and vision for the North Carolina legal community in our state.”

Through their participation in the Open Door Fellowship program, first-year students from North Carolina law schools participate in a 10-week paid summer work experience under the guidance of their employer hosts. The summer program also includes networking events, professionalism panels, resume reviews, and participation in the NCBA Annual Meeting.

The unique, competitive fellowship program provides Open Door Fellows with valuable, hands-on legal experience while widening their professional networks to “open doors” and prepare them for the next steps in their legal careers. The Open Door Fund demonstrates the ongoing commitment of the NCBA + NCBF to address inequities in access to legal services and participation in the legal profession experienced by historically excluded or disadvantaged individuals and communities in North Carolina.

The 2024 Open Door Fellows, Darius Alexander of the University of North Carolina School of Law and April Franklin from Elon University School of Law, were honored during the luncheon and introduced by McNeill. Alexander is working with Craige Jenkins Liipfert & Walker LLP in Winston-Salem under the guidance of attorney Rebecca Smitherman, and Franklin is working with The Fresh Market in Greensboro under the guidance of attorney Gerald Walden.

“Our Open Door Fellowship is not only a paid opportunity for students to gain experience in a legal setting, but also to become part of our Bar Association and Bar Foundation community,” McNeill said. “They have already attended our ‘NCBA 101’ orientation program at the Bar Center, they’ve met our leadership team, and they’ve learned a tremendous amount about the NCBA and the NCBF and their missions.”

“Over the course of the summer they will participate in the work that we do to support the profession and serve the public. Best of all, they will get the opportunity to get to know many, many of you. Our Open Door Fellows also become part of a special group of Open Door alumni at the end of the summer, and I am looking forward to watching this group grow in the years to come.”

The 2023 Open Door Fellows, Tavaria Smith of North Carolina Central University School of Law and Zi Yi Zhou the University of North Carolina School of Law, were also recognized during the luncheon.

“We are so pleased that you are part of this profession,” McNeill concluded, “and so pleased that you are part of this Bar Association. We look forward to supporting your professional development for years to come.”

The formal announcement ceremony concluded with recognition of the Founding Donors and discussion of the public phase of the fundraising drive to secure the final $300,000 of the $1 million goal. Three categories of lead gifts have been established, beginning with the Open Door Champions for Change ($100,000), followed by the Open Door Advocates ($50,000) and the Open Door Benefactors ($25,000).

Smith Anderson, where McNeill is a partner, and Mark and Joanna Holt are the initial Open Door Champions for Change. The founding Open Door Advocates are Edwards Kirby, LLP, Hutchinson PLLC, McGuireWoods, and an Anonymous donor.

The initial Open Door Benefactors are Catharine Arrowood, Alison Y. Ashe-Card, Duke Energy Foundation, Law Offices of James Scott Farrin, Caryn Coppedge McNeill, James F. Morgan, and Tammy Stringer and Rick Viola.

In addition, a group of NCBA and NCBF Presidents have collaborated to present the Presidents’ Challenge Gift. This challenge gift will match all new gifts and pledges to the NCBF Open Door Fund up to $100,000, effectively doubling the contributions of every donor who responds to this challenge.

“I would like to take this opportunity to invite your personal support of this groundbreaking initiative,” Holt said. “To ensure support for the Open Door Fellowship, and other similar programming now and into the future, we need your help.”

“We are grateful for the Founding Donors we have recognized today,” Holt added, “but the call of this work is not for the few – the call is for all of us. To achieve our ambitious goal, we need everyone to step forward.”

Learn more about the Open Door Fund and Fellowship and make your gift or pledge here. Please note that larger pledges can be fulfilled over five years. If you have any questions, please contact Michael Lowery, NCBF Director of Development via email ([email protected]) or phone: 919-677-0992.