A Child?s Need
Putting a Face on a Child’s Need
Tricia Carlisle-Northcutt Works to Provide Health Care to Those Who Can’t Provide for ThemselvesBy Joyce Owen
Many people who work to make the Children’s Volunteer Health Network a success see each new child they help as the next “face” of the program. Nowhere is this more evident than the walls of the organization’s small Santa Rosa Beach office, covered with images of children who have been treated since the program began in 2005.
But to those who benefit from the care of the loving and dedicated volunteers and professionals who donate their time, the original face is that of Tricia Carlisle-Northcutt, the founder of the program.
In 2004, when Carlisle-Northcutt and her husband, Mark Northcutt, moved from Memphis, Tenn., to Grayton Beach, Carlisle-Northcutt planned to retire partially from the business world to focus on her painting and writing. After years of vacationing at the beach, she was ready to enjoy living in paradise.
But a startling realization forced Carlisle-Northcutt to reevaluate her plans, leading her to a busier and more rewarding life than she had ever imagined.
While volunteering for the after-school program at Point Washington United Methodist Church, Carlisle-Northcutt noticed a teenage boy whom she describes as “both a leader and a disaster.”
This particular boy had severe dental problems. His teeth were badly misaligned, and the children called him names. He was small for his age, and he had a real chip on his shoulder.
“There was something about Tyler that I couldn’t resist,” she says. “He was a child in desperate need of help. Because of the name-calling from the other kids at school, he became a bully. His grades were poor and he was often suspended or truant. I thought if someone could help that child, his life would change dramatically.”
A compassionate woman who has raised four children of her own, Carlisle-Northcutt believes that every child deserves to have the best life possible. She wondered, “If this child gets the help he needs, how would it change his world?”
Carlisle-Northcutt had been a real estate agent in Tennessee and had reestablished her company on the Emerald Coast, so she was aware of the thriving local economy due in part to the booming real estate market. But she quickly learned that the wealth she associated with this beautiful area didn’t filter down to everyone.
She discovered there was a critical lack of health care for many school-age children whose parents had jobs but couldn’t afford or didn’t have access to health insurance. Many were from single-parent families, with no one to stay home with them when they were sick. These children were in school, often in pain – and little was being done to fix the problem.
Carlisle-Northcutt, who now has formed her own company, Right Brain Strategies LLC, is a solution-oriented person. Through many years as an entrepreneur and successful business owner, she learned to think not only outside the box but also “on top of it and with both sides of your brain,” as she says.
She found a local orthodontist who volunteered to help Tyler with treatment that included braces. The young man’s life was transformed.
That experience prompted her to look for a way to expand from helping one child to helping the many disadvantaged children living on the Emerald Coast.
A Foundation of Hope
In 2005, Carlisle-Northcutt founded the Children’s Volunteer Health Network to provide immediate assistance for uninsured and underinsured children who had no other opportunity for medical, dental and mental health treatment.
“I soon learned help was available – all I had to do was ask,” Carlisle-Northcutt says. “Nobody has ever said no. Instead they asked, ‘How can I help?’”
Soon a vast organization of volunteers was donating its time, talents and money to help these children.
Doctors, dentists and other health care professionals were recruited to provide services. Hospitals and pharmacists offered their assistance. Teachers and school nurses were asked to refer children with health problems to the Children’s Volunteer Health Network, where volunteers made calls to set up appointments. When necessary, volunteers ferried children from schools to appointments and stayed with them when their parents could not be there.
All of this was provided at no cost to the families.
Drawing from her contacts in real estate and related industries, Carlisle-Northcutt spread the word about the Children’s Volunteer Health Network.
Realtors, developers and builders generously contributed to the program with the creation of the Circle of 100, a group of like-minded individuals that provided not only financial support but a willingness to do what was needed to make life better for the children in their community.
Those business people became the original source of funding that allowed the Children’s Volunteer Health Network to hire its first paid staff member.
But to realize its full potential, the organization needed more money. For Carlisle-Northcutt, that meant a party.
In August 2005, the Children’s Volunteer Health Network put on its first fundraising event, a “Blown Away” Hurricane Party. The event succeeded in raising money while also raising awareness of a problem that few realized existed in their community.
Before an auction was held that evening, Tyler’s compelling story was shared. There were few dry eyes as partygoers learned just how difficult life could be for some of their neighbors.
Building Cottages and Dreams
While the Circle of 100 and a successful party were critical to the early accomplishments of the Children’s Volunteer Health Network, Carlisle-Northcutt realized the need to create an ongoing project to continue the growth of the program.
Thinking far beyond an auction of art, jewelry or vacation packages, the entrepreneur
and her team dreamed up the Cottages for Kids program. This fundraiser challenged members of the construction industry to design and build children’s playhouses. The one-of-a-kind playhouses would be displayed at a resort community on County Road 30-A and auctioned off in the fall.
After Carlisle-Northcutt’s presentation, many of the busy architects, contractors and developers thought this was an impossible request. Some suggested there wasn’t time to devote to the project during the busy building season. Still, she persisted.
The organizers agreed to delay the event until November, and soon six builders were on board. The auction, held over the Thanksgiving weekend, saw bids of more than $10,000 for some of the whimsical, child-sized playhouses. When all was sold and done, it raised $38,600.
The annual event, held at Rosemary Beach, has become another opportunity to share the mission of the Children’s Volunteer Health Network. While children come to the “Village on the Green” to explore the amazing little homes, volunteers explain to visitors how the program provides health care for children.
The first year, one cottage on display at Destin Commons in Okaloosa County was raffled off. Hundreds of holiday shoppers checked out the playhouse and picked up material about the Children’s Volunteer Health Network. Soon parents in the neighboring county were contacting the office about assistance for their children.
The faith-based organization, built on prayer, the selfless acts of volunteers and the willingness of health care professionals who donate their services, has continued to grow. In three years, the organization has reached more than 500 children, providing more than 1,800 medical appointments.
As the economy continues to slow, the program has seen more requests for assistance. Even the local health department has sent children to the Children’s Volunteer Health Network because they could not help them.
One of the biggest areas of need has been dental care.
Dr. Mary Konovsky, the executive director of the network, says 52 percent of the requests it receives are for emergency dental care.
Now, through generous donations, fundraising efforts and grants, the Children’s Volunteer Health Network has a dental bus that will visit Walton County schools. The new dental program, Just For Grins, will provide preventative care to 1,600 children, from pre-K through third grade. Eventually, the organizers hope to have a full-time dentist to provide additional services.
The True Face of the Program
Although Carlisle-Northcutt believes the greatest reward is helping children, her peers have noticed and rewarded her good works. She received the 2006 Emerald Coast Association of Realtors’ Humanitarian Award, the 2006 South Walton Realtor of the Year award, the 2006 Good Neighbor Certificate of Merit Award, the 2007 Florida Association of Realtors’ Humanitarian Award and the 2007 Good Neighbor Honorable Mention.
This year, Carlisle-Northcutt was honored as a Jefferson Awards for Public Service winner, a national award created by former first lady Jacqueline Onassis in 1972 to recognize communities’ unsung heroes.
As the foundation begins its fourth year, Carlisle-Northcutt has moved away from the day-to-day operations.
“It wasn’t easy letting go. It was like seeing another child going off to school,” she says. “But from the beginning, I knew it was important to have an exit strategy.
“When it came time to turn the project over to the executive director and governing board, I felt like I was abandoning the mission. Now I realize I felt abandoned and unneeded. Everything that I worked so hard for was now able to exist and grow without me. I was a dismal success.”
Carlisle-Northcutt now meets weekly with Konovsky and sends encouraging e-mails to the staff, but she doesn’t go to the office as frequently.
“As the founder, you are always involved, whether they want you or not,” she says. “I help with fundraisers and make speeches. People need a face to go with the organization.”