Cashiers Cares forges ahead
Story by Judy Royal
Florida native Pam Kerr remembers being a leader all the way back to her high school days.
“I’m very good at ordering people around,” she said. “Just ask anyone who knows me. I’m very good at organizing.”
So it’s no surprise that Cashiers Cares, still a burgeoning non-profit in 2012, called on her when it wanted to expand its outreach. Today, Kerr is the group’s board chair.
Launched in 2008 by members of various churches, Cashiers Cares wanted to help small local charities in order to support the community as a whole. One of the founders was stepping down, so Kerr stepped up and started an ambitious awareness campaign that targeted country clubs and other potential high-profile donors.
These efforts paid off, quite literally. Five years ago, The Country Club of Sapphire Valley picked Cashiers Cares as its charity of choice and raised $100,000, which not only provided crucial funds but also spread the word in the community about the group’s mission. Soon Trillium got involved, raising $20,000 and then $30,000, and lots of support followed. Over 14 years, Cashiers Cares has raised $500,000 through the work of a small group of volunteers, currently a board of eight women. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, donations grew, which Kerr credits to the fact that people could not travel or dine out and were therefore in a position to be particularly generous.
“We’re a small volunteer group with an idea, and we keep pushing it,” she said. “We cover from early childhood to end-of-life and many services in between. The goal is to serve the community where there are gaps in services and help the smaller agencies in doing that. We give our money to ten charities that target needs for a safety net locally.”
Cashiers Cares operates under the premise that while Jackson County is known for being one of the most affluent areas of the country, within those same borders exists a shadow community with a 22 percent poverty rate. This is heightened by the fact that the southern half of the county, which includes Cashiers, lacks public infrastructure and a safety net for the less fortunate.
“It’s not all roses and lollipops,” Kerr said. Because of the seasonal way of life here, “many people don’t work in the winter and only have a few months of income. We are trying to make people aware of this reality. For many, things are not easy. Yes, it’s beautiful, and yes, there’s a lot of money, but there’s also a lot of need, and that’s what we keep trying to point out to people.”
The problem of a largely seasonal economy is further exacerbated by a lack of affordable housing, she added. “You need the service industry, and yet they can’t afford to live and work here,” Kerr said. “That’s a problem.”
As a solution to these issues, Cashiers Cares has set forth three missions:
- Raise funds for selected charitable organizations
- Raise awareness in the community for the organizations
- Facilitate communication and cooperation between the organizations in ways that multiply the value of the services they individually provide
The current roster of charitable organizations supported by Cashiers Cares is:
- Boys & Girls Club of the Plateau
- Cashiers Valley Preschool
- Hampton Preschool
- Community Care Clinic
- Fishes & Loves
- Four Seasons
- Pisgah Legal Services
- United Christian Ministries
“We fundraise in the fall and distribute the money usually in March,” Kerr said. “When we meet with the charities, they explain how the money was spent. Knowing the funds are used in the Cashiers area reassures us we are making a difference locally.”
Like many people from South Florida, Kerr began spending time in the Cashiers area during the summers. She came for three months in 2005, and by 2008 she became a full-time resident and never looked back.
“You wind up getting hooked,” Kerr said. “You pick up real estate magazines and everything is so pretty, and we slowly fell in love with the area. We love living here.”
Coming from busy Fort Lauderdale, FL, the pace of the plateau was a welcome change, she said. “The more you are here, the more you feel a part of the community. You get to know everybody, and after a while, you just feel so at home and enveloped by the community.”
However, being a year-round resident offers a different perspective than what the summertime crowd experiences. “That’s when you really start to see what goes on in the community and the needs,” Kerr said.
Volunteering as a tutor at Blue Ridge School really opened her eyes to the problems some families were facing, and she wanted to find ways to help. This is part of a philosophy Kerr has always followed.
“Even when I was younger, I felt the pull to give back,” she said. “I’ve always been involved somehow in giving back. I don’t know where this drive comes from, but it hits hard.”
In addition to tutoring, Kerr’s past volunteer work includes the Joy Garden Tour, guardian ad litem, and serving as a Big Sister. She’s happy to pitch in and lend an extra set of hands as needed.
Before retiring to Cashiers, Kerr had her share of ups and downs. After graduating from the University of Florida with a political science degree, she aspired to a job with the Foreign Service, but this was difficult for women at that time. Instead, she became a junior high school teacher before getting married and leaving the job market for a while.
In 1979, freshly divorced with two small children, Kerr moved back home with her parents in Pompano Beach, FL. A friend of her father’s told her about stock brokerage firms actively recruiting women due to a push from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), so she gave it a shot.
“The EEOC made a huge difference for women of my generation and those coming after,” Kerr said.
She was a stock broker for 26 years, eventually becoming a vice president at Morgan Stanley.
“I made it in a man’s industry and wasn’t afraid of much,” Kerr said. “I never really have been. Life propelled me forward, full steam ahead. You become pretty strong with all of that.”
Moving ahead seems to be a theme for Kerr, who said she doesn’t spend a lot of time in the past.
“I always try to do the best I can,” she said. “I don’t look backwards. I’m not one who looks in the rearview mirror. Even though I’m 76, I keep looking forward.”
There is no shortage of ways to support your community, so Kerr encourages everyone to get involved in any way possible.
“Live every day,” she said. “Help people who need help. Be the solution; don’t be the problem. Don’t say you can’t or won’t.”
To learn more about Cashiers Cares or make a donation, visit www.cashierscares.org.
Hometown: Pompano Beach, FL
Education: Political science degree from the University of Florida
Family: Married to Joe Goldberg for 38 years; between them they have four grown children and five grandchildren
Hobbies: Pickleball, needlepoint, Wordle, crossword puzzles, painting, gardening, trivia, working out, making jewelry, and their two dogs Prince and Punkin