A happy ending for a committed, much-deserved volunteerTweet
By Mikie Hayes
Surrounded by family, friends and co-workers, MUSC’s Vickey Cornelison Grant sat nervously in the audience, eager to learn who would be named Charleston Magazine’s and Coastal Community Foundation’s Giving Back Awards Volunteer of the Year, at the Nov. 15 annual celebration.
While those who know her believe Cornelison Grant deserved to be counted among this year’s three most devoted volunteers in the Charleston area for her tireless work with long-standing Charleston nonprofit People Against Rape, she was ecstatic simply to have been nominated. Never did she dare to dream she would be named a finalist from a field of so many worthy volunteers.
Known for her all-out commitment, especially when the chips are down, Cornelison Grant is a volunteer’s volunteer. As an advocate for PAR, whether leading the charge or down in the trenches, Cornelison Grant was a team player, happy doing anything that needed to be done.
People Against Rape volunteer Vickey Cornelison Grant, center, joins husband, Chris Grant, and Charleston Magazine editor Darcy Shankland at the Nov. 15 celebration. Photo provided
Cornelison Grant joined the PAR board of directors September 2010, and was named treasurer. At that time, she was in her 26th year with MUSC’s National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center. Early on her work at the center intersected with a personal interest in PAR’s mission. Cornelison Grant said, “Because I had known people who had experienced sexual assault, and I was working in a division of psychiatry that specialized in researching trauma and the effects of victimization, I became personally as well as professionally invested in the work of PAR.”
In August 2012, PAR experienced a nonprofit organization’s worst-case scenario. During a review of PAR’s accounting, Cornelison Grant realized something was very wrong. A number of irregularities quickly pointed to an employee’s misappropriation of funds, and almost immediately, PAR lost 100 percent of its operational funding from S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control and the S.C. Department of Public Safety. Cornelison Grant was forced to lay off the entire staff, more than a dozen employees.
Still, the important work of the organization had to go on. PAR has offered support and services for survivors of sexual assault in the tri-county area for nearly 40 years. “We could not fail,” said Cornelison Grant, “PAR is too important - we simply could not let it fail. Rape didn’t stop just because we didn’t have money or staff. The victims needed us. We couldn’t possibly let these people down."
Operating the only rape crisis center in Charleston, Dorchester and Berkeley counties, 24–hours a day, seven days a week, with no funding and no paid help was a Herculean undertaking, especially considering its small five–person board of directors all had full-time jobs. That didn’t stop Cornelison Grant. She went into high gear and started prioritizing. Soon, she was in charge of organizational triage.
Director of the MUSC National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center and PAR board president, Dean Kilpatrick, believes that had it not been for Cornelison Grant’s dedication, perseverance, and untiring efforts, PAR may well not be standing today. “Her nomination was richly deserved because she did an extraordinary job in keeping things afloat under extremely challenging circumstances while continuing to do her usual outstanding job as the business manager for our division in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences,” he said.
For 14 months, in addition to her full-time job at MUSC, PAR was always on her front burner. She staged four volunteer training events; maintained the 24/7 crisis hotline schedule, taking numerous shifts so service was never disturbed; spent many hours with victims providing comfort and support; organized the annual Take Back the Night rally; managed every request that stemmed from seven email accounts; oversaw the audit; handled legal issues when she and the board were sued by former employees; and kept DHEC and others fully apprised of how the organization was progressing. She accomplished all this while her husband underwent and was recovering from a heart procedure, in addition to moving her 91–and 94–year–old parents from Arizona to a home only three doors from her own to ensure their needs were met. For these and many other unselfish efforts, Cornelison Grant was nominated for the Volunteer of the Year award.
During the ceremony, Cornelison Grant was declared the winner of the Volunteer of the Year award. As the audience erupted into applause, they let her know just how much she deserved this honor. Her supervisor and friend, Kilpatrick, was in attendance to support her nomination. “At the gala award ceremony, we were thrilled when they announced that Vickey won this prestigious award,” he said.
Those who know her were not surprised that she had won. “She's as determined as a bulldog with a bone and will stick with a project until it's completed. She will wear herself out working for these causes,” said Cindi Sanders, a dear friend of 43 years.
In news even better than the high–profile award, DHEC announced it would restore PAR’s funding retroactively. Cornelison Grant was able to satisfy debts, pay the former staff the money they were owed, and most recently, PAR was able to begin hiring staff. Kilpatrick praised her dedication: “Thanks largely to her efforts, PAR has gotten some of its funding restored, hired an executive director, and even started a public education campaign about rape prevention,” he said.
A humble woman, Cornelison Grant is quick to give credit to everyone, while taking none herself. “I’m just a worker bee,” she said. “I am blessed to be surrounded by all these brilliant researchers and clinicians who do all the hard work and make such an incredible difference every day.”
Today, the neon pink, life-size poster that hung on the wall of Memminger Auditorium honoring her nomination adorns the wall of her office. Kilpatrick points to it and refers to Cornelison Grant as “our celebrity.”
“Although Vickey won this award for her work with PAR, I think it reflects well on our department, the College of Medicine, and MUSC that we have such amazing employees like Vickey who make a difference in our community not only through their day jobs but also through this type of volunteer work,” he said.