For ten years, Transylvania County Sheriff David Mahoney dreamed of creating a foundation to support his department’s charitable activities for Transylvania County youth. Thanks to perseverance, a supportive couple and a house on Lake Toxaway, that dream has now become reality.
The Blue Line Foundation of Transylvania County has officially been incorporated as a 501(c)(3) organization and is awaiting final approval from the Internal Revenue Service. Contributions may be made now, however, while the request is pending.
Even more significantly, the new foundation has received its first contribution: the donation of a house and property on Lake Toxaway by Jack and Meriam Matthews, longtime supporters of the Transylvania County Sheriff’s Department. The home is valued at over $1 million dollars.
SHIELD CAMP – STUDENTS LEARN TO LEAD
The inspiration for the foundation goes back to a volunteer program Mahoney created shortly after he was first elected sheriff in 2006.
“I wanted to fill a void in the community for middle school kids,” explained Mahoney. “It’s a tough age. And I thought by creating a summer camp, we could provide seventh and eight grade students with leadership training they could put to use as they entered their teen years.”
Mahoney, with the help of local School Resource Officers (SRO), teachers, coaches, community members and law enforcement, devised a two-week summer camp designed to equip students with tools and skills to help them navigate adolescence while also forging stronger relationships with law enforcement.
Each year, school counselors and administrators nominate students to attend Shield (SHeriff’s Integrity and EthicaL Development) Camp. Once selected, students first attend day camp for a week that mixes fun activities with collaborative exercises. Other components include a trip to Carowinds, a community service day, a banquet night and a three-night wilderness adventure that culminates with an awards ceremony.
“It’s a chance for all of us to grow and learn and understand what makes each other tick,” said Mahoney. “It helps us all become more empathetic to one another.”
Brevard residents Peter and Eleanor Mockridge have supported Shield Camp for several years and seen first-hand the transformative nature of the program.
“I think Shield Camp is one of the finest initiatives in this county for affirming the worth of kids who otherwise might be at risk,” said Eleanor Mockridge. “They find that law enforcement is a friend of theirs; they learn how to be cooperative problem solvers.”
The Mockridges have attended two of the Shield Camp banquets.
“You can see the camaraderie and sense of community that is developed between the students,” said Eleanor Mockridge. “They begin to see themselves not just a ‘kid from Rosman’ or a ‘kid from Brevard,’ but as part of a larger community.”
Peter Mockridge was impressed not only with the diversity of the campers but how well they all interacted.
“It was delightful,” said Peter Mockridge, “It was fun to watch those 30 kids interact without any cultural, ethnic or geographic barriers. This is a huge benefit in the long term for the kids – and the community.”
One camper’s experience remains particularly memorable for Mahoney.
“We had a young man who came to camp the first day, stuck his chest out and said, ‘I’m not coming back tomorrow,’” remembered Mahoney. “We asked him about his goals. He said he had none, other than to quit school the day he turned 16.”
Mahoney and his team of counselors managed to get the young man back for day two, then day three. On day four, the camp held their annual service day. The young man was assigned to assist an elderly gentleman who had cancer. The young man helped the gentleman clean up around the house and stack firewood.
“As the day went on, the harder this young man worked,” said Mahoney. “We don’t know exactly what happened, but we could see it in his face. He couldn’t wait to get back the next day.”
By the end of the camp, the young man had made a complete turnaround. Previously, he had never been involved in a single school activity.
“When he went back to school that fall, he went out for the football team and made it. Over the next two years he became one of the leaders of that team and went on to serve with honor in the U.S. Army.”
Not every camper experience is this profound, but “the vast majority of kids come away from Shield Camp more confident and better prepared to make good decisions,” said Mahoney.
In the summer of 2016, Shield Camp celebrated its tenth anniversary, graduating a class of 30 students at a Friday night closing ceremony.
A SMALL CRIME, A LIFE-CHANGING MOMENT.
The seeds of Mahoney’s youth outreach as county sheriff were planted in his childhood. When he was nine years old, his fishing equipment and bicycle were stolen from a family camp on Lake Keowee.
“I experienced first hand the fear, distrust and anger of being a victim,” said Mahoney. “But I also remember the way that deputy sheriff handled the situation. He took time with me. He taught me how to fingerprint. And in that short time I interacted with him while he was making the report, he made a tremendous impact on me.”
On the drive home that night, Mahoney told his parents that he knew what he wanted to be when he grew up.
“I have a photo my parents took that day with me and the deputy,” said Mahoney. “How many people have a photograph of the very moment their lives change?”
A direct line can be drawn between Mahoney’s youthful encounter with the Oconee County deputy sheriff and his department’s youth outreach.
“I know what a difference that officer made in my life and its real easy to understand why I focus so much of our department’s attention on the youth of our county,” said Mahoney.
A FOUNDATION BUILT ON A JUDGE'S GENEROSITY
Jack Matthews served as a Naval Officer on an attack carrier during the early Cold War. He received his law degree from Georgetown University and then clerked for Chief Judge John Sirica of Watergate fame, who was a life-long friend.
Matthews went on to a distinguished career as a senior partner in a large law firm in Washington, DC.
After retiring, the Matthews moved to Kiawah Island, South Carolina. Despite being retired, Matthews’ local involvement would soon become much deeper. He was appointed by the City Council to become the community’s first criminal court judge. Donning a robe once worn by Judge Sirica and given to him by Sirica’s widow, He served, pro-bono, for eight years.
From the bench, Matthews saw first hand how a variety of programs -- from local law enforcement charity programs to rehabilitation programs -- have the ability to turn lives around. He also developed a knack for creative sentencing, delivering justice in a way that better served the victim, the offender and the community. Often, instead of putting offenders behind bars, he put them in drug-rehabilitation and other programs where they received the help they needed to become productive, law-abiding citizens.
While working and living in South Carolina, Matthews and his wife purchased a summer home at Lake Toxaway.
“I have known Judge Matthews for several years,” said Mahoney. “He and his wife Meriam have been faithful contributors to our department, specifically Shield Camp and our Cops 4 Kids program. They were also instrumental in helping us get our K9 team off the ground in record time.”
THE BLUE LINE FOUNDATION: CREATING A LASTING LEGACY
Shield Camp, like many other charitable activities organized by the Sheriff’s Department, including D.A.R.E. and Cops 4 Kids, has long been funded entirely by the generosity of private donors.
“It’s been a goal of mine to eventually have a foundation in place that could support Shield Camp and our other youth programs,” said Mahoney. “I wanted to create something that would still be here helping the youth of our community long after I’m gone.”
A few years ago, Mahoney approached Matthews about the idea of creating a foundation that could help perpetuate and fund all of the charity youth programs undertaken by the Sheriff’s Department. Mahoney also envisioned the foundation being able to provide aid to local law enforcement personnel who found themselves in difficult circumstances due to illness or tragedy. Matthews encouraged Mahoney to pursue the idea and to look into the legal requirements.
In the meantime, unbeknownst to Mahoney, Matthews was making some plans of his own. Matthews soon phoned Mahoney. He had some news to share.
“I told the Sheriff that we wanted to deed our Lake Toxaway home to this new Foundation and allow its value to benefit these programs.”
The couple has always been very private about their charitable giving. But Matthews' judicial experience gave him a different perspective: “There are many worthwhile local charitable organizations out there that deserve support,” said Matthews. “But I believe this is an organization that can both change lives and improve our community. David and I are hoping that by sharing the news of our gift that we can get more people thinking about the ways they can use their money and property to do good,” said Matthews.
LOOKING INTO THE FUTURE
The generous contribution by the Matthews to the Blue Line Foundation of Transylvania County already has Mahoney thinking about the future.
Over the years, Shield Camp has been a nomad, moving from place to place, based on the availability of campsites in the county.
“One day, we’d like to have a place of our own,” said Mahoney. “So we’re going to begin a search an appropriate piece of real estate to make a permanent home for the camp.”
Mahoney also spends a lot of time thinking about the couple that made it all possible.
“At every turn, Jack and Meriam Matthews have amazed me with their giving spirit,” said Sheriff Mahoney.
Click here for a high resolution photo of Sheriff Mahoney and the Shield Camp attendees.