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From dope dealer to 'hope dealer'
Plus: YMCA still silent about cause of Camp Thunderbird zipline fall; LendingTree sued following data breach; Council members jockey ahead of vote for mayor pro tem; Bigfoot reported in York County
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Bart Noonan found purpose in addiction recovery, working through a non-profit in West Charlotte
Bart Noonan’s life path has taken him from a wealthy upbringing to the depths of drug addiction, and now he’s dedicating himself to helping children and families on Charlotte’s west side. (Photo courtesy of Bart Noonan)
by Carroll Walton
In the same rough-and-tumble part of Charlotte where he used to buy cocaine, Bart Noonan, 51, a recovering drug and alcohol addict, is now mentoring and ministering to children.
Kids and parents in the neighborhoods fanning out from West Boulevard and Remount Road know him as “Mr. Bart.” They might not know that his father, Karl Noonan, played for the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins, or that he attended Charlotte Latin and Myers Park High School growing up in Charlotte. But they know Mr. Bart has had his share of struggles and is compassionate about theirs.
Ten years ago, Noonan took his first steps in recovery by delivering beds and furniture to low-rent apartments as a volunteer for the charity Beds for Kids. Now he is a fixture in the community as executive director of a non-profit called West Boulevard Ministry.
On any given day, you can find Noonan taking an 8-year-old boy shoe-shopping, hosting a group of tweens at a Carolina Panthers game, outfitting the West Charlotte football team, giving women a place to congregate for Bible study, or hosting monthly BBQ cookouts for local police. West Boulevard Ministry is basically a two-man operation, between Noonan and his youth program manager, Byron Ruff, Noonan’s first full-time hire. They work out of a 1,700 square foot “Gracie’s House” they built on Old Steele Creek Road and are soon to break ground on a mentoring clubhouse on the adjacent property to add programming for girls.
“He's giving his life away,” said David Chadwick, pastor at Moments of Hope Church, who got to know Noonan when Chadwick was pastor of Forest Hill Church, where Noonan and his wife ,Raine, sought marriage counseling at the height of Noonan’s addiction.
“It's one thing to say, ‘I've been brought from darkness to light and I have this life change,’” Chadwick continued. “It's another one then to say, ‘And now I'm going to go give it away to other people.’ That's the essence of the gospel: what you’ve received, you go give away yourself. …
“He is walking the walk,” Chadwick said. “I love his phrase: ‘I used to be a dope dealer. Now I’m a hope dealer.’”
Noonan is outspoken about his 20-year addiction, the needs of the community and mostly about Christ. It was through Christianity that Noonan says he turned his life around in January of 2012, and he’s been shouting it from the mountain tops ever since.
“My wife Raine will say, ‘Bart, your faith scares people,’” Noonan said. “I’ve had my time. I’ve done Bart. I don’t want to do Bart anymore. If my day is 51% about Bart and 49% about other people, I’m having a bad day. I need to be in the 75 to 80% range every day of doing stuff for other people.”
Below is an edited portion of a nearly two-hour conversation with Noonan about his transformation and his passion for west Charlotte:
Q. When did alcohol become a problem for you?
After my sophomore year of high school at Latin, they did not renew my (academic) scholarship because I was a discipline problem, and I went to Myers Park High School. My junior year started there, and I'd set up one of my best friends, Johnny Nivens, with a friend of my girlfriend at the time. This girl's mom was out of town and we went over there to drink and just hang out, just us four. He took his keys off the mantel, and I found him wrapped around a tree on Hempstead (Place, in the Eastover neighborhood) in his (Datson) 280. He died that night from an alcohol-related accident.
Q. How did you handle that at such a young age?
The police officers on the scene said that I was trying to pull (Nivens) out the car. I don’t remember that. I think my mind shut down on me. I laid out in the yard and sobbed. I had a hard time reconciling that. It took me until I got clean and sober to forgive myself.
Q. When did the drugs start?
My dad went back to Latin and pleaded for (the headmaster) to let me back in. … I graduated from Charlotte Latin in ’89 and went to East Carolina to play baseball. That lasted a year. I failed a drug test. I started doing cocaine with a guy I knew my freshman year and from then on, every time I drank, I used, and every time I used, I drank, and I drank a lot, so I used a lot. You had to get creative in different ways because cocaine can be expensive, so I dabbled in selling drugs as well — trading, bartering, whatever it would be.
Q. How long did that go on?
I got a DUI my second semester my sophomore year, and I came home. That started a pattern of in and out of school. I came home in the fall of 1994, and I fell into work in the restaurant business, bartending, managing restaurants. I was a functioning addict at the time. I got heavier into the side of dealing drugs — not to make a bunch of money and drive a fancy car — but to support my habit and pay my bar tab. I went to my first treatment facility when I was 21 — DUI court-appointed. The next one I went to when I was 26 years old, and that started a string of treatment centers. I went to a total of five altogether.
Q. When did you start going to church?
I met my wife-to-be, Raine, in 1997. … Our daughter Lindsay was born April 29 of 1999 (a son, Josh, followed), and that didn't slow me down. In 2006, my behavior was so erratic Raine told me to leave the house (and got a restraining order). I had to leave the property for a year. As I look back on it, I applaud her for the strength to make that decision because I was not the husband, the father, that God intended for me to be, and I needed to go. …
Raine started going to church and taking the kids. In 2006, after my restraining order, I would go to church here or there, but I would squirm because I was so convicted, because I was living so wrong. Drug addicts and alcoholics can be so resilient. You’ve really got to come to that place of true brokenness (to change), and that’s an inside job. That’s not because you got pulled over and went to jail for DUI or you got beat out of some money on a drug deal. I believe the brokenness comes from within.
Q. When did your “brokenness” finally bring you to the brink of change?
In late 2011, I would drink and get high in the garage and the strangest thing started happening. I’d heard other people say it happens. But the drugs didn't work anymore. No matter how much I snorted, how much I smoked, or how much I drank, it didn't take the pain away. I couldn't escape. And I would sit in my garage and listen to Johnny Cash, and I would sob because I was terrified.
I was at that point where you'll hear people say “I was at the fork in the road.” For alcoholics and drug addicts, the fear of change is always (greater than) the fear of staying the same. We’ve lived in pain. We’ve lived in darkness. We can manipulate it. We can get through it. But change terrifies us. Only when the fear of staying the same becomes greater than the fear of change will you change your behavior. I was at that point where either I was going to eat a (self-inflicted) bullet, or I was going to abandon myself to Jesus. I didn’t know what that was going to look like. I didn’t know what that was going to be.
Q. When did you make that decision?
I used (drugs) through that last Christmas and on January 15 of 2012, I woke up and came face to face with my brokenness. What I realized was that I wasn’t broken in a bad way. I was broken exactly how I was supposed to be broken. Because that way I could let Jesus in. I was so beautifully broke, and so uniquely broken, that I could be in fellowship with one who could fix me.
Q. What happened next?
My wife came home, and I told her I was going to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. She said, “So what?” (She’d heard that before.) She said, “So what” for about a year, and that’s OK. I was at church that Sunday, and they showed a video on Beds for Kids. Through David (Chadwick), God told me to go. On Monday, I went to Beds for Kids. I knocked on the door, and I said “My name is Bart Noonan. I’m a week clean and sober from drugs and alcohol. And I’m here to volunteer.”
Q. Chadwick said Beds for Kids called him, and he vouched for you and told them to call him if anything came up. Then they gave you a chance?
They called me back and said, “OK, you can come,” but I wasn’t (doing) deliveries. I was just fixing furniture and painting and sanding and re-staining stuff, but I went every day like it was my job. I volunteered four or five hours a day, and they couldn’t get rid of me. After a year, I got on staff there.
Q. What did you discover as you started?
I’ve been in over 2,000 homes in the inner city in the last 10 years in Charlotte. In 90% plus, there is no man in the house. You talk about national averages and other stuff; I'm just telling you where my feet have been. But see, the same fathers that are not being fathers, that was me. The way I was approaching it, I wanted to love on these children and hopefully bring hope and let them know there are people out there, men out there, that do care, and then share some of my story.
Walls would come down, and they would open up and start sharing where they’re at with me, and that would give me a better idea of how I could help them outside of Beds for Kids. That's where (the idea for West Boulevard Ministry) all started.
Q. What does the West Boulevard ministry do?
We serve the spiritual and physical needs of the families within the West Boulevard corridor to the glory of Christ. We walk with families … and then we offer solutions to what they may be going through or we connect them with services. We provide an outlet for them and their children.
Q. How many children do you mentor?
A. We have 30 kids in our program. That'll be 60 kids once we get a female part-time staff member here, hopefully by the end of the year. And that's just one small part of all our community outreach.
Q. How does your experience in addiction help you?
I’m very comfortable in the chaos. Stuff doesn't faze me. I’ve been around kids getting kidnapped, molested, people being shot, people being stabbed — the most horrible scenarios you can talk about. In my prayer every morning, I say, “God send me where no one else wants to go, because that’s where I was and you came for me.” What we do at West Boulevard Ministries is we create a space and an environment for fellowship and friendship to take place, and for God to do his thing. We’re not here with some savior complex. That’s not who we are. But we're here to show up and be consistent.
Q. I know your impact on the community is hard to quantify, but what is one way you can tell West Boulevard is making a difference?
I’ve had Blood gang members, certifiable gang members, give money to me to put gas in my tank to keep doing what I’m doing in some of these neighborhoods. They’ll say “You go, Mr. Bart.”
Carroll Walton is a longtime sports journalist with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution who now authors the Ledger’s weekly Fútbol Friday newsletter about the Charlotte’s Major League Soccer team, Charlotte FC.
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Nearly 3 months later, YMCA still provides no answers about Camp Thunderbird zipline fall and safety measures
Almost three months after a 12-year-old girl was seriously injured in a fall from the zipline at YMCA Camp Thunderbird, the YMCA is still refusing to answer questions about the June 7 incident.
The YMCA of Greater Charlotte shut down the ziplines and ropes courses at all of its camps after the fall.
Last week, YMCA spokeswoman Heather Briganti declined to say:
whether an investigation is underway
what steps the YMCA is taking to ensure the safety of its campers in light of the incident
if or when the YMCA’s ziplines and ropes courses will reopen
She also declined to share an update on the girl’s condition.
In an emailed statement responding to a list of questions from The Ledger, Briganti wrote:
While our ropes courses remain closed for the time being, alternative activities are being provided. We will continue to respect the privacy of the camper and her family.
Camp Thunderbird Board Chair Rob Crane did not return a call from The Ledger.
In an initial email to parents with kids at Camp Thunderbird, the YMCA said the girl was hospitalized for her injuries and asked for prayers.
The zipline is about 40 feet high and 300 feet long, according to the Camp Thunderbird website, which still lists the zipline as an adventure activity at the camp.
Camp Thunderbird, which is just over the state line on Lake Wylie, is a popular destination for Charlotte area kids and families. Some camp parents expressed safety concerns after the incident. Others are still praying for the girl and wonder if she is OK.
In the 911 call from the scene, a woman told the operator that the girl was unresponsive and bleeding, and that she was being put on a backboard. In audio that is difficult to listen to, a woman can be heard saying, “Keep breathing. Stay still. We’re right here, OK?”
The girl was airlifted to an Atrium Health hospital, according to the York County Sheriff’s Office.
Increased emphasis on safety?: Nick Foy of Charlotte spent Aug. 19-22 at Camp Thunderbird with his son as part of a dads’ event organized by the F3 workout group. Foy said it was his fourth time at the camp, and he noticed that “they definitely stepped up safety protocols.”
“In the dining hall, they talked about safety and the things we needed to do to be safe on the water,” Foy said. “They’ve never done that before.”
In addition, “the blob” — a large inflatable on the water — was significantly underinflated compared with previous years, Foy said. The blob normally propels a camper into the air when a second person lands on it after jumping from a tower above. In the past, the camp allowed Dads to “blob” their kids, but the camp didn’t allow that this year, Foy said.
Foy said the giant “Wet Willie” vinyl water slide into the lake was also shut down, and a camp staff member told him it was closed after it failed inspection.
When The Ledger asked the YMCA about the slide, Briganti responded:
The operation of a summer camp involves routine maintenance. A component of routine maintenance at YMCA Camp Thunderbird is that staff report wear and tear of equipment and structures. This summer, staff identified wear on part of the Wet Willie slide, stopped use of the slide and invited input from a third party, who agreed that part of the slide was ready for replacement.
A spokeswoman for the S.C. Department of Labor told The Ledger that the recreational activities at Camp Thunderbird — including the zipline and slide — are not regulated by the state or required to be inspected. That means there will be no state investigation of the zipline fall. —Michelle Crouch
Lawsuit filed after 200,000+ mortgage applications labeled ‘LendingTree’ appear on ‘dark web’; company acknowledges separate leak of 70,000 records
LendingTree is facing a federal lawsuit that accuses the Charlotte-based online loan marketplace of failing to safeguard customers’ information, resulting in hackers posting sensitive financial details from tens of thousands of people on the “dark web.”
The lawsuit, filed in Charlotte last month, came after LendingTree started notifying customers in June of a “code vulnerability” that started in mid-February. The data breach “included name, social security number, date of birth and street address,” according to a letter filed by LendingTree with the California attorney general’s office.
Cybersecurity experts noted in June that hackers were advertising a database of more than 200,000 mortgage applications online and indicated they were from LendingTree.
But after investigating, the company “determined that this data leak did not originate at LendingTree,” and a comparison to company records found there was “no match,” spokeswoman Megan Greuling told an industry publication last month.
Instead, the notifications LendingTree sent in June went to more than 70,000 customers. It followed a similar data exposure last November, which resulted in LendingTree notifying 700 customers.
The lawsuit was filed by a Massachusetts man who said LendingTree had notified him that his data had been improperly accessed – even though he had no prior business relationship with the company. He said he suffered four instances of identify theft in April and May, including someone attempting to open financial accounts in his name.
Greuling did not reply to an inquiry from The Ledger on Friday about the lawsuit.
The suit requests more than $5M in damages and seeks class-action status.
Financially, LendingTree has been cutting its outlook as interest rates have risen. Its stock has lost 90% of its value in the last 18 months, going from a little over $350 in February 2021 to about $35 on Friday. It’s down more than 70% on the year. —TM
Emerging City Council drama: Who will be mayor pro tem? Jockeying intensifies
Charlotte’s new City Council won’t be sworn in until next week, but there’s already some drama developing over which council member will be named mayor pro tem.
It’s mostly a ceremonial role that involves presiding over meetings when Mayor Vi Lyles is absent, and the slot traditionally goes to the top vote-getter in the election — which in this case would be third-term Democrat Dimple Ajmera.
But our city sources tell us there’s a belief among council members that Ajmera might lack the support on the council to receive the six votes required to be named mayor pro tem and that others are jockeying for the position.
No liars or manipulators: The brouhaha spilled into the open on Friday, when incoming council member LaWana Slack-Mayfield said on Twitter, regarding the mayor pro tem position: “I will NOT support any person who I have watched lie, manipulate & play politics.”
The tweet was widely perceived as a dig at Ajmera, whose decision in 2017 to run for an at-large seat after pledging not to run for election to the district seat she was appointed to annoyed some council members. Asked if she thought Slack-Mayfield was singling her out, Ajmera told The Ledger on Friday via text: “I don’t think my actions on council fit that description.”
She also sent us a copy of a communication she sent to her colleagues making the case for her to be chosen as mayor pro tem, which was signed by two dozen community leaders including former Mayor Harvey Gantt and former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl.
Slack-Mayfield’s tweet, though, could have referred to council members Victoria Watlington and James “Smuggie” Mitchell, who are also said to be interested in the mayor pro tem post. But they might not be able to attract six votes, either, which could lead to the rise of a compromise candidate such as Malcolm Graham, our well-connected sources speculated.
Slack-Mayfield later called out Fox 46 on Twitter for its report on the episode. She wrote: “OK @Fox46-CLT let’s not start this nonsense.”
The swearing-in for the new council is Sept. 6, with the first full meeting Sept. 12. Buckle in! —TM
First day of school: Roughly 140,000 students return to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools today. CMS says there are shortages of teachers and bus drivers but that about 95% of classes are covered. (WCNC)
Lakefront mansion: A 15,000 s.f. mansion with 6 bedrooms, 7 full baths and 4 half-baths is on the market for $16M, the most expensive house ever to be listed in Cornelius. (Biz Journal, subscriber-only, with 39 photos)
$3 movie tickets: Major theater chains including AMC and Regal Cinemas say they will charge just $3 to get into the movies on Saturday, Sept. 3. (WFAE)
Bigfoot reported in York County: An organization that tracks reports of Bigfoot sightings says there have been two in South Carolina this summer, including one on Aug. 2 near Clover in York County. Citing the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, WSOC reported: “A professional forester reported hearing a knocking noise and a strange smell in the area. He also said he found a large area of grass that was compressed ‘as if something large is sleeping there regularly.’” (WSOC)
Unless you are a day trader, checking your stocks daily is unhealthy. So how about weekly? How local stocks of note fared last week (through Friday’s close), and year to date:
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Executive editor: Tony Mecia; Managing editor: Cristina Bolling; Staff writer: Lindsey Banks; Contributing editor: Tim Whitmire, CXN Advisory; Contributing photographer/videographer: Kevin Young, The 5 and 2 Project