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Wanda Cheeks

Wanda Cheeks Receives the 2012 Mary L. Thomas Award for Civic Leadership and Community Change

Wanda Cheeks is known throughout Spartanburg for her ability to rally the community together, restore parks and playgrounds, and reach out to at-risk youth. On Tuesday, March 27, 2012, Cheeks received The Mary L. Thomas Award for Civic Leadership and Community Change at The Spartanburg County Foundation’s Annual Meeting.

Wanda Cheeks, is the founder and Executive Director of Southside Unity in the Community, a nonprofit organization that promotes volunteerism, engages citizen participation in community-related events, provides opportunities for at-risk youth, and increases awareness among residents regarding the need for safe and drug-free parks.

“To say it best, Wanda is a truly a grassroots organizer,” said Mary Ann Washington Deku, nominator.  “She is continuously giving of her time, effort, and energy.”

Through Southside Unity in the Community, Cheeks secured national funding from KaBOOM! to renovate Irwin Park and build a playground at the Spartanburg Charter School. She also worked to renovate Priscilla Rumley Park.  Her efforts to improve the parks and playgrounds have led to national recognition for Spartanburg, which has been designated a Playful City USA for the past five years.

“By identifying the problem of inadequate play equipment in some of the city parks and then providing the solution, she has significantly contributed to a healthier and safer city,” said Deku.

In addition to renovating and building playgrounds, Cheeks has worked diligently to provide programs and activities for at-risk youth.  Last year, she partnered with the Palmetto Boy Scouts to develop a program called Unity Squad, which serves young men, ages 14-21, by connecting them with mentors.

Cheeks is also involved in improvements on the north side of the city. Through her service on the Northside Community Advisory Board, Cheeks has assisted in projects such as the intersection improvements by Chapel Street Park and the Mobile Market. She is also a volunteer with District Seven schools, serving on the School Improvement Council, Walk to School Committee, and assisting in dropout prevention programs.

“Wanda is making a real difference in this community,” said John Dargan, president and CEO of The Spartanburg County Foundation. “She is connecting with youth, city officials, community leaders, and using her voice to promote positive improvement.”

Cheeks was presented the award and a $5,000 cash grant, which she has chosen to grant back to Southside Unity in the Community.

Learn more about the history of the Mary L. Thomas Award for Civic Leadership & Community Change and review past recipients.