Our Beginnings – and how we got our funny name
SKJAJA began with $200 and the founders’ vision that all kids in Chapel Hill-Carrboro would have access to extracurricular activities – an important aspect to a child’s growth and long-term success.
How did they do it?
For the first 13 years, SKJAJA was financially supported by the local community and the work of the Board of Directors and hardworking group of volunteers. And, there was a lot of learning on the job, laughter, and fun – with a name like SKJAJA fun was always at the forefront.
Charlotte Kirchgessner and Eric White met at Phillips Junior High School in Chapel Hill, NC and graduated from the only high school in town – Chapel Hill High School.
After returning to Chapel Hill
in 2006 with their two elementary-aged kids, the Whites began a journey they could not have imagined.
On Kim’s Birthday (Kim is Eric’s sister) Kim gave each of her family members $100 in lieu of them giving her gifts. The catch? She asked them all to “pay it forward’ and use the money to do
something kind for someone else. Later, the family came together to share how they had each allocated their $100. The Whites’ children shared how they had used their “gift.” Aja donated art supplies to her school and Kai provided a scholarship so another kid could play soccer, like him.
Eric's mom, Joan, joined Eric and Charlotte and created the SKJAJA Fund, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. The mission? Remove financial
barriers and provide scholarships so that all kids in Chapel Hill-Carrboro could enjoy extracurricular activities. To incorporate the concept of “paying it forward,” service opportunities were included into the mission so that all young people could enjoy the benefits of service in community.
How would they carry out this mission? Eric and Charlotte did what they did best and threw a party, Eric cooked up a traditional Lowcountry Boil and they booked a band. The first annual
Beach Shack Boil raised money for SKJAJA scholarships. The $200 Kim had gifted (again) in 2007 turned into $5,000 because of the generosity of its attendees.
Why the funny name?
Birthday Kim has always used “SKJAJA” to refer to the people in her family and Eric wanted to honor his sister for her inspiration: Scott • Kim • Josh • Ashley • Jessica • Adam
by the way, it's SKAH -JAH -JAH. Don’t worry. It took us a while, too.
The first two scholarship awardees were able to join their school’s Girls on the Run program and gave back
to their community by cleaning up Glenwood Elementary’s campus and planting flowers at the entrance. And the SKJAJA fun began!
The first decade SKJAJA was run by a group of dedicated volunteers and funded by the generosity of individuals and the local business community. Funding was raised through local grants and events like the Beach Shack Boil, Color the Hill, Rock the Hill, Shack, Rattle & Roll, and car washes run by the high school SKJAJA Clubs. The long-lasting PLAY it Forward program was envisioned and managed by a volunteer, Diana Hersh, who believed that people had instruments sitting in their closets that wanted to be played – and she was right. Charlotte split her time between managing SKJAJA and her design firm, White Space Creative. But, she could not have done it without the time, partnership, and generosity of board member, Sondra Komada.
Besides the time and financial support Sondra and her family gave, she was the brains behind so many aspects of SKJAJA including the five-year community
event, Color the Hill, and the high school SKJAJA Clubs. Sondra had been a high school counselor and she was instrumental in forming relationships and partnerships with the local schools. She coordinated with the high school SKJAJA Clubs – which were so important to SKJAJA’s success. Without their time and energy, SKJAJA would not have been able to accomplish all it did. Sondra was also gifted at raising money, community awareness, and volunteer recruitment. She was passionate about SKJAJA and everyone she encountered became passionate and engaged, too. SKJAJA owes Sondra a great deal of gratitude.
In 2018, Charlotte left her part-time director’s position and SKJAJA was in good hands with Sondra and Susan Roth managing the day-to-day operations.
Susan had been a dedicated volunteer for many years and had joined the staff as part-time Director of Operations in 2018. In 2020 Charlotte returned to the Board and the pandemic gave the board time to pause and plan what was next for SKJAJA.
Thanks to the dedication and vision of the 2020-21 Board of Directors (Charlotte White, John Hastings, Michelle Watson-Grant, Joan White, Chris Wallace, and
Sondra Komada), SKJAJA was able to create a strategy and raise funding to hire an Interim Executive Director, Karen Kalafatas, in the fall of 2021.
With Karen at the helm, SKJAJA was able to grant a record number of scholarships and is sure to continue empowering local kids – and also have some fun – because as the founders often say…“if you’re not having fun then what’s the point?”