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Charlottes Extreme Makeover

by Donald K. Jonas

August 8,2009

In today’s economic chaos, Charlotte is struggling to redefine itself, its role, and its image. We had such a phenomenal hitting streak for so long that it seemed progress, growth, and success would take care of itself. The meltdown of the global financial system and the residual collapse of confidence in Charlotte has changed all that. Or so it seems. In reality, Charlotte is forever redefining and re-imagining itself. At our very core is the desire to be something more. Something different. Something better.

We have not been on a linear path of uninterrupted growth and prosperity. We have successes and setbacks, fits and starts, and every now and then, visionaries radically alter our trajectory.

Look back 40 years ago to south Charlotte and the endless acres of farms and natural landscapes. I was a tiny tot in 1970, not yet three years old, but growing up next to these open pastures and woodlands on the outskirts of the big city. In February of that year, developers bet that a modern shopping center would ultimately be a huge success in this vast farmland. Today, SouthPark Mall is a shopper’s paradise. SouthPark is home to national and global companies – Nucor, Piedmont Natural Gas, National Gypsum and many others.

I have my own 3-year old, and wonder what kind of Charlotte he will see in 40 years. I don’t know the next innovative idea or spark of creativity that will move this city in a new direction, but I am confident that spark will come. Some suggest the next big thing is already here: A clustering of energy companies will bring wealth and jobs and progress.

The jury is still out.

Meanwhile, in Charlotte at least, it is not always the massive thunderbolt of innovation (like a SouthPark Mall) that defines us. We endlessly tinker in small ways to refresh our city.

I am fortunate to work with Presbyterian Hospital. For over a century, Presbyterian has adapted to the needs of Charlotte. Ever watch the television show “Extreme Home Makeover”? Each week a deserving family is greeted by a team of designers and volunteers who totally rebuild a family’s home in one week. Like Charlotte, Presbyterian has been undergoing a “makeover” for decades. Presbyterian moved locations in its early years, added hospitals in Matthews and Huntersville, and brought on an Orthopaedic Hospital. Today Presbyterian is building medical plazas and ambulatory centers across the region.

Recently, Presbyterian Hospital in Charlotte has undertaken a major facility overhaul – its own extreme hospital makeover.

Consider the space in the heart of Presbyterian, the courtyard almost literally in the center of the facility. For years, this open area was an employee and guest getaway - a private smoker’s lounge offering an open air environment but giving little visual or emotional tranquility.

Through the vision of artist Tom Schulz, Presbyterian Hospice and Palliative Care transformed this courtyard into the now peaceful setting for the Jack Matney Memorial Labyrinth.

While caring for her husband, Linda Matney needed a spiritual place close enough to be at her loved one’s side in a moment. She knew many families visiting the hospital are riddled with anxiety. Others just need a quiet place to pray for their loved one, or to celebrate the arrival of a newborn. This labyrinth – a circular path used for centuries to symbolize a pilgrim’s walk with God – is now only steps away. The McGill Rose Garden added a special section, planting and caring for traditional herbs known for soothing, aromatic properties.

With help from the Arts & Science Council, Presbyterian again partnered with Tom Schulz to create a Prayer Wall adjoining the labyrinth. Local houses of worship retrieve written prayers left at the wall, providing additional spiritual support for those seeking a connection during the healing journey.

Presbyterian is forever re-imaging its space to meet changing needs. A smoker’s lounge in the center of the hospital? Let’s turn that into a peaceful, quiet, contemplative, spiritual place for connection and healing. 

I believe Charlotteans have a remarkable ability to transform our lives, our workspace, and our city – into something better. We’ve been doing this for decades.  And as we work our way through these scary economic times, we will do it again.

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