Mr. Blackman also has found ways to give back to the community through his own three-outlet tire and service business as well, with promotions such as the “Repair My Ride” contest it launched two years ago. In the inaugural contest, Mr. Blackman couldn't choose between two entries and elected to award both of them $1,000 in free vehicle repairs.
Atlantic Tire has also given away Thanksgiving hams to clients, employees and mail carriers, among others.
“One day we gave one to a guy across the street — he worked at the collision center across the street — and he said, ‘I wanted to share something with you.' He says, ‘The only thing I had to eat this Thanksgiving was the ham that you gave me, and I just want to thank you for that.'
“This guy, we see him daily, in and out and stuff like that,” he continued. “See, you don't know how giving can make a difference like that.”
The Blackmans have also helped out a number of Atlantic Tire employees over the years, including Tim Bowman, a tire technician whom they're helping pay for college tuition.
Mr. Bowman is working toward a business degree at North Carolina Wesleyan College, which he hopes to use to manage his own store eventually.
“It's not just the school,” he said of going to school — and the encouragement he receives from Mr. Blackman. “There are all kinds of certifications and training programs—he always wants you to learn more and be better at your job, better at everything. It's not just limited to the college, and it's not just me…. He's always trying to get people to grow.”
For Mr. Blackman, helping others has always brought him more joy than wealth.
“Could I have a lot more money? You'd better believe I could,” he told Tire Business while this reporter shadowed him for a couple of days. “Would I be happier? No.”
Focus on families
Many of the Blackmans' contributions over the years have gone towards supporting organizations designed to meet the needs of area families. Chief among these is the Cary YMCA, one of their top donations recipients.
Diane Hillsgrove, executive director, Camp Seafarer, YMCA and a member of the Rotary Club of Cary, formerly served as branch directory for the Cary YMCA and has worked with the Blackmans for many years.
“It takes all these non-profits and all these organization to make a community strong, and I think the Blackmans have realized that they can really impact and strengthen the support system of the community in a way that makes these non-profits able to support the community better,” she said.
Ms. Hillsgrove's relationship with Mr. Blackman began in the 1990s as a customer at his shop. The first time she met him, he “greeted me like he'd known me forever,” she said.
Eventually that relationship turned into both a commercial account for Atlantic Tire with the YMCA and a long-term commitment from the Blackmans to support the organization's various youth and family programs.
Mr. Blackman has always been willing to help “in any way that we've ever needed anything,” Ms. Hillsgrove said — from raffle ticket purchases to offering a free car care clinic for members of the YMCA staff to funding the building of a new YMCA building in Apex, N.C.
The couple also regularly has made contributions to the YMCA's annual fundraising campaign, which supports programing for families and children who might not otherwise be able to afford the programs they offer.
“I can't remember a time the Blackmans didn't give to that campaign at a leadership level,” Ms. Hillsgrove said. “We've been able to have children come for years to our programs. Whether it's learning to swim or having educational opportunities during the summer or just giving them a safe place to come and be kids, the Blackmans have always come and supported that campaign.”
Ms. Hillsgrove emphasized that while Mr. Blackman and Atlantic Tire are often credited with supporting various charitable causes, Mrs. Blackman has always played an active role in supporting her husband and the community.
“Beth and Anthony are a team, and they support the community together,” she said. “So I talk about him, but really it's Beth and Anthony and the generosity of their hearts that make all this happen. They have both been very generous with gifts financially to the Y.”
Ms. Hillsgrove said what she has admired most about Anthony in the time knowing him is how he “uses life to help him build into lots of other people.”
“Anthony's story is Anthony's story to tell, but Anthony just has a passion for people who need a little extra support to get to a place that they can stand on their own and that they can have opportunities,” she said.
That passion can be seen for the Blackmans' support of The Carying Place (TCP), a non-profit 501(c) (3) organization that works with homeless families to help them escape poverty and achieve independence through mentoring, teaching life skills such as money management and providing them with housing over the course of a 16-week program.
“What we really deal with is the working poor — people who all it takes is for them to miss one paycheck or a couple paychecks and they find themselves in dire circumstances,” Leslie Covington, executive director for TCP, told Tire Business.
“They're working and they're making more than minimum wage, but they have children, definitely — which we know is a struggle for anybody's budget — and then all it takes is for one tragic instance to happen, one wrong choice about your finances, and you find yourself at the point where you're in a car or you're staying with family members and just couch surfing.”
The people TCP targets have the ability to get themselves out of their situation, Ms. Covington said, but “they just don't know it yet.”
“So it's really important that people get that this is not about us helping you,” she continued. “This is really about you helping yourself. If they just stick and they stay and they use what they learn, they come back and they become the support team partners who help more people through the process.”
To date, the organization has assisted more than 360 families and has achieved a 90-percent success rate. But running such a program doesn't come cheap, which is where the Blackmans come in.
Over the course of a year, TCP will assist 26 families by providing transitional housing in one of nine housing units it uses. Donations go to cover utilities and other housing costs, as the families enrolled in the program put their income in escrow accounts they eventually will use for security deposits and rent when they move on.
“So many people like Mr. Blackman will literally assist from year-to-year because they see what I saw coming here,” she said. “They see progress. They see people making changes in their lives and doing it with the assistance of others and a hand up, but not a hand out.”
The Blackmans have supported TCP for the last nine years annually through a gold level sponsorship of its annual Labor Day “Race for Home,” an event that in 2016 attracted well over 500 registrants, including participants from other states.
Mr. Blackman cited TCP as perhaps his favorite non-profit group, and said it has always been easy to support.
“It's easy to be helpful with a group like this,” he said. “It really works. You cannot throw dollars at problems — you have to have people's involvement, like teaching life skills…. They make giving back fun and easy because you see the results of it.”
Atlantic Tire traditionally has donated tires to the group's “A Place to Call Home” annual silent and live auction — which Mrs. Blackman has even taken responsibility for organizing in the past—and occasionally provided free automotive services to families enrolled in the program.
In addition, Mr. Blackman previously served on the group's board of directors and Mrs. Blackman on the advisory board.
But the Blackmans also give something to TCP that's difficult to measure: credibility.
“Being a part of Cary's ‘Who's Who,' their presence gives us merit,” Ms. Covington said. “Because they support us, a lot of people will say, ‘You know what, that's got to be some good stuff going on over there.' And that's what happens is when their light is shining it shines in someone else's direction, and it actually gives us more attention and it allows us not just to raise money but to raise awareness of what we do.
“We are reducing homelessness in this area, in a place where affordable housing is almost next to impossible,” she added. “They are making sure that families are getting housed and getting the skills they actually need so that they can actually do it for themselves.
“They're not in the system, they're not depending on a handout, they've become self-empowered people who understand their ability to change their own lives and so if we don't have the Blackmans we don't have that.”
Supporting Boy Scouts
The Blackmans also have supported the Boy Scouts of America's Occoneechee Council, primarily through its Crosswinds District—part of the former larger Dan Beard District. It's a relationship that stretches back over a decade.
“Every non-profit needs folks with influence, folks with time and folks that care about the program,” said Tyler Perkinson, district director, Crosswinds BSA, Occoneechee Council.
“We have a saying that we value folks' time, talents and treasure, and the Blackmans — if we need some advice, if we need help in making a big decision on where our program's going to go in the future, what's going to be best to continue to develop character in the youth that we serve—they and their family are always willing to help.”
Mr. Perkinson said that the Blackmans have assisted the council both through financial donations and in a variety of other ways, over the years becoming one of the council's greatest contributors.
“Half the time I don't even tell him what we need help with and he just says, ‘I'll do it. Just tell me what you need,'” Mr. Perkinson said. “It's invaluable, the resources and the talent that he provides for our program, our boys.”
The Blackmans' long relationship with the Boy Scouts organization began when Roger Skirvin, field director for the council and another member of Mr. Blackman's Rotary Club, asked him to assist in sponsoring and promoting a breakfast fundraiser. This breakfast became an annual even for the Dan Beard District, drawing hundreds of members of the community each year.
“We packed those things,” Mr. Blackman said of the breakfast events. “We absolutely packed them, and it showed you the belief people have in this organization.”
In 2011, about the time when the Dan Beard District was split into two districts, the breakfast evolved into the Crosswinds Distinguished Citizens Award Dinner, which the Blackmans have also helped to organize, promote and sponsor since its inception. In addition, Mrs. Blackman co-chaired the dinner for the first two years.
“The dinners we've had over the past few years, we've raised anywhere from $22,000 to $30,000 on a goal of $15,000. So even though our goal is $15,000, Anthony and his counterparts that have helped with the dinners have just blown it out of the water in a good way,” Mr. Perkinson said. “It's remarkable.”
They also have sponsored the council's annual Eagle Scout dinner for the past four years, and in 2015 Mr. Blackman joined the Occoneechee Council's board of directors.
Mr. Skirvin said he admires the Blackmans' willingness to support community programs like Boy Scouts, not just through donation but through the time and energy they put in.
“There are people who just say, ‘Go ahead and use my name' and move on, but not these guys,” Mr. Skirvin said. “They're involved.”
At risk youth
Another group the Blackmans have supported over the years is Loaves and Fishes Ministry Inc., a non-profit group geared toward empowering low-income children and their families to overcome challenges by providing long-term extracurricular programming. The group collaborates with schools and other community organizations to identify children in need and provide support.
Loaves and Fishes serves upwards of 40 kindergarten through 12th grade students in a comprehensive after-school program located at Milner Memorial Presbyterian Church in Southeast Raleigh.
“These are all kids who live in poverty,” said Joe Burmester, executive director for Loaves and Fishes. “All of their families struggle with stable housing, food, transportation and living wage jobs.
“We don't charge anything — in fact, if one of the kids starts with us in kindergarten we'll go all the way through high school,” he added. “It's a long-term relationship, and we become, sometimes, the only stable thing in their lives.”
For Mr. Blackman, the organization brings back memories of where he began his tire industry career and a young boy named Tommy who lived behind the Goodyear dealership in Raleigh, N.C. During Mr. Blackman's time there Tommy became like a family member.
“His mother and father were on drugs, and he had absolutely nothing,” Mr. Blackman said, recalling a time when Tommy was caught stealing food from the A&P grocery store across the street from the dealership. “…I straightened that out and told him, ‘You can't do that, and I'm here to help you when you need stuff. I'll be here for you.'
“He was a character.”
Tommy never lived to see his 17th birthday — he died of a social disease, Mr. Blackman said — but working with Loaves and Fishes gives the Blackmans an opportunity to help prevent that from happening to other kids dealing with similar problems.
Loaves and Fishes owns two small buses it uses to transport students. Atlantic Tire repairs the vehicles for free.
“One of the things that Anthony has done is, every year they give us a substantial credit that we can work off of in terms of maintenance, supplies or tires, or whatever we have to do, which is great because that's the kind of stuff where you never know if something's going to break down,” Mr. Burmester said.
“And when it does, it needs to be fixed right now. We can't get our kids unless the buses are running.”
Mr. Blackman also supports the group's annual fundraising campaigns with an annual contribution and by sponsoring tables during its spring “Lifting Minds and Hearts Breakfast Celebration.”
Meeting special needs
Much of the Blackmans' financial support over the years has gone towards assisting those with special needs.
One benefactor is Life Experiences, a non-profit that offers a choice of work experiences for adults with physical and mental disabilities, and at the same time allows those adults the self-esteem of earning a wage for their work.
Life Experiences operates five small businesses — a bakery service, shredding service, buckwheat hulls, commercial laundry and a sub-contracting division specializing in packaging and collating. They offer employment to those with developmental disabilities while also providing valuable services and products to the community.
“My Rotary Club came out here and we saw what was going on. I said this is good, and at that point we made a commitment to them,” Mr. Blackman said. “Like so many of the organizations (we support), it's about people…. It really touched me to walk through here.”
Mary Madenspacher, executive director of Life Experiences, said the organization employs 50 adults with special needs in a variety of roles and that supporters like Mr. Blackman help to ensure they have jobs.
“We're thankful that we have people like Anthony Blackman in our community to help out and who are willing to give back, because not everybody is,” she said. “We're very fortunate that Cary is such a generous place and that Anthony is one of those generous people.”
Ms. Madenspacher said the Blackmans have been regular supporters of the organization's silent and live auctions and sponsors of its annual golf tournament. This year, those events brought in approximately $115,000.
In addition, Atlantic Tire has assisted in their automotive maintenance needs on several occasions.
“With all of the stuff coming and going out of here, particularly the laundry, we have a delivery service,” she said. “So we have a big old (Ford) F350 back there with a trailer behind it, and when it has a flat tire it's a major ordeal for us to take care of, and we can't get that tire off. We're not jacking that truck up.
“It doesn't matter what day of the week it is, or when it is — and we've been in some tight pinches because we have to deliver at least two to three times a day with that truck — (Atlantic Tire personnel) have come down here, taken the truck back for me, given me a loaner, whatever we need to make sure we stay in business, and we really appreciate it.”
The Blackmans also have regularly supported Miracle League of the Triangle, an organization dedicated to providing an opportunity for children with physical and mental disabilities to play in a baseball league.
The local Miracle League is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2016, having held its first game in September 2006, during a time when the league consisted of eight teams and 120 players. Today it stands at 32 teams with 500 players across two leagues in Cary and Raleigh.
H.E. “Tony” Withers III, another of Mr. Blackman's fellow Rotarians, led the effort to start the league, but he knew it would be a tall effort to raise the $750,000 needed to build the ballfield. Mr. Blackman, he said, wrote him a check for $10,000 and then convinced his friends to do the same by showing them a video about the league.
“The good thing about him is he's pretty connected in Cary,” said Benjy Capps, executive director, Miracle League of the Triangle.
“He's been there a while, so he was not only willing to give us money, but he expanded our network by showing his friends the video.”
Mr. Withers estimated that the Blackmans' lifelong donations to the organization — direct and through sponsorships of its annual golf tournament — have exceeded $100,000, money that has gone towards covering office rent, bats, special balls, jerseys, team pictures and various other costs.
“He doesn't say no,” Mr. Withers said. “He just always says yes.”
While the Blackmans are often praised for their commitment to supporting non-profit groups in the Research Triangle, often overlooked is Mr. Blackman's commitment to economic development in the area.
“The longevity and the commitment to really building into certain organizations that (the Blackmans) know is touching a lot of people, but what I love is that they support the chamber of commerce,” Ms. Hillsgrove said.
“Some people would say, ‘Well the chamber of commerce is business,' but that's people's livelihoods, and people's livelihoods are their families.
“Without the chamber, the small businesses in our community don't have the support. (He's) bringing businesses into the community, which allows people to continue to have jobs. It allows children to stay in this area because there are actually jobs for them to aspire to do that are right here.”
Howard Johnson, president of the Cary Chamber of Commerce, said Mr. Blackman has been involved with the chamber since Atlantic Tire came into the area. He is serving his third term on the chamber's board of directors and has been a member of the executive team for years as well.
“Anthony's company is involved in every aspect of our major events,” he said. “Our annual banquet, annual business expo — they're the major sponsors — Business After Hours, Eye Opener (Breakfast). Every fiber of the business side, he's there.
“It speaks volumes for a company of Anthony's to be involved in the advertising side, in the promotional side of the business community.”
At the state level, Mr. Johnson said, Mr. Blackman works with the department of commerce to help bring new business to the state.
“Anthony plays an integral part in dealing with our North Carolina Department of Commerce in talking to companies, and he sits on a committee that helps in a lot of the incentive side for our state, which plays a major role when a company is looking at North Carolina compared to our sister states,” he said.
His commitment to Cary's economic development even pushed him to take on a three-year, $55,000-per-year sponsorship of the Association of Tennis Professionals' Challenger Tour in Cary, called the Atlantic Tire Championships.
“The town came to me last year and said if you don't help us, we can't have this tennis tournament, knowing that I've been involved with tennis and I've been trying to promote tennis here and all,” he said.
“So we said we'll do that. We came very close to getting the USTA (United States Tennis Association) to bring their headquarters down here.”
The three-year contract term, he said, is designed to give the community enough time to find a “big-time” company with a larger marketing budget to continue the sponsorship going forward.
“It's great exposure, it's for the community and sometimes you do things not knowing if it's gonna do anything for you, and that's OK,” Mr. Blackman said.
“…Ten years from now if Metlife is doing it and they're getting all the exposure, they're on TV and stuff like that, will they remember me?
“Probably not, but that's just life. I was able to help them when nobody else was able to step forward to do it.”
To reach this reporter: [email protected]; 330-865-6148; Twitter: @Will_Schertz