Author Agatha Christie once said, “To every problem, there is a most simple solution.” While some believe complex problems need complex solutions, the answer may be so obvious and simple that it is ignored. Nikki Fleming, MSW ’00, has always tried to find simple solutions, from her adolescent years growing up in Columbia to her professional social work career. Today, her foundation applies simple outreach and philanthropic solutions to positively change individuals and communities.
“I was always involved in the needs and concerns of other people, even at a young age,” Fleming says. “I constantly lived in that space.”
Living in the suburbs of Charlotte, North Carolina, Fleming decided to become a full-time mother in 2004 following the premature birth of her first child, a daughter. Five years later, her husband started his own business, Vintage Wealth Management Group, Inc, and the couple decided that since they were both philanthropic and service-oriented, they needed to find a way to give back to the community through their business. Fleming had always wanted to run a nonprofit, and her husband suggested they start a foundation.
The Vintage Foundation, Inc. was established in 2011, but Fleming’s husband built up business and a clientele before they started to give back. By 2015, she felt it was the right time for the foundation to begin making a difference throughout Charlotte. The Vintage Foundation, Inc. supports other organizations financially or by outreach through four core areas: health, education, social issues, and economic disparities.
“I kept the core areas pretty broad because I didn't want to limit our abilities,” Fleming says. “If an organization asked if we could financially support them, I could determine which core area it fell under. It gave us room to do more, especially through the umbrella of social issues and economic disparities.”
The Vintage Foundation, Inc. has given back in a variety of ways. For example, Fleming’s husband wanted to utilize his financial background as a Certified Financial Planner® to help others. As a result, in 2016, Fleming applied for and received a grant to conduct a six-week financial planning course that was at no cost to participants. The foundation also hosted an Economic Forum in November 2019, which included a session on historical economic disparities and its impact on minorities. The lack of economic upward mobility is a complex problem, especially in the city of Charlotte, and educating people about their finances and how they can improve their financial outlook was the simple solution.
“The Economic Forum was a simple solution to a broader problem. You bring awareness to an issue and educate people in order to empower them,” Fleming says. “We have also partnered with other organizations to not only provide funds but to also provide in-person, hands-on volunteering. Donating, volunteering and partnering are other simple solutions. Simple, to me, means just serving and giving of our time and treasure.”
Fleming wanted to help Charlotte with economic empowerment after learning the city was ranked last out of the 50 largest cities in the country for economic upward mobility. This meant that if you were born impoverished, Charlotte has the greatest likelihood of those individuals remaining in poverty.
“It was an embarrassing reality because Charlotte is a philanthropic city and the second-largest financial center after New York. We helped to be part of the solution by doing the financial literacy workshops and the Economic Forum,” Fleming says. “Part of the reason we focused on economic empowerment, as an outreach component of our work, was because we felt that it addressed the broader issue that Charlotte was struggling with.”
Two decades before co-founding The Vintage Foundation, Inc., Fleming was a nursing major at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. But, in her heart, she truly desired to work in a field that listened and counseled others and switched her major to psychology, a decision that opened doors to new possibilities. After graduating college, Fleming worked at a treatment center in Charlotte, where she did individual and group counseling with children and adults. This led her to consider attending graduate school for counseling, but a conversation made her realize the possibilities of a degree in social work.
“I met someone through a mutual friend, and he suggested that I should get my MSW,” Fleming says. “I said, ‘Why do I want to be a social worker?’ He said I was looking at it the wrong way and that I could be a therapist with a master’s degree in social work, which shocked me.”
Fleming returned to her hometown and graduated with her master’s degree in social work in 2000. Her foundation year field placement was at Carolina Children’s Home, where she was eventually hired part-time while still in school and worked there as a clinical coordinator full-time upon graduating. Her social work jobs provided her with lessons that she later applied to her work through The Vintage Foundation, Inc.
“I learned at Carolina Children’s Home that I had no control over children’s situations before they arrived,” Fleming says. “You’re powerless to change everything, but you can infuse some goodness into their lives and guide them towards healing.”
Fleming also worked for the Onslow County Department of Social Services as a treatment social worker, and a foster care social worker for Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services, both in North Carolina. Working at DSS was rewarding for Fleming but also frustrating due to government bureaucracy, which made her feel she was chasing something that could never be found. In both jobs, Fleming learned to be satisfied knowing that in some way she affected someone’s life, even if she never saw the change personally.
“Working for the government taught me to do the best for my clients because at the end of the day people will change when they are ready,” Fleming says. “I knew that I did some good and had an impact, both as a treatment care and foster care social worker by planting the seeds in the lives of others.”
Fleming and her husband knew what they wanted to do regarding giving back to others. They figured out the “how” by establishing The Vintage Foundation, Inc. 10 years ago. It has exceeded Fleming’s expectations, and she is excited to continue giving back and helping those in need.
“We have been able to give and maximize our outreach component,” Fleming says. “It’s an amazing feeling to know that the work we do though something my husband and I co-founded matters. We care about serving, and it’s the greatest gift we can give to others.
When you serve, you put yourself in a position to look at others in a way that ensures that they matter in that moment. You are not thinking about yourself, but rather about someone else's needs, struggles and pain.”
Fleming has seen others’ pain and has had compassion for them since childhood. The Vintage Foundation, Inc. gives her the opportunity to live out her passion.
“Who you are never goes away; you just evolve and grow as you become older,” Fleming says. “But that love, compassion and desire to help and give never goes away.”