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Charlotte Observer: Donation Lets Work Begin On Battered Women's Shelter

United Family Services' long-awaited shelter for battered women is moving forward thanks to a $1 million donation from a largely unknown Charlotte foundation. The project, which the agency announced in 2009, is to be named the Clyde and Ethel Dickson Domestic Violence Shelter in honor of the deceased couple whose foundation emptied its coffers for the gift. Clyde Dickson, who died in the 1980s, was head of C.C. Dickson Co., a heating and air-conditioning firm still headquartered in the Charlotte area. Under his leadership, the company grew to 120 branches across the southeastern United States. His wife, Ethel, died in the mid-1990s. The shelter's groundbreaking was held Thursday on West Boulevard. When completed next fall, it will have beds for 80 women and children, compared to 25 in the current shelter. Phil Kline, CEO of United Family Services, said the Dicksons' gift put the project's fund drive within $500,000 of its estimated $8 million building cost. "We're in a position to finally start construction," Kline said. "If it wasn't for this gift, we'd still be waiting." The money was arranged through attorney Jim Preston, who heads the Dickson family's foundation, called the Croydon Foundation. The couple's three children - Clyde Jr., Cecilia and Robert - started the foundation and make up half its six-member board. The donation is the Croydon Foundation's largest gift ever and could be its last, since it represents the bulk of the foundation's money, Preston said. The name of the foundation comes from the street on which the couple raised their children, he said. "The foundation evolved into one that was very quiet, giving out only $50,000 to $100,000 a year, but the Dicksons' children decided that it was time to let Clyde and Ethel be known in town," said Preston, who had been the couple's lawyer. "Clyde and Ethel were very unassuming people who grew a significant business but never made a splash about it." Preston said he and Kline began talking months ago about a $50,000 grant. How ever, the foundation decided to put up $1 million, Preston said. Kline was told of the switch in a phone call. "I won't say I danced on the table, because it would be undignified," Kline said. "Let's just say I was elated." United Family Services' goal is to raise an additional $2.5 million for the shelter project, mostly to cover operating costs. When completed, it will be part of a joint project with the Charlotte Rescue Mission, which is building a treatment center on another portion of the 11-acre lot for women dealing with addictions. Copyright 2011 The Charlotte Observer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.