By Allen Turner, The News Reporter
Despite setbacks such as fundraisers canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the theft of tens of thousands dollars worth of equipment from a Whiteville storage unit, Shizzy’s Wildcat Rescue is still making progress toward opening in Fair Bluff.
The nonprofit organization, founded by Shazir Haque of Greensboro, installed about 500 linear feet of perimeter fencing Saturday on the 40-acre site that once was the home of Fair Bluff Motors. Fencing installed this weekend is 10 feet high and inside the perimeter fence will be two additional 12-foot fences designed to contain the big cats and keep the general public out of their habitats.
“If COVID-19 had not happened we would have had enough funds and large volunteer events to be on track to open by the end of this year,” says Haque. He now projects opening sometime in 2021.
Haque had a small staff funded through the N.C. Employment Security Commission, but those people have left because unemployment benefits secondary to COVID-19 were so high that they couldn’t afford to keep working and forgo the unemployment checks. “I can’t blame them at all,” Haque said. “I hope they will come back to us when COVID is finished.”
“In March we canceled an event at The Comic Dimension in Greensboro that would have generated roughly $30,000 between online support, the pledged amounts, celebrities involved, and the attendance expected. In June we canceled a charity basketball game we planned that was projected to raise well over $40,000 for us as well. Many of our donors are hurting right now and we are expecting to go through a $150,000 loss during this year, which leaves less funds to fix the buildings and to finish habitats. With all of that being said, we have amazing supporters who will continue to help and I have such high confidence in my ability and our board of directors’ ability to navigate through this difficult time as we have shown that we can do,” Haque says.
Those “amazing supporters” include Canadian film and television actress Jessica Parker Kennedy, with whom Haque has become friends and who has not only visited the Fair Bluff site to provide volunteer labor but also has donated apparel and other autographed items from her 15 films and 24 TV series appearances for online auction with proceeds going to Shizzy’s Wildcat Rescue.
Most of the work on the site, which was donated to the nonprofit in 2018 by Capital Investments of Fair Bluff and Fair Bluff Motors Inc., has been performed by volunteers from all over the state. This weekend, those volunteers included Kane Ma and Diavante Brown of Greensboro, Tay Grice of Charlotte, Davis Adams of Fayetteville and Roger Harvey of Pittsboro. Harvey is also site manager of Carolina Tigers Rescue and Haque describes his advice as invaluable. “Carolina Tiger Rescue’s help with construction really has helped to move our project along,” he says.
Haque also expresses appreciation to Columbus County Economic Development Director Gary Lanier and Les High of the Columbus Jobs Foundation, who is also publisher of The News Reporter. Lanier has been instrumental in providing advice and the Jobs Foundation has provided financial assistance, most recently after the theft of $18,000 in materials from a storage unit.
“We have more materials coming in for additional habitats in two weeks and we will begin construction on those immediately as soon as materials arrive,” Haque says. “Frank Horne and Kathy Ashley of Frank Horne Construction have been phenomenal allies to us and have helped us move our project along by donating their time and use of equipment to us to deliver the last two shipments of fence/posts/materials along with helping in other ways as well.”
He continues, “We have made such large strides towards the projects with hopes to continue to push through as much construction as we possibly can during the pandemic so that when things get back to normal we can continue our public fundraisers that were the biggest sources of income for our small organization. We have had some amazing amounts and help with fundraising contributed by Daniel Storie, Neil Hoover, Jessica Parker Kennedy, Alisha Brazeau, and other local businessmen and women who are located in Greensboro.”