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‘Downton Meadows’ Photo Project Results in $27,250 Gift to UNC-TV
Carolina Meadows

Downton Meadows
CHAPEL HILL, NC – A “Downton Abbey”-inspired photo project at the Carolina Meadows retirement community in Chapel Hill resulted in a $27,250 donation to UNC-TV during its recent Festival 2015 fund drive.

Carolina Meadows residents have been supporting the PBS affiliate’s fundraising drives for 14 years, and this year’s level of support was 20 percent higher than the amount the community raised in 2014 thanks to the additional awareness generated by the photo project.

Carolina Meadows residents also provided support to the UNC-TV fund drive by taking pledges at the station on March 18. Thirty-two residents from the community manned the phones that night, the most that have ever participated.

“This community is known for its volunteering – it’s in our DNA,” said Charlie Lehmann, a Carolina Meadows resident and one of the project’s organizers. “Our residents donate thousands of hours to various nonprofits every year, including food pantries, a women’s shelter and a number of health- and aging-related organizations.”

Resident Susan Gaca came up with the idea of transforming Carolina Meadows into “Downton Meadows” for a series of large-scaled photo portraits after flipping through a book featuring the show’s costumes, characters and settings. Gaca and fellow Carolina Meadows residents Chris Kesner and Carol Lehmann thought the portraits might be a great way to raise awareness and money for UNC-TV’s annual fundraiser – and they quickly began to marshal support for the project.

Early on, the group found a skilled photographer who offered to take the shots pro-bono – Jack Benjamin, a 75-year-old retired pediatrician and Pediatrician in Chief of the N.C. Children’s Hospital. To capture the look of the show, the group reached out to PlayMakers Repertory Company, a regional theater group, for period costumes. Bernard’s Formalwear lent tuxedos and other formal wear. All of the clothing was provided free of charge.

For furnishings, accessories and other props conveying the grandeur of “Downton Abbey,” the “Downton Meadows” team tapped the generosity of their neighbors. Fellow residents provided a variety of elegant antique furnishings, custom jewelry and fine tableware, as well as a vintage car.

Don Stedman posing as Lord Grantham
Over the course of three months, more than 50 community residents joined the effort, organizing and modeling for the project. All of the photos were taken on site at Carolina Meadows.

“The entire project from start to finish was a true collaborative effort,” said Charlie Lehmann. “It had a very positive impact on the entire community and generated a lot of new friendships.”

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