A lifetime of giving back

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Lucinda Cannon receives  ‘Spirit of Opelika’ award

By Anna-Claire Terry
Staff Reporter

Opelika native Lucinda Cannon’s career path has taken several turns through the years including elementary education, real estate and city involvement/ administration. However, there has been a recurring theme in all of her life’s work: giving back.
Cannon was recently awarded the Spirit of Opelika Award by the Opelika Chamber of Commerce in recognition of her tireless efforts in molding the youth of Opelika and making the community a better place to call home.
Cannon is responsible for the Philanthropy 101 Program, a summer course that allows upcoming high school seniors to experience charity work and explore the ins and outs of starting a foundation, and the 20 Under 40 Class, a program designed to cultivate leadership skills in young adults and mold them into future leaders of Opelika. Cannon also founded the W. James Samford Jr. Foundation, in honor of her late brother, with the intent of teaching people the importance of benevolence.
“Growing up, my home was a soft place to fall. I had great parents, they were helping parents. They gave my brother and me a great foundation. They taught us to be upstanding, to be truthful and to give,” Cannon said. “Back then, we didn’t call it ‘philanthropy,’ we just gave.”
Cannon said she and her brother became even closer in their adult years after their parents passed away. “I think you just get closer once your parents have died. It’s like you have a glue that holds you together,” she said. According to Cannon, her brother James became sick with a disease that ultimately took his life, and it was during his final days that the vision for the W. James Samford Jr. Foundation was born. “We spent lots and lots of wonderful hours together. He told me about this foundation he wanted to start,” she said. The foundation was funded soon after his death. “He left us with no guidelines, but we’ve tried to find things that made his heart skip a beat, and give to those- those being things in Lee County, especially Opelika. Also, the Methodist church, Auburn University.”
The first Philanthropy 101 Program started in Montgomery. The purpose of the class is to allow students to visit various non-profit organizations and experience giving a gift of $700, funded by the Samford foundation, to one organization of their choice. Students then give a presentation at the end of the class and explain their choice of charity. The program later moved to Lee-Scott Academy for six years, and then to OHS, where its second year recently wrapped up. “My heart overflows with pride to see those 17-year-olds give their presentations. I feel like they’ve gotten it,” Cannon said.
Cannon never expected to receive an award for her work. “I was stunned. There have been many, many great people who have received that award,” she said.
Cannon has served as president of the Chamber of Commerce and is on the EAMC and Southern States Bank boards. She is currently a member of the Opelika Planning Commision. “My passion has always been  leadership,” she added.
Cannon has one son and four grandchildren, who bring her her “greatest joy.” Cannon also enjoys reading, golfing and spending time with friends in her spare time.
She plans to bring the philanthropy class to other cities and continue to help making people aware of others in need in the future.
“I’ve had many people who have mentored and set an example for me, and it has made me a better person. If I can share just a little of that, it’s a good thing,” Cannon said. “I don’t have all the answers, but I just like being a part of making things better.”

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