From The Blog

Habitat For Humanity: The Kiawah Connection

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, national attention was drawn to the work of Habitat for Humanity International, the non-profit organization whose 2,700 worldwide affiliates build more than 15,000 homes each year. One of those affiliates is Kiawah’s next-door neighbor, the local Sea Island Habitat on Johns Island, which hosted two Katrina families and sent two mission teams to
Mississippi to help out last year.

Sea Island Habitat holds the distinction of being the third oldest Habitat affiliate in the world, and over 28 years has built 208 homes on Johns and Wadmalaw Islands – 22 last year alone! The effort has provided simple and affordable homes for more than 350 adults and 750 children who had previously been living in sub-standard housing. In 2005, Sea Island Habitat was named “Affiliate of the Year” for a service area with a population of less than 50,000. This award recognized three of the 1,700 U.S. affiliates for outstanding achievement and consistent productivity over a three-year period. “Our volunteers, donors and staff have worked very hard to reach this milestone,” said Chuck Swenson, Executive Director of SIHH.

SIHH is lucky to be located so close to Kiawah! Some 700 full-time and part-time KICA members give generously of their time, land, and materials to contribute to its success. Whether volunteering at the Resale Store, Sea Island Habitat office or construction site (no skill required!), they help Habitat reach its goal of 60,000 volunteer hours annually. (It takes 2,000 hours to complete one home, and there are currently more than twenty families on Habitat’s waiting list.)

Among the many Kiawah families involved in Habitat activities are Gene and Mary Anne Witchger, with Gene being Chair of the Fundraising Committee and member of the Board of Directors. Gene and Prudence Yost have been long-time supporters of the housing ministry, and Gene also developed the annual Golf Benefit and other fundraising programs. Lynn and Dottie Pagliaro (both past Board presidents) have shared their business expertise to improve operations at Sea Island Habitat and its Resale Store. Mimi and Brian Sturgell bring their enthusiasm and talents “on site” and to special events. Mimi is a current Board Member and served as the 2003 Women Build co-chair with her daughter Stacey, making their participation a true “family affair.” Other members such as Gordon Hillock, who has significantly contributed to Sea Island’s building program, Bailey Schell, Joan Collar, Glen Brown and Kate Hayne serve along with these dedicated folks on the Board, Fundraising, and Auction committees. Habitat’s special thanks go to the many others from Kiawah who are too numerous to mention!

In addition to the individual volunteers, Kiawah Island Golf Resort and Kiawah Development Partners have been very willing to help through donations and by hosting golf and auction events. The 2006 fundraisers, for example, took place on May 20-21 with an auction at the River Course and a golf tournament at Osprey Point.

New this year was a “Charleston Teaparty” at Charleston Tea Plantation on April 8, which raised funds for the Women Build project, now in its sixth year on Johns Island. Another new fundraiser for this project was a “Party for the Slab” on April 29, held at Cindy’s Seafood & Country Market. Both of these met with an enthusiastic response and generated strong community participation in the Women Build 2006 project on Lot 27 Taylor Place from May 6-13, where a new home for the family of Janet Blake and her three children, Jalkye, Jadin and A’mya, was built.

Habitat often describes its services as a “hand up,” not a “hand out.” Families who apply for a home are selected based on need, ability to pay back the 20-year no-profit, no-interest mortgage, and willingness to perform 500 hours of “sweat equity.” By the time they move into their home, they are deeply involved in the process and grateful to the community and neighbors who made it possible. Alverna Walker was one who, in 1981, moved her family from a shack to the second home built by Sea Island Habitat. She has since paid off her mortgage, refinanced her home, and sent all three of her girls – and herself – to college!

There are many ways to make this experience a reality for deserving families. Just a few hours of your time can produce huge rewards – for the volunteer as well as the recipients. If you would like more information on how you can join your neighbors in helping, contact Sea Island Habitat for Humanity at (843) 768-0998, or log on to www.seaislandhabitat.org.