March 2011

Altruistic Islanders - Setting A Good Example

Author: Courtney Hampson | Photographer: John Brackett

If cleanliness is next to godliness, what is selflessness?

People who are selfless give up their own interests for the greater good. They often think of others, before themselves. They act willingly and generously. They give of their time, their talent, and their treasure. They are not boastful. They seek no attention in return.

In South Carolina alone, the collective efforts of volunteers were valued at more than $2.5 billion, according to VolunteeringInAmerica.gov, which works in partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics to compile the most comprehensive collection of data on volunteering and civic engagement ever assembled.

Interestingly, their research shows that, despite all the additional stresses of a difficult economy, volunteer service remains strong. In data collected over the last four years, VolunteeringInAmerica.gov reports that South Carolina boasts 923,000 volunteers, that is 26.8 percent of our state’s residents. Together, they clock more than 118.5 million hours of service per year.

Locally, there are dozens upon dozens of deserving organizations. Collectively, hundreds of selfless individuals work each day to make our community a better place—a scratch behind the ear for a dog looking for her forever home, a comforting hand to hold, a connection with an otherwise lost teenager, a meal for someone who didn’t know if they would eat tonight, a call for help answered.

Five individuals in Bluffton and Hilton Head—true altruists—are making an impact right here in our backyard. They stand out among the crowd. And deserve our gratitude.

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Raymond Holmes
Boys And Girls Clubs Of The Lowcountry
www.bgclowcountry.org

After vacationing on Hilton Head Island for 22 years, Raymond Holmes and his wife finally made the permanent move in 2008, lured by one of those iconic 72-degree December days. The Washington, D.C. area that he had called home couldn’t compete with those numbers.

Holmes’ long career in electrical engineering and computer technology for the Federal Reserve had kept him busy. Now, he was ready to give back. Having spent some time volunteering for DC Central Kitchen (an organization that served 4,000 meals a week), Holmes knew that food service and culinary arts was an area in which he wanted to contribute.

The Boys & Girls Club of the Lowcountry offered just the opportunity, and Holmes volunteers in their “canteen” as a part of the after-school program. While the literal definition of canteen is “snack bar” so much more happens in that space, according to Holmes. “Food is important, but this is where we really get to know the kids and understand their behavior, their quirks, their personalities, and where we can help. The food is the key to opening that door,” he said.

Even though it is not just about the food, Holmes ensures that the food service standards are beyond par, going so far as to get ServSafe certified through Technical College of the Lowcountry. In fact, he continues to take online classes and, in turn, trains the Boys & Girls Club staff in nutrition, sanitation, food handling, and more. “I don’t know what we’d do without him,” Bluffton Club Unit Director, Molly Smith said.

After momentarily searching for the right words, Smith continued by firing off, in quick succession, a multitude of reasons Holmes is indispensible. “He is a great mentor. He shares his wisdom. He helps mold and shape the children, especially the young men. He bridges a 60-year age gap and bonds and connects effortlessly. He also gains much respect.”

Holmes is enjoying every minute of it. “The kitchen is the most important room in the house. It is where the magic happens,” he said with a smile, recalling his younger years, waking up and smelling the breakfast that “Momma” was cooking.

Conversation and connection happen in the kitchen. At the Boys & Girls Club, Holmes is making their kitchen a home.

The Boys & Girls Club Bluffton Unit was established in 1998 to provide a safe and stimulating environment for Bluffton’s children during their after-school hours and summer.

John Walland
Hilton Head Humane Association
www.hhhumane.org

Now this is a man, anyone would be happy to walk with. However, the majority of John Walland’s walks are with his canine comrades. And he loves every minute of it.

When Walland retired from his career in the steel industry 11 years ago and moved from Cleveland to Hilton Head, he didn’t know what to expect. He arrived, sight unseen, having never been to the island. His wife, Dr. Debra Walland, talked him into the move as she had her eyes on starting a practice in the Lowcountry with a former medical school classmate. He obliged.

As luck would have it, once Walland was settled, he learned that two of his new neighbors were board members for the Hilton Head Humane Association. They got to talking. And then they got to asking—asking John if he would be interested in volunteering. Before he knew it, Walland was on the road to Columbia to pick-up cat and dog food donations. That was 11 years and 60,000 miles ago.

Since then, Walland and his wife have added five rescue dogs to the family and John’s involvement in the organization has continued to grow, much like his pack at home. Executive Director Franny Gerthoffer had a hard time putting into words how she feels about John. “The best word in the dictionary doesn’t even begin to describe this man,” she said. “Every event, John is there. Every fundraiser, his is the first money in the pot. He doesn’t know how to say ‘no.’ He truly loves the animals. He wants to save them all.”

And he tries to do just that. Earlier this year, on his way back from having outpatient surgery in Savannah, arm in a sling, feeling less than 100 percent, he saw a little dog on the side of the road. He urged his wife to pull over. As they got out of the car, Walland noticed a second dog. Surprisingly, both dogs sat there, side-by-side, wagging their tails, skinny as rails—as if waiting for this angel to rescue them. As you might expect, Walland loaded them into the car and took them home. So much for the rest that the doctor ordered! He called Gerthoffer that night to let her know she’d have two new friends dropping by in the morning.

Gerthoffer’s appreciation for Walland runs deep. “He makes our job so easy,” she said. But, why does he do it? With a warm, humbled voice he said, “It makes me feel good. Everyone needs that in their life.”

Hilton Head Humane Association works to improve the lives of homeless dogs and cats while also working to substantially lower the number of animals reproduced or relinquished.

Les Wilner
Second Helpings
www.secondhelpingshhi.org

When Les Wilner moved here from Queens, New York, 14 years ago he was shocked by the need in our community, unable to believe how many people were seeking assistance. Retired from the wholesale food business and looking for something to do besides golf, Second Helpings immediately caught Wilner’s attention.

Believing that, “this is his time to give back,” Wilner does just that by coordinating all of the organization’s Bluffton volunteers (a position he has held for more than 10 years). That means, scheduling 48 people, and two delivery routes a day, six days a week. He’s basically running a small company on his own time.

Second Helpings Executive Director, Peggy Warnke, conservatively estimates that Wilner has volunteered more than 8,000 hours in his tenure and touts his strong relationship with the food donors and his passion for the agencies to which he delivers. (The Second Helpings network extends beyond 65 partner agencies.)

For Wilner, the thank you means more than anything. “Every time we pull up in a truck to deliver food, the recipients are gracious and grateful. Sometimes we pull up to 20 or 30 people just waiting. It was a shock to me that for some folks, cake is a luxury item,” he said.

Even more shocking to Wilner—who is admittedly, “not the most emotional and affectionate person”—is the fact that a perfect stranger would give him a hug, so appreciative of his effort. It overwhelms Wilner that he receives a thank you, when in his mind there are many others who deserve the gratitude. He told the story of a woman who is a hero in her own right—a member of a church of only 15 families that delivers 3,000 pounds of food a week. “She’s who we should be thanking,” he said.

I suspect that the 4,000 people Second Helpings feeds each day, would want to extend their thanks to Wilner. But he takes it all with a grain of salt. “Charity comes back. If a little old, obese man in his mid-seventies can do it, anyone can,” he said.

Second Helpings’ mission is to collect and thereby rescue nutritious surplus foods that would otherwise have been wasted from restaurants, resorts, caterers and supermarkets. Volunteers deliver this food in a safe and healthful manner to agencies serving the disadvantaged in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. The organization neither solicits nor accepts payment for this mission.

Nancy Meyer
Bluffton Self Help
www.blufftonselfhelp.org

Bluffton has always been a “second home” for Nancy Meyer, who has been vacationing here for 30 years. After she made Bluffton her permanent home a couple years ago, she quickly entrenched herself in the local community. At an event benefiting Bluffton Self Help, Meyer noticed the “ladies in red aprons” (the signature attire for Self Help volunteers), started chatting with them, and said, “I think I’d like to join you.”

Recognizing a good thing when they saw it, the ladies immediately put Meyer in touch with the executive director, who wisely put her to work. After some time in the volunteer role, Board President Peter Bromley pulled Meyer aside and asked her if she thought the organization needed a volunteer coordinator. She quickly replied, “Yes,” not knowing that Bromley’s next question would be, “Would you like to be that volunteer coordinator?”

“I saw how she connected with people. She takes initiative. She has strong planning and organizational skills. With 60 volunteers on the roster, we need someone to take the lead. It never hurts to ask,” Bromley said. Good thing he did, ask …

Meyer accepted the challenge and dedicates time to Self Help, five days a week, making sure that every volunteer’s needs are being met. “Every volunteer has their own reason for being there, and I want to make sure we are doing right by them,” she said.

Being on site, and seeing how the organization works is particularly rewarding. “It’s a pleasure to watch an SUV drive up, two guys hop out, and say, ‘Hi, we read in the paper that you need food. We have a truck full of food,’” Meyer said. Even more rewarding, she said, is watching a volunteer greet the donors, help them unload, then realize the importance of their donation. “Everyone gets something out of it …”

At Bluffton Self Help, the purpose and mission is to help those in the greater Bluffton area who are in critical need of short-term, documented financial assistance, and to also provide them with the most fundamental needs—such as food and clothing—while urging them to become more self-reliant.

Jack Toady
Hospice Care Of The Lowcountry
www.hospicecarelc.org

With a warm voice and an affectionate laugh, Jack Toady immediately puts one at ease—a trademark quality, for a man who volunteers his time beside those who are watching their own time slip away. You might expect a Northeast native who spent his career as a special agent in the criminal investigation unit of the Treasury Department to be a tough guy. In fact, Toady is the exact opposite.

He and his wife moved to Hilton Head 14 years ago, also lured by warm temperatures and the perk of year-round golf. While the laidback lifestyle was one Toady welcomed, he also felt the need to give back.

Having seen hospice in action for a close friend, he knew that Hospice Care could be the perfect fit for him. Toady spent his first year volunteering in the office and managing the tedious bereavement follow-up process that is required for each case. In 2007, following some intense training, he moved into the caregiver role.

As a family/patient volunteer, Toady’s role is to provide company and conversation, to run errands and complete odd jobs, to give the primary caregiver time to his or herself, and in some cases, he just sits in silence, a comforting presence for those in the twilight hours of their life.

Not an easy task—making an emotional connection with someone whom you know you will have to eventually bid farewell. Toady has had patients for as short as one week and some that have stretched beyond a year. Each case is different. “It is very difficult, but when you start talking to people, you realize the interesting lives that people lead. More importantly, it is amazing the talent pool of people who have lived right here, our neighbors,” he said.

“Jack is a super star. He never says no. He is compassionate and caring, dedicated to the hospice movement, flexible and always ready to respond and go when needed,” said Renee Woodruff, director of volunteers.

Toady says, his role is a necessary one, and the reward outweighs the emotional toll.

At Hospice Care of the Lowcountry, the philosophy of care is as much about living well as it is about dying well. The mission is to help patients and their families find the fullness and joy they deserve, even as they face the anxieties of the end of life.

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One would be hard pressed to place a value on the selfless acts of this quintet. Their priceless contributions—large and small—resound loudly within our community. How ironic that they toiled long and hard to enjoy a fruitful retirement, yet in retirement, they’ve found true fulfillment through their selfless contributions.

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