Women’s Association of Hilton Head Island: An Open Invitation
Author: Kitty Bartell
For 55 years it has been all about the love of the island. In 1960, 23 women came together on a mission to beautify Coligny Circle. By 1961, the group became the Hilton Head Garden Club, working to promote the natural and cultural beauty of the island through their mutual love of gardening. In 1965, with nearly 90 members, the name was changed to the Women’s Association of Hilton Head Island, and they undertook a more extensive charge: to benefit the community, and build relationships, fostering communication between island women. Now, with over 500 members driving approximately 35 individual interest groups, WAHHI makes an impact everywhere they go.
“There are so many smart women,” said Kathy Reynolds, the organization’s president-elect who will lead the group beginning in May of 2016. “It’s amazing; the talent and intellect that we have within our organization. One of the things we do really well is connect women together in our area. Women need to be connected to other smart women. That’s just one of the things we provide.” This year, along with supporting Sue Todd the current president, Reynolds is shepherding the club’s interest groups.
WAHHI’s interest groups are the heartbeat of the group; inspired by the passions and motivations of the membership, the groups are where several generations of island women have found their niches within the larger organization. “Billie Hack was our first president in 1965, and now her daughter Carol is a member. There are 24 past presidents who are still active in the organization,” Todd said.
The club’s unofficial start to the year begins in September with their kick-off meeting—one of four annual luncheons. “At the September kick-off, we have two hours before the luncheon officially begins where members and prospective members can come and learn about our interest groups. There is an exhibition area, where each group is represented. Those looking for new members, or those interested in starting a new group, answer questions and help others decide where they may want to join in,” Reynolds said. “My initiative for this year is to make sure no one is left behind—that everyone who wants to be in an interest group finds a place.”
WAHHI provides an opportunity for women to branch out beyond their community gates to build friendships, pursue common interests, and provide service,” Todd said. “So far this year, we have groups focusing on the arts, books, travel, computers, games, gardening, homes, photography, theater, travel, writing, a lot of food-related groups, cooking; we have the Out to Lunch Bunch that dines together 10 times a year at different restaurants; we have a gourmet group for couples. Each interest group has its own identity and operates as its own entity.”
WAHHI also has a long history of giving back to the community, Todd said. In 1967, the group was instrumental in securing a building for the island’s first daycare center, now the Children’s Center. A 1972 interest group started The Heritage Library; and in 1980, the first annual Youth Community Service Awards were presented to high school seniors who excelled in service to the community. “We were part of the island’s new bike pathway map kiosks; a group is working with Habitat for Humanity; we have filled the food bank, and done beach clean-ups.” Most recently, WAHHI provided start-up funding for the Hilton Head Island Dolphin Discovery Project in cooperation with the Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn. The project is researching the habits of local bottlenose dolphins, documenting their feeding methods, their social groups, and adaptations to the local environment.
Difference Makers, one of WAHHI’s newer interest groups is gaining a lot of attention through their focus on making a difference with monthly one-day projects. “They have close to 100 members,” Reynolds said. “They get together at the beginning of the season and talk about the things they want to do around the island and then vote on the projects they want to tackle. Difference Makers does beach sweeps. Along the way there are members of the club who are environmentalists. They accompany smaller groups within the larger group and talk about how to spot things that we might find invisible on the beach that are very important from an ecological perspective.”
This year’s September kick-off guest speaker is Kelley Paul, wife of Senator Rand Paul, and author of True and Constant Friends: Love and Inspiration from Our Grandmothers, Mothers, Sisters, and Friends. Paul used to come to Hilton Head for girls weekends, Reynolds said. “Her book is about her and seven of her college friends who continue to be friends even to this day. It’s about women and the women who have inspired them.”
Kelley Paul couldn’t be a more fitting guest as WAHHI sets off on another year of friendships, bonding, passions, service, and a whole lot of fun.
For more information about joining WAHHI and to make reservations for their September meeting, please visit www.wahhi.com.