Since 2010, Columbia Metropolitan Magazine and the Central Carolina Community Foundation have teamed up to present the Best of Philanthropy Awards to honor people, businesses and groups in the community who serve passionately but quietly, not for accolades or fame but because they believe it’s the right thing to do. Each year, nominations are accepted from the community, and winners are chosen in five categories: individual, family, group, student/student group and local business. The Community Foundation presents the winners at its Annual Celebration and awards a $500 grant to each winner’s charity of choice.
“There are so many people helping others out of the goodness of their hearts and not asking for a thing in return,” says Foundation President and CEO JoAnn Turnquist. “We are honored to shine a light on these individuals, families and businesses for their efforts to make our community a better place for us all.”
This year’s award ceremony will be held Nov. 14 at 701 Whaley from 6 to 9 p.m. The public is invited to join the celebration. Tickets are available for $50. Visit yourfoundation.org or call (803) 254-5601.
This past September, the Violence Policy Center in Washington, D.C., released its annual study analyzing state homicide data, and South Carolina once again ranked first in the nation for the number of women killed by men. It has been among the top 10 states for the past 15 years. The state’s rate of women killed by men is more than twice the national rate per capita, and almost all of the victims were murdered by someone they knew. Ann Driggers understands that perhaps more than most.
For the past five years, Ann has been running Jordan Crossroads Ministry Center – Haven of Rest (JCMC-Haven of Rest), a four-bedroom, two-bath home in Clarendon County that serves as a safe haven where women in crisis can escape their abusers and start to reclaim their lives.
“We are a crisis center,” Ann says, “which means the women have to be in a situation where they need to get away from their aggressors immediately. We’re here to help them get themselves together. We give them time to think and to plan. We help them get set up financially, whether it’s learning how to balance a checkbook or applying for food stamps or SNAP cards, and we help them make plans for work or education, if appropriate.”
Women are referred to JMC-Haven of Rest by pastors, Department of Social Services, Victims’ Advocates in Clarendon or Sumter counties, hospitals and the Department of Mental Health. It’s the only place of its kind in Clarendon County, and it serves anyone from anywhere. The house can hold up to six women and children, although it’s been filled beyond capacity before, and the typical stay is 90 days or less.
JMC-Haven of Rest is a project of Jordan Crossroads Ministry Center, which Ann founded in 2002 after she was called to minister to the “unchurched.” After several false starts, she finally found and purchased 20 acres of land with her own money, and she set about building the house, which opened its doors in June 2008. “God is at the helm of the Ministry,” Ann says, “and I give Him all praise, honor and glory.”
In addition to Ann, JMC-Haven of Rest is served by a board that holds open meetings each month at New Covenant Presbyterian Church in Manning to share the status, success and needs of the center. Board members include Cindy Bradham, Cheryl Coggins and Sylvia Whorton. “Our board members are a gift from God,” Ann says. “Cheryl is our grant writer, and she’s always finding us funding, and Cindy is our fundraising coordinator, and suggests ideas for raising money.” Recently, they held the 2nd Annual Domestic Violence Awareness Walk, for which they raised more than $3,000.
Still, there are times when Ann has had to pitch in from her own pockets to keep things running, including paying the mortgage and some of the operating expenses. Despite the costs, she is committed to serving and protecting the women of South Carolina who so desperately need her help.
Local Business Champion
Columbia Eye Clinic
Columbia Eye Clinic, founded in 1923 by Dr. Walter J. Bristow, Sr., has grown to a 13-physician practice with three locations that sees more than 130,000 patients every year and performs nearly 5,000 surgeries a month. Despite the hectic pace, the employees of the clinic always make time to give back to the community in which they live and work.
“We come to work every day with the notion that we do good things by helping people see,” says Larry Hiebert, CEO. “We take that job very seriously. But while medicine is our first focus, it’s good for patients to see that we’re not just an eye business.”
Larry came to the clinic 10 years ago after 22 years as CEO of the SC Chapter of the American Red Cross, bringing with him an idea of altruism that spread like wildfire through the 115 staff members and doctors.
Doctors see patients from the Free Medical Clinic, and the practice was the first partner in Operation Cataract, a project of SC Lions Charitable Services that provides 15 to 20 reduced rate cataract surgeries each year. They also provide a variety of other laser surgeries at reduced rates, which has been especially helpful to those without health insurance. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The clinic also raises money for Harvest Hope and Pawmetto Lifeline, and it holds regular blood drives for the Red Cross. Each year, it sponsors a team in the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Walk to Cure Diabetes, for which it has raised $100,000 over the past 10 years. “We also partnered with Southeastern Guide Dogs to adopt a seeing-eye dog as a puppy,” Larry says. “We held a contest to name him and raised $1,850 in the process.” Appropriately, the pup was named Oakley.
“We’re proud of everything we do, both to help people see and to help the community,” Larry says. “We’re not bashful, but we are humbled by this Community Champion Award. It’s quite an acknowledgement of how we are able to give back.”
Junior Woman’s Club of Columbia
Sixty years ago, the Junior Woman’s Club of Columbia was founded to bring together and equip young women to promote educational, social and civic progress in the city, state, nation and world. In the mid 1970s, members decided to focus their philanthropic efforts on helping abused and neglected children by founding Palmetto Place Children’s Shelter. “Club members saw a need for an emergency shelter,” says Marie Dieckmann, immediate past president of the club. “Two years ago, the shelter was able to expand its mission to accept children for a longer period of time, allowing less transition from location to location within the foster care system. Palmetto Place has also added an Unaccompanied Teen Program and saw its first three residents graduate from high school in May. Two of those students are now freshman in college this year.”
In addition to the club’s yearly fundraiser for Palmetto Place, Baubles and Bubbles, members also take an active hands-on role at the shelter by holding four positions on the board, having monthly “Caring and Sharing” outings with the children, helping with Christmas gifts and specific needs, and watching the house when staff members hold meetings and attend conferences. They’re also there when the kids have a bad day, when they miss their parents, when a new child comes to the shelter and just needs to be loved. They even threw a graduation party for one resident who had worked hard and was accepted into the College of Charleston. “She earned scholarships to pay for school, but she had nothing in the way of essentials and furnishings for her dorm, so we collected gift cards to help with that,” says Katie Moydell, current club president.
The Junior Woman’s Club is a relatively small organization, with no more than 100 active members at any time. “That the club is small ensures that our members all know and take care of each other,” says Katie. “In fact, my mother was a past president and Palmetto Place board member. That’s where my strong desire to be a part of the club comes from.”
Although Palmetto Place is the closest charity to club members’ hearts, they are also involved in a number of other projects. This past year, they raised money for a local girl with cancer, plus they collect and distribute care packages for military members and hold an annual Christmas party for the oncology department at Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital. And the commitment to Palmetto Place and other types of civic involvement doesn’t end when members leave the club. One former member sponsored driver’s education for the shelter teens, and another works diligently to collect silent auction items for fundraisers each year. “The support our members give to the community never ends,” says Katie. “We do things where we see a need.”
Student Group Champions
Swansea High School JAG Students
Jobs for America’s Graduates is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to helping students focus on academic success and career readiness. In more than 30 years, JAG has helped nearly three-quarters of a million young people graduate from high school, pursue postsecondary education and secure quality entry-level jobs leading to career advancement opportunities. The JAG program is found in more than 30 states across the country and is coordinated by the Department of Employment and Workforce here in South Carolina. Currently in its seventh year, the program has served about 5,500 students in 26 schools across the state, and it boasts a graduation rate of 94 percent of its students.
Tammy Jones coordinates the JAG program at Swansea High School, a school in rural Lexington County where 80 percent of the kids are on free and reduced lunch. An English teacher at the school, she was asked to take over the program from her predecessor five years ago, and she says it was the best decision she’s ever made. “It’s so rewarding to be able to work with kids in a program that helps them develop holistically, and where I can work with them on an individual basis,” she says.
The JAG program at Swansea is big on community service, which Tammy says teaches students the soft skills they’ll need in the workforce, and it also helps build their self esteem. Even though many of the kids themselves are struggling, they started a food pantry at the school, helping to feed 60 to 65 families biweekly, and the entire school participates in canned food drives to help stock it. The JAG students support Families Helping Families during the Christmas season, and they started a school pledge drive to encourage their classmates not to text and drive. They distribute ribbons at school for breast cancer awareness, and they participate in the Palmetto Health Foundation Walk for Life. They also host a school Red Ribbon week with guest speakers speaking about drugs and their dangers, and they attend the annual “End the R Word” rally for Special Olympics at the State House. Additionally, they have just started a program mentoring middle school students, encouraging them to stay in school as well, which was inspired by a Choice Bus event that they hosted there last May. At the event, a bus was set up with classrooms on one side and prison cells on the other, starkly driving home the consequences of choosing to drop out of school.
Fifty-three students are in the program for the 2013-2014 school year, but each year Tammy receives more than twice that number in applications, which speaks to the esteem with which the kids regard it. Even though 50 percent of the students in the program are in the bottom 25 percent of their class, the Swansea JAG program doesn’t promote itself as a dropout prevention program. “Our kids are kids at-promise,” Tammy says, “not kids at-risk.”
Ervin and Linda Yarrell
When Ervin Yarrell was a teenager, he left home and spent some time living on the streets. Fortunately, he was able to turn his life around and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, where he served for 21 years. His experiences being both homeless and a military veteran, combined with his awareness of the number of homeless vets living on the streets in Columbia, led him to want to do something to help them. However, he wasn’t sure about the direction or the details.
During some time spent in Florida with Linda, his wife, there was an uprising in Haiti, which led to a lot of immigration to the area in Miami where they were staying. The Yarrells heard a revival message from a minister there who had an answer for how the community could help the impoverished immigrants: instead of looking to the government or other assistance programs for help, they themselves should feed them.
And so, upon returning to Columbia, Linda and Ervin set about on a mission to feed all of the homeless here. It may have seemed like a monumental task at first, but every journey begins with just one step: on Veterans Day in 2009, they took five bag lunches to Finlay Park and gave them to the homeless they found there.
Over the past four years, those five bags have grown to 250, and sometimes as many as 300. Through the group they formed – Columbia, SC Friends of the Homeless – the Yarrells’ long-term goals are to feed 3,000 homeless at least one meal per day, seven days per week and to provide temporary housing and referral services. Short-term, they provide bag lunches in Finlay Park, and they serve 300 hot meals three evenings a week at Columbia’s downtown winter shelter.
The Yarrells do all this without any publicity, fundraising or government funds. Instead, support comes from about 400 people who are inspired by what they’re doing and want to help. They set up a schedule, and their supporters sign up to help serve meals, buy food and donate supplies when they can. Their fellow church members at First Northeast Baptist Church are an important source of volunteers and support, handling the entire meal on Tuesday evenings.
“Our mission is to see, identify, confront and relieve: See the people where they are, identify the need, confront the problem head on and relieve hunger when we can,” Ervin says. “We don’t judge anyone; we just try to help. This is something that comes from our hearts, so we just go out and do it.”