By RANDLE CHRISTIAN
COLUMBIA — The Sisters of Charity Foundation just gave the fight against social ills a million-dollar shot in the arm.
Last week, the foundation awarded Good Samaritan grants totaling over $1 million to 58 community organizations in the state. Grants went to innovative projects and programs targeted at poor and underserved South Carolinians, said Tom Keith, the foundation’s executive director. “The intent of the Good Samaritan grants is to recognize good people who do good things,” he said. “The Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine developed a focus on poverty because that has long been a concern of theirs and of the Catholic Church.”
The 58 non-profit groups were chosen from a field of 156 applicants. Nine of the applicants were Catholic organizations; two of those received grants. Recipients include grass-roots organizations just getting off the ground and more established ones like the Salvation Army. Grants range from $2,500 to $25,000. They will benefit a cross-section of the state’s most disadvantaged citizens, from special needs and minority children seeking adoption to the elderly poor in need of a decent meal.
The grants are the first ever awarded by the Columbia-based foundation. It was established in May 1996, shortly after the Sisters of Charity sold half of their ownership interest in Providence Hospital to Columbia/HCA, a national health-care system. The Sisters of Charity used proceeds from that sale to set up the foundation. With assets of over $85 million, it is the second largest organization of its kind in South Carolina.
The Sisters of Charity seek to support organizations that collaborate with other local groups whose programs build on existing community strengths and resources, Keith said. The project is being developed by St. Martin’s-In-The-Fields, an Episcopal parish, and Chappelle Memorial AME Church in Columbia is an example of that sort of collaboration, he said.
This summer, the two churches will offer an education program to children and single parents in the Bethel Bishop Chappelle Apartments, a low-income housing development. The program will include tutoring in reading, science and math for the children and parenting classes for the adults. All classes will be held at the apartment complex. As many residents as possible will help staff the program, said the Rev. S.F. James Abbott, rector of St. Martin’s-In-The-Fields. “The whole idea is to develop resources in the community,” Abbott said. “People will have the opportunity to learn that they can take control of their own lives.”
The two churches will also meet with the apartments’ residential council and management group to identify other community needs and find out what they can do to help,” Abbott said. “This is the beginning,” he said. “The four of us can work together to see what God can bring about. It’s a faith venture, and we are so grateful to the Sisters of Charity for their vision.”
Thanks to their grant, the St. Ann Catholic Outreach Center in Kingtree will be able to build on their present after-school program for the area’s economically disadvantaged African-American children. They plan to create a play area with places for basketball, hopscotch and shuffleboard. The center will also build a pavilion with benches for the children’s and the parish’s use.
The playground will fill a need that the local government in impoverished Williamsburg Council cannot meet. “The county has a very small department of recreation. There’s no place for the children to play,” said Sister Susanne Dziedzic, who directs the center with Sister Johnna Ciezobka.
The outreach center is already an important part of the community, Sister Susanne said, “so (the playground) will really be put to good use.” The nun also hopes it will become a safe haven for the children whose parents must commute to the beach to find work during the summer. “There is nothing for these children,” she said. And because the outreach center is also the parish center, Sister Susanne said the Catholic community will also benefit from the new additions.
The foundation will award another round of Good Samaritan grants later this year, Keith said. The deadline to apply for these grants is Sept. 8. To encourage more Catholic groups to apply, he said the foundation plans to work with the Diocese of Charleston to set up a grant-writing workshop this summer.
The Sisters of Charity Foundation plans to award other types of grants this year, as well. Some will be foundation-initiated research and development grants to study poverty issues in South Carolina. Grants may also go to specific organizations or coalitions to help them tackle some of the more serious problems facing the state. The foundation will consider unsolicited proposals during the summer and at year’s end.
Any non-profit group located in the Diocese of Charleston whose mission is consistent with the foundation’s is welcome to apply for a grant, Keith said. “We feel there are many worthy organizations out there that we haven’t heard from,” he said.
Abbott says the Good Samaritan grant his group received has helped forge an ecumenical partnership that includes not only the Episcopal and AME churches, but the Catholic Church, as well. “Clearly, the Sisters are now partners in this venture,” he said. “The bonds keep spreading.”
Anyone interested in more information about the grant process may the Sisters of Charity Foundation at (803) 254-0230 or write them at 2601 Laurel St., Suite 250, Columbia, S.C. 29204.