On Sept. 11, 1989, Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach opened its doors on John’s Island. Several local people visited the center to request food and financial support for their families. A few weeks later, the area faced the devastating effects of Hurricane Hugo. People were desperate for the basic necessities of life, and the small outreach staff stepped forward to help.
Recognizing the tremendous impact that any unexpected event has on the lives of people who live in poverty, the outreach’s board of directors and staff began to design creative support programs.
Looking back almost 20 years, the outreach has initiated education programs for families, opened health and dental services, expanded its direct services and significantly increased a generous support group of 250 volunteers. Last year, 11,000 people’s lives were changed through the services and interaction with the center.
Now, a new kind of disaster is looming: An economic storm is affecting all of us, especially our neighbors who live on the edge of economic failure. The requests for basic human needs has jumped 35 percent in the last three months. Families who relied on employment in the fields of hospitality, construction and health services, to mention a few, are seeking assistance and guidance. Small business owners are faced with closings and the loss of stability for their future. Deborah Harnish, the social worker on staff, is seeing new clients who are embarrassed and frightened as they have never before had to ask for assistance.
The outreach continues to enroll more adults in the family literacy program, and many people attend English as a second language classes or general literacy sessions in the drive for self-reliance and sufficiency. Participants in life skills classes discover ways to enhance their self-respect. The center also has opportunities for children to participate in learning programs and after-school tutoring sessions.
One of the major goals of the outreach over the past two years was to build a new wellness center for women’s health, pre-natal care and comprehensive dental services. Due to the outstanding generosity of donors, the commitment of the board of directors and the untiring efforts of the wellness staff, the new facility was completed and is open for services.
In partnership with Roper/St. Francis Health Care and the Medical University of South Carolina, a well-designed, state of the art facility is available to local residents who are uninsured or underinsured. The goal was made a reality thanks to two outstanding grants of $500,000 each from the Kresge and the Spaulding Paolozzi foundations.
The board of directors and staff of the outreach are confident that the good works for our neighbors will continue. The generous spirit of compassion and sharing has made it possible for communities such as ours to care for those most in need. As we look back and name our blessings, we also look forward with hope in the many partners who support and participate in the mission of Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach.
Sister Mary Joseph is the executive director of Our Lady of Mercy Out reach.
For more information visit www.olmoutreach.org or call (843) 559-4109.