COLUMBIA—In 1980, Hank and Sally Chardos started the Midlands chapter of Birthright in a Columbia office the size of a small bathroom.
Forty years and several moves later, the organization works out of a comfortable, two-room house on Richland Street where they serve hundreds of women each year who are facing crisis pregnancies.
There is plenty of space for clients to speak with volunteers, as well as rooms full of donated baby and maternity clothes, blankets, diapers and other supplies. A wall in one downstairs hallway bears evidence of Chardos’ proudest achievement — the photos of dozens of babies who were born because Birthright was there to help their mothers.
Now, Chardos said, it is time to turn Birthright over to new leadership. In early October, he announced he will retire from his position as executive director and co-founder of Birthright in March of 2021. He wants to spend more time with Sally, his five children and 18 grandchildren. The couple moved to a home in the Indian Land community in Lancaster County three years ago to be closer to three daughters who live nearby, and he has been commuting and living in Columbia during the week since then.
“Birthright is in a great position right now in terms of financial support, donations, a strong program director and volunteers, so this makes it a good time for me to step aside,” Chardos said.
His successor will be picked by Birthright’s board of directors. He said it will be a challenge for them to find someone willing to take the helm of a service that offers so much to so many women in crisis.
“Doing this is not a job, but a vocation,” he said. “It is a commitment and a lot of work, but what we do is really ordinary and simple. We help women who might not know what their next step is going to be. We let them know that things may be challenging and difficult, but we are going to work through that with them and be there with them as they have their baby. Never in 40 years has a woman we have helped come back to us and said she wished she had not had her baby.”
Chardos has been able to combine the demanding hours at Birthright with other jobs. He worked as an agent with the Internal Revenue Service for 31 years and also, in 1996, founded Home Works, a non-profit organization that enlists volunteers to help elderly and low-income homeowners around the state with repairs. In 2018, his work with both organizations led to him receiving the Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina’s highest civilian honor.
Anita Campanelli, program director at Birthright, has worked with Chardos since 2017. She said his devotion to Birthright’s mission has been an inspiration to her.
“Hank is unbelievably passionate about what he does — he loves his clients and will do anything he can for them,” Campanelli said. “He will go over and above to make sure a pregnant woman in need gets help, whether that means meeting her at the office or going elsewhere. Whoever has crossed his path has received help and love.”
She said the impact Chardos has made has been evident in the days since he announced his retirement. People from around the state who have worked with him for many years, even in the earliest years of Birthright, have been calling to check on him and express their thanks for what he has done over the years.
“People know him and love him and the friendships he has made are everlasting,” Campanelli said.
Chardos, meanwhile, is confident Birthright will continue to thrive because of what it means to the community.
“Birthright has been so blessed by the community support,” Chardos said. “Everything we get comes from the grace of God. Every single day we have someone who comes to us with a donation, whether it’s money, maternity clothes, baby supplies or other supplies. I think it’s because of the message of hope we offer. When people become aware of Birthright and what we do, they realize through their help they can help another baby to be born, to add another photo to that wall.”