Volunteer Heroes of the LowcountryMay 14, 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic brought unprecedented challenges to our community. And, as always, local nonprofits stepped up. But this time was different.
With a serious and potentially deadly virus circulating across the globe, many of our Lowcountry residents – especially those in vulnerable populations – withdrew from public activities. For many of these people, that meant putting volunteering on hold too.
Yet through the stay-at-home orders, social distancing and other public health requirements and recommendations, an inspiring number of volunteers sought safe, responsible ways to get back on the ground, helping Lowcountry nonprofits make it through the pandemic. They were needed more than ever by the organizations and communities they serve … and they stepped up in a big way.
During Global Volunteer Month (held in April) we wanted to specifically acknowledge these brave, caring people. As part of this volunteer month campaign, we asked Lowcountry nonprofits to share stories of their everyday heroes. Each organization highlighted a superstar (or duo) that stood out in service to their organization this past year.
Below, you’ll find some of the wonderful volunteer stories they shared with us. We hope you’ll be as inspired as we are.
Roy Chiulli, Programs for Exceptional People
“PEP is grateful to Roy Chiulli, who joined our volunteer roster during the pandemic (July 2020) at a time most people were cautiously staying home. Roy chose Fridays as his weekly workday to assist in anyway at PEP. He is only absent when he and his family are out of town.
Most of PEP’s volunteers join us for a certain class (e.g. cooking, ceramic or music class), but Roy prefers to stay the entire day (9:00 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.) and helps not only in different classes, but also during lunchtime, which is a challenging time at PEP when 20-30 people need help setting out their lunch.
Roy has made a great impact with several of PEP’s clients, who enjoy his company while he reads to them. If he is out of town, he is greatly missed. Roy also supports PEP by working with the development director in grant writing. Roy is the ultimate volunteer, and PEP has added a devoted and kindhearted partner … He is truly doing God’s work!”
Maggie & Rory, Arrhythmia Alliance
“This past year has been a challenge for all of us - young, old and everyone in between. No matter your age, socio-economic status or location, you could not escape the pandemic. Arrhythmia Alliance was inundated with inquiries and concerns from patients and caregivers related to COVID-19 and the challenges it presented with routine appointments, treatments and procedures. We, like all organizations affected by these changes, had to pivot – developing new ways of working so that we could ensure we had the capacity and ability to continue our mission-providing information, education and support that our arrhythmia community desperately needs.
Arrhythmia Alliance has been blessed with volunteers that continued to support our mission, even when they could not do so in person, including medical students that reviewed and contributed to our publications. The height of the pandemic brought two unlikely volunteers as well – Maggie and Rory. These are two little girls who were born with volunteering in their hearts, having already helped their mother in various advocacy missions.
The girls participated in Heart Month in February, and they were taught the basics and importance of heart health and various conditions. One day, while shopping, Maggie spotted an AED and her curiosity piqued. She had loads of questions about what would happen if her heart suddenly stopped and there was nothing around to save her. After reading the children’s resources from Arrhythmia Alliance, Maggie recruited her sister, Rory, in her personal mission of telling other children about life-saving skills to keep their hearts beating. She noticed there was no AED at her community pool, which prompted her to find out how she can get an AED in every public place – especially where children are present.”
Thor Pullon – The Outside Foundation
“Thor Pullon began volunteering for The Outside Foundation’s litter pick-up programs five years ago when he was just in middle school. Thor has rarely missed an opportunity to volunteer his time and energy. He is quite an exceptional young man, who in his own quiet and humble way, has made a tremendous impact on our local environment.
We estimate that Thor has put in hundreds of community service hours and is personally responsible for removing over one ton of trash from our local waterways over the past five years. Very few teenagers are willing to rise early on weekend mornings to trudge through salt marshes to pick up trash. His dedication and perseverance inspires all of us at The Outside Foundation. He also is a founding member of Lowcountry Trash Heroes.
Thor is currently a senior at Hilton Head Prep and will begin his college career at Baylor University this fall. He has wholly embraced our mission at The Outside Foundation: to get kids outside and to protect and preserve our local environment. We value his passion so much, we created a #hashtag celebrating his dedication to preserving our island, #BeLikeThor.”
Roy Chiulli, Sandalwood Food Pantry
“Our food pantry has been able to remain open for the past year, serving our clients outdoors – rain or shine – to address the food insecurity in the Hilton Head community caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Roy helped us in with two of our greatest challenges: 1) providing food to our clients in a safe manner; and 2) meeting the need for a drastic amount of additional food due to the large number of clients coming to our food pantry. Sandalwood could not have overcome these challenges without Roy’s ingenuity and his grant-writing skills.
Since the onset of the pandemic, Sandalwood needed to move our food clinic operations outdoors in order to operate safely. This drastic change in operations required a complete revamping of how we set up the food pantry and how we allowed our clients to proceed through the food pantry. Roy helped devise the setup of the food pantry outdoors, and then developed the procedure for processing the clients in a manner that maintained safe distancing throughout their visit. All clients were given masks and gloves for their entire family every week.
Over the past year, Sandalwood has seen a 50% increase in the number of clients coming to the food pantry each week. Additionally, these clients now had children at home and thus not receiving government-provided breakfasts and lunches. Obviously, there was a need to drastically increase the food we provided to our clients each week. The only way to afford to meet our client’s needs for food was to write grants to local and state agencies as well as private foundations. During this time, Roy has written successful grants that have provided Sandalwood over $125K in funding for food and PPE, which have enabled the food pantry to provide an outstanding variety and quantity of food (including fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh fish and shrimp, meat, seafood, dairy and eggs) to our underserved clients. These funds included over $40K from the Town of Hilton Head Island/HUD administered by the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry.
Roy truly is our pantry’s hero!”
Barbara John, Hospice Care of the Lowcountry
“Over the past 15 years, I have been graced in my position as volunteer director with Hospice Care of the Lowcountry to work with such loving, kind, caring volunteers. They work tirelessly to ensure comfort, dignity and compassion to all our patients and families. We have a special volunteer who devotes her time to pets within our patients’ homes. When I think of our Pet Peace of Mind volunteers, an immediate image of Barbara John pops into my mind. Barbara is one of a kind. She is funny, kind and very passionate about dogs. She has been a volunteer with Hospice Care of the Lowcountry for eight wonderful years. When she learned about the Pet Peace of Mind program, she said, “Sign me up!” Her dedication and continuous effort to serve is truly inspiring.
Barbara sits with animals, takes them to the veterinarian, groomers, walks them and so much more. She was assigned a patient In February of 2020 to walk their dog. The patient died on June 7, 2020, and Barbara continues to walk the dog nine months after the elderly woman’s death. I asked her, “Barbara, why do you keep walking the dog?” Her response, “Because I know she (the former patient) loved that dog and it’s helping her grieving husband.”
Barbara may not be a licensed professional, but she does her part in helping our patients and patient families enjoy their last moments with friends and family, and to grieve after they have transitioned at the end of life. To our staff, her services are priceless, and we will forever be indebted to her, as we are to all our volunteers.
M.K Clinton said, “The world would be a better place if everyone had the ability to love as unconditionally as a dog.” Barbara John is that unconditional endless love. On behalf of all the dogs she has helped, we say paws up and tails wagging for Barbara John!”
Joe O’Hayer, Second Helpings
“Joe O'Hayer, a board member for Second Helpings and the chairperson of our volunteer committee, doesn’t stop with those duties. Joe is also a regular volunteer on the Second Helpings truck in Bluffton!
This past November, Joe even helped us deliver much-needed holiday meats to our agencies in the rural areas of Jasper. He loaded the Second Helpings' refrigerated truck with meat from Sam's Club and drove for more than six hours, delivering hams, turkeys and pork butts. He was the holiday Santa with a "sleigh" full of protein for more than 1,000 families!”
Mary Wilcox, Deep Well Project
“Mary Wilcox is one of our amazing Deep Well Project volunteers, who branched out into even more volunteer task areas once the pandemic hit. Mary continued to work her normal half-day office shift, and also regularly covered a second shift (some weeks a third shift!) to ensure the phones at Deep Well were covered to handle all the aid requests coming in. This was especially critical during the early lockdown days of the pandemic in March/April/May of 2020, when the Deep Well phones were ringing 200+ times a day. (Our record was 330 phone calls from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. on a Tuesday in April 2020.
So while Mary was an office volunteer extraordinaire, she also picked up other tasks across our program array. She was a worker on food pantry donation drives in her home turf of Hilton Head Plantation, a key player in the annual holiday Santa Shop toy program for low-income families, and she and her husband even took on the glorious two- to three-times-a-week cardboard recycle/dump runs!
Because of the collective efforts of our volunteers, Deep Well did not miss a single day of service to our clients during the pandemic. Coca-Cola has its secret formula. Google has its algorithms. And Deep Well has volunteers like Mary … the best secret sauce in the world!”
Andi Jacobs, Lowcountry Legal Volunteers
Andi Jacobs came to us as a volunteer in January 2021. She grew up on Hilton Head and wound up going to school at an esteemed university in Canada. Andi has always had an amazing heart for service. Prior to joining Lowcountry Legal Volunteers, she interned for a program in Chicago that assisted refugee women in small business endeavors.
Andi always came in to Lowcountry Legal Volunteers with a smile on her face (albeit masked most of the time!), ready to assist clients over the phone and to draft legal documents. She worked tirelessly to make sure that during this great time of need that our clients and potential clients felt special and cared for. Andi showed up at a time when we desperately needed volunteer help – and she made a difference in the lives of our clients.”
Bill Britton, First Tee - The Lowcountry
“Bill Britton has been an amazing volunteer over the last year for First Tee - The Lowcountry. He continued to work his regular schedule, but was always able to fill in when needed. Bill will do any job asked of him and is constantly volunteering for extra time. He greets everyone with a smile and is committed to First Tee.
Bill obtained items for our online auction from his family connection to PGA Tour player Justin Thomas. In one instance, Bill even dipped into his own pocket to beautifully frame a gift from Justin Thomas and enhanced its value for the auction. He is truly a selfless person who always thinks of others first. His quiet friendliness and willingness to help others make him the perfect volunteer.”
Are you a volunteer looking for opportunities to serve your community? Or, are you a nonprofit seeking volunteers? Visit LowcountryVolunteerConnections.org. There, you can make your perfect volunteer-nonprofit match!