Strength in numbers

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WOMEN’S GROUP HELPS FAMILIES KEEP THEIR LAND

The home that Marilyn Blake grew up in was built by her father and uncle more than 50 years ago. It sat on land previously owned by Blake’s grandfather — land that had been in the family for more than 100 years. Her mother, Rosa Lee Driessen, had lived there until last year, when health issues forced her to move into a nursing home.

She very nearly became the last family member to call the house on Old Wild Horse Road home.

The family couldn’t afford to pay the taxes on the property in 2017, and it was auctioned off at the Beaufort County delinquent tax sale. The family had one year to come up with $7,000 to reclaim the property. If it weren’t for the generosity of a group of local women, they might not have been successful.

Blake got a call from Theresa White, founder and CEO of the Pan-African Family Empowerment & Land Preservation Network: The nonprofit group had received a large donation and wanted to use some of the money to help pay her family’s delinquent property taxes.

“God sends angels when he knows you need them,” Blake said.

Those angels came in the form of the 100+ Women Who Care Hilton Head Island group. The organization meets quarterly to give back to the community. At each meeting, members hear five-minute presentations about three different local charities with immediate needs, followed by a brief question-and-answer session. The women then vote on which charity to support, and then every woman present writes a $100 check to the chosen group.

At their October meeting, the women decided to donate to PAFEN. The money they donated paid the 2017 tax bill for Blake’s family and one other local family — and help them qualify for the county’s installment program, which will make it easier for them to break future taxes into smaller, easier payments.

WOMEN WHO CARE

The Hilton Head Island chapter of 100+ Women Who Care meets on the third Wednesday of January, April, July and October at Dolphin Head Golf Club in Hilton Head Plantation. Social time begins at 5 p.m., followed by the meeting at 5:30 p.m. For more information, go to www.100wwchhi.org.

The other family who retained ownership of their land thanks to PAFEN and the 100+ Women chapter had already lost one property in the county’s delinquent tax sale. Tracy Mitchell and her family owned two parcels on Murray Avenue of Squire Pope Road — originally part of one plot of land owned by Mitchell’s great-grandfather, Elijah Jones. One parcel was sold at the tax sale in 2016 when the family couldn’t pay the $8,000 to reclaim it.

In 2017, the family again found themselves struggling to reclaim their property after the second piece of land — where Mitchell’s mother, Annette, lives — was sold at the tax sale. Thanks to the donation from 100+ Women Hilton Head Island, PAFEN was able to step in and help.

“I was elated,” Tracy Mitchell said. “I am truly humbled and grateful.”

The 100+ Women donated a total of $11,200 to PAFEN. It was the largest single donation ever received by the organization, White said. Since May 2015, PAFEN has helped save $6 million worth of Gullah-Geechee property in Beaufort, Colleton, Georgetown and Horry counties. 

“Their donation was a major turning point for our organization in terms of being able to break the glass ceiling ... to redeem Gullah-owned property on Hilton Head,” White said. “We are just so grateful for them being able to understand the importance of what we are doing to save Gullah-Geechee land.”

The local chapter of the 100+ Women organization has donated more than $120,000 to Lowcountry nonprofit groups like Neighborhood Outreach Connection, Second Helpings, Volunteers in Medicine and PAFEN, said group co-founder Ann Tucker.

There are more than 750 chapters of the women’s organization around the world. The local group started in 2015 with just 34 members; it now boasts 120.

“We see firsthand the impact our donation makes,” Tucker said. “The generous hearts of our members reach out to find the needs in our beloved island community, and they bring them to us. As a group of passionate, caring women, we can and do make a difference.”