BY COURTNEY HAMPSON
The Lowcountry is a community in crisis. When we drive from Bluffton to Hilton Head, we pass community after community with landscaped entrances, fountains and gates.
But that drive does not accurately reflect the true picture of Beaufort and Jasper counties. The interconnected issues of education, housing and transportation contribute to poverty in our community and our neighbors are suffering.
Nearly six in 10 households in Beaufort County and three of every four in Jasper County are economically at risk. Not earning a livable wage ($57,000 for a family of three), these families are just one mishap away from a financial crisis. But that is just the beginning.
Education is a significant factor when it comes to income and serves as a strong predictor for poverty. In Beaufort County 28% of people who have not completed high school live below the poverty line.
In Jasper County that number is 25%. Within the Hispanic community we see the highest levels of poverty and the lowest levels of education, and many are challenged with lacking documentation or not speaking English very well.
Thirty-two percent of Hispanics in Beaufort County have not earned a high school diploma or equivalent, and 55% in Jasper County have not earned a high school diploma or equivalent.
Bluffton Self Help has a 35-year history of meeting the basic needs of our community through food, clothing and financial assistance; however, we can no longer afford to have a singular focus. Meeting the basic needs of our neighbors is not enough.
Instead, we must look holistically at all of the issues our neighbors face and take a broader approach. To do this, Bluffton Self Help has increased access to our education and career readiness offerings by merging with The Literacy Center and expanding to four locations in Bluffton (two locations), Hardeeville and Hilton Head.
The expansion of our education and career readiness programs includes more than a dozen available courses that tackle the topics of digital literacy, budgeting, goal setting, resume writing, job search, soft skills training, and citizenship in addition to our English as a Second Language and GED courses.
To help our neighbors navigate their path to success, this year we are quadrupling our client advocate team of social workers and have developed a volunteer team of client specialists to ensure that resources are available in each of our four locations.
When a neighbor comes to us for help, we know that they are potentially facing another three to five issues simultaneously.
The opening of our Resource Hub in Bluffton is now the first step many of our neighbors will take in their journey with us.
With our enhanced team, we are meeting our neighbors in crisis but are now able to also address any additional needs they may have.
This shift is an evolution of our approach. What once was a transaction is now the beginning of a relationship.
We are stepping in to advocate, support, and guide Lowcountry residents on their journey towards selfsufficiency, and ability to thrive in their family, workplace and community.
Courtney Hampson is the Chief Operating Officer at Bluffton Self Help.