Deep Roots: Betsy Doughtie



When Betsy Doughtie read that The Deep Well Project was looking for a new executive director, she knew she wanted the job.

“I thought, ‘Oh, that’s what I’d really like to do, but I’m not qualified,” she said.

At the time, she was running Betsy’s Gourmet to Go in Coligny Plaza, but she also had a lot of experience volunteering in the community. She helped out at church, area schools and at an alternative high school for pregnant and parenting teens.

Despite her reservations, she applied for the job. And it’s a good thing she did: More than 21 years later, Doughtie is still running the nonprofit organization.

That tenure will soon come to an end, though. Doughtie plans to retire in April.  

Founded in 1973 by Charlotte Heinrichs, the original mission of The Deep Well Project was to provide clean water for Hilton Head Island residents who were getting sick from drinking contaminated water from shallow wells.

After that goal was reached, the organization began filling other needs in the community, helping low-income families with food and rent when needed. The organization helps low-income Hilton Head residents with diapers, home repairs and even furniture.

In 1994, Deep Well started a children’s program that provides basic needs, such as medications and school supplies, for low-income families. When local public schools mandated uniforms, Deep Well stepped up and helped provide clothing.

Around 1999, Doughtie said, the organization began its livable housing program. Previously, Hilton Head Regional Habitat for Humanity had performed home repairs for Deep Well’s clients, but when Habitat became too busy with its new village in Bluffton, its volunteers no longer had time to help Deep Well.

Through the livable housing program, volunteers repair roofs, install wheelchair ramps and new bathroom fixtures, and perform a number of other services to ensure families in need have a safe place to live.

In 2013, Deep Well continued to grow, opening the “Santa Shop.” Thanks to the generosity of businesses and individuals in the community, the organization now provides Christmas gifts for children in need. Parents are able to shop for toys, books and clothing for their children at no cost.

“Now we’re really the biggest provider of Christmas toys on the island, mainly because we do such a darn good job of it that it keeps growing,” Doughtie said, adding that Deep Well provided Christmas toys for 716 children from 316 families in 2017.

In terms of the number of people Deep Well serves and the services it offers, Doughtie said the organization does about six times as much as it did when she began working there in 1996.

In 2017, Deep Well served 1,720 families, or a total of about 5,500 people. Most of them were Hilton Head residents, but the organization also works with Bluffton Self Help to assist families in Bluffton.

A lot has changed over Doughtie’s time at Deep Well — its location, moving from paper to digital files, its clientele. When the organization began, it mostly served the native Gullah community. Now it also serves the Hispanic population, as well as other island populations.


Doughtie said food is still a big need, mostly because rent has gone up so much for many residents. That leaves less money for other bills and groceries.

Hurricane Matthew obviously put a lot of residents in a tough spot financially. Because of travel costs and time missed from work, Deep Well spent more than $78,000 paying residents’ basic hurricane-related bills, such as rent, water and electric, between Oct. 12, 2016, and January 2017.

Doughtie will help train the new executive director. When she retires, she plans to dedicate more time to her hobbies—kayaking, going to the beach, cooking and working in her yard—and to visit her son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren in Chicago more often.

And, of course, she will continue giving back to the community, although she’s not yet sure in what capacity. 

“I’ve loved this job … being able to make a difference in people’s lives,” Doughtie said. “I’m still honored that I was chosen to be the director 21 years ago.”