Offering Hope



For many of us, this past year has been one of unimaginable struggle. Whether you have lost a loved one to COVID-19 or you’ve seen your small business hobbled or your livelihood destroyed by the financial meltdown that followed the pandemic, 2020 has been a year of almost unsurmountable challenge. 

But sometimes, from the darkest days shine the brightest hopes. Sometimes adversity teaches us, makes us stronger as we turn our wounds to wisdom. Few know how much of a motivating factor hardship can be better than Billy Watterson.

“I grew up in a… very complicated situation,” he said. 

It’s not something he speaks of often, of the extreme poverty and abuse that marked his early years. Because, ultimately, his story did not end there. It only began there.

“It’s hard to break the cycle. And harder because there’s no access, no network,” he said. “If you get in trouble, it’s exacerbated because no one’s coming to your rescue… A series of events have allowed me to transcend that, and as a result I have this desire, almost an obligation, to help others similar to myself.”

His obligations led Billy and Brenda Watterson to create the Watterson Family Foundation, fueled by the success of this relentless entrepreneur’s many ventures, be it Burnt Church Distillery, Pizza Co., or the bevy of midwestern agricultural and industrial businesses under the Watterson Brands umbrella.

“I’m a huge fan of the underdog. I’m not talking Band-Aids; I’m talking creating real opportunity. It’s what has driven us to view our businesses as cash-flow machines that allow us to do what’s near and dear to our heart,” he said. “People dog on capitalism, but we believe in redeemed capitalism, where everything isn’t about the bottom line.”

What would eventually become the Watterson Family Foundation began with the Watterson’s philanthropy in the Midwest. Having caught the generosity bug, the couple found themselves distributing funds to needy organizations nearly as fast as they could earn it. 

“We were giving to about anything and everything… at some point we realized we were giving away an enormous amount of money with no intentionality. We couldn’t even keep track,” said Billy. “We decided to focus on stories of origin and what truly breaks our heart. Beyond that, we needed a board to hold us accountable to our mission and values so we don’t keep going off the rails.”

After moving to Hilton Head and falling in love with the Lowcountry, Billy and Brenda pursued the Watterson Family Foundation with vigor, seeking out a board and putting all the pieces in place in 2019. 

Their philanthropy is a big part of why Billy and Brenda Watterson were named Admirals at this year’s Yacht Hop on Hilton Head.

“Sometimes the smallest investment of time can impact someone’s life more than you know,” Brenda said.

Just a few months later, the COVID-19 crisis would shift the landscape of everything they were trying to do.

The Watterson Family Foundation responded to team with the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce with Help 4 Hope, an ingenious initiative that used charitable donations not only to provide meals for those in need, but to keep money flowing into local restaurants during the shutdown. 

“Help 4 Hope almost started by accident. It wasn’t something we thought we’d be doing. It really changed the nature of our foundation,” he said. “All of a sudden we transitioned from getting together and writing checks to having boots on the ground using all of these skill-sets to establish a framework and pull together all of these elements of our community. That was a lot different for us.”

The community responded, with Help 4 Hope serving as a dazzling reminder during our darkest days of the spirit that binds the Lowcountry together. The initiative raised $250,000 as of this summer.

It also served as the Lowcountry’s introduction to a force for positive change that has only begun to make its mark in our region, with contributions flowing to organizations like Deep Well, The First Tee of the Lowcountry, Community Foundation of the Lowcountry, Tee It Up For the Troops, The Literacy Center, The Mitchelville Preservation Project and more. 

“If you do the right things with the money that comes in, it’s amazing how you can transform the lives of people who are stuck,” said Billy. “More than that, it offers hope to those who have lost it.”

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