Harold Watson, executive director of Programs for Exceptional PeopleHarold Watson, executive director of Programs for Exceptional People, has a difficult time talking about himself. He briefly mentions his prolific 30-year background with non-profits and church ministries before he changes the subject to his No. 1 cause. “I find a great deal of fulfillment in working with adults with intellectual and mental challenges,” he says of his work with PEP.

Founded 15 years ago by a small group of parents of disabled adult children, PEP provides a place where special-needs adults can take classes, participate in community programs and socialize with peers. “Members have goals to help increase their independence, whether it be at home or in the community,” he says.

Carrie HirschWhen Carrie Hirsch started working on the battered old “Little House” on Gumtree Road, she wondered what the neighbors were thinking.

“I thought, ‘Everybody’s going to think I’m a Realtor,’” she says, recalling how she’d drive over to the abandoned shack if she had a free hour and work to clear  brush from the site that would be transformed into the Gullah Museum of Hilton Head Island. “People would ask me what I was doing. Eventually I knew everybody by name, they knew me by name and I felt like they were watching out for me. I don’t know if they’ll ever know how much that meant to me.”

What’s intriguing about Hirsch, 49, is that she is so passionate about preserving a piece of history that holds no place in her personal history. She isn’t a native islander. She isn’t even a native South Carolinian. She’s a Hilton Head resident by way of New York City who stumbled upon the island’s true wealth while on vacation here several years ago.

Roy Goyochea: No LimitsTeen turns his life around and spreads message of hope

To go from being in a gang to quoting Gandhi is a long road for most people, but it’s a path 17-year-old Roy Goyochea has walked and lived. One of his favorite quotes is by Gandhi: “Whatever you do in the present is going to affect the future.” Goyochea “gets it” in a way many teens might never understand.

His quiet confidence arrives in a room almost before he does. As he mentors other kids and coaches soccer at the Hilton Head Island Boys & Girls Club, it’s hard to imagine just how far he has come.

mayorHilton Head Mayor Tom Peeples

As the summer season draws near, we have been hard at work to complete several new capital projects on the island. These projects will provide our residents and visitors with improved infrastructure and a new emergency service facility. 

weston-newtonOn Oct. 3, Hurricane Todd came ashore in Beaufort County, wiping out homes and businesses all across Hilton Head Island, Daufuskie, Bluffton, Beaufort, Sheldon, Fripp and St. Helena. Power was lost and government facilities were destroyed. Roadways became impassable due to severe flooding and the large number of uprooted trees piled up across the asphalt. High winds of 129 mph hurled debris into the air like missiles and left it scattered in huge stacks of rubble, completely trashing the beautiful Lowcountry landscape.

Santa Claus. Photo by Ben Ham.It’s rare to score a few minutes with the big man this time of year with his busy schedule of supervising elves and last-minute tweaks to the naughty and nice list, but once we told him he was Hilton Head Monthly’s Most Valuable Person this month, he quickly obliged.

DB: Hello, Mr. Claus. Thanks for taking a few moments to speak with me today.
SC: No problem. Please, call me Nick.

DB: In order to ensure you’re the real deal and not some shopping mall imposter, I need to ask you a quick question to verify your identity. What did you give me for Christmas in 1986?
SC: The original Nintendo, of course. How could I resist with that lovely spread of milk and cookies and that adorable, poorly-written ‘thanks in advance’ note you put out? Man, you loved Duck Hunt.

For 10 years, Hilton Head Heroes has provided vacations for families with sick children

Lindy and Gregg Russell, who founded the nonprofit in 1999.Like many couples, Gregg Russell and Lindy Ellison Russell like to flip through photo albums and reminisce about family vacations.

But some of their most precious scrapbooks don’t contain a single photograph of the Russells, or of a faraway location. Instead, they’re filled with snapshots of other families on Hilton Head Island — all kinds of families with one thing in common: a child who has been diagnosed with a serious illness.

In the pictures, these “hero children,” as the Russells call them, are frail, but beaming nonetheless.

Realtor Sean Ryan brings food to those in need as a Meals on Wheels volunteer

Realtor Sean Ryan brings food to those in need as a Meals on Wheels volunteerIn an advertisement, a smiling Realtor named Sean Ryan casually leans on a picket-and-wire fence on the beach, holding up a sign that says, “I will help you buy or sell property on Hilton Head for food.”

Given the real estate market over the last few years, the image elicits a few chuckles and defnitely warrants a closer look. It’s at that point, once you look past the picture and see what Sean Ryan is doing for the community, you realize there’s much more to him than real estate.

Ryan does in fact work for food. Only the food isn’t for him. It’s for the Lowcountry’s many invisible poor, who wonder every day where they’re going to get their next meal. And a percentage of every real estate commission Ryan makes goes toward putting food on their tables.

A Christmas miracle and the perfect ambassador for the March of Dimes

Brionna AndersonBy all accounts, Brionna Anderson is a typical, vivacious 7-year-old girl. A second-grader at Red Cedar Elementary, Brionna impresses classmates and adults alike with her talent for sports and her incredibly detailed drawings, fights of fancy that only youthful imagination and energy can create. Her bright personality and energetic zest for life are all the more amazing when one hears her story.

Brionna was born on Christmas Day in 2001, coming into this world 29 weeks ahead of schedule. Right away, she had health problems.

Her respiratory system wasn’t functioning normally, so she was quickly sent to the Medical University of South Carolina. There, she was given Survanta, which helps keep the air sac open and lungs from collapsing. The treatment was developed with funding from the March of Dimes.

Meet Joe Leland, the Lowcountry’s ‘Clam Man’

Joe “The Clam Man” Leland, right, and his partner Curtis have worked together since 1979. Here they are inspecting and counting clams on their boat in Port Royal Sound before they bag them and get them ready to sell to local businesses.Going back nearly to the dawn of man, there’s been a mystique to the sea. When it gets in your blood, any old salt will tell you that it never leaves.

For Joe Leland, that salt had been in his blood for generations, but it wasn’t until after retiring that he answered its call.

Leland, who goes by the afectionate nickname “The Clam Man,” traces his roots back to McClellanville, well known for its seafood.

“My family name goes back there. My daddy grew up in McClellanville,” Leland said. “My family’s background is in the seafood business.”