By Nikki Finkelstein-Blair | Along with cooler days and longer nights, October brings the celebration of World Habitat Day to our LowCountry Habitat for Humanity affiliate. As a local affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International, LowCountry Habitat advocates for safe and affordable housing for Beaufort families, building not only houses but thriving community in northern Beaufort County.
LowCountry Habitat operates “by locals, for locals,” relying on area volunteers alongside future Habitat homeowners to impact families and the Beaufort community. While the well-known image of Habitat may be a visiting mission team in matching t-shirts raising the walls of a Habitat home, the backbone of a local Habitat affiliate is the individuals and community groups who regularly participate in the many and varied volunteer opportunities Habitat offers.
Every year, LowCountry Habitat marked World Habitat Day last week by honoring the local volunteers who not only hammer nails and paint walls, but also build handmade outdoor furniture, collect donations, stock and staff the ReStore, organize and sell books through ReStore ReReads, answer office phones, raise funds and awareness at community events, serve on committees and the executive board, and partner to support future homeowners. LowCountry Habitat receives no income from Habitat International; its efforts in Beaufort are strictly “by local.” In fiscal year 2016, LowCountry Habitat involved more than 300 volunteers who worked over 12,250 hours to build a more safe and secure Lowcountry.
One of those volunteers was Milton Lawrence, who served the Beaufort community with LowCountry Habitat for 28 years before moving to another state earlier this fall. Milt began “making sawdust” with Habitat when he responded to a general call for volunteers by the United Way; though not a builder by trade, he gained experience working on Beaufort-area Habitat homes, and eventually came to work for LowCountry Habitat as Construction Supervisor. When he relocated to Dataw Island, Milt donated his woodworking tools to LowCountry Habitat and founded the Beaufort Collection of porch furniture, built by volunteers from donated materials. He managed the production of this line of locally-made deck chairs, rockers, dining sets, and porch swings until his retirement in August 2017.
Over nearly three decades, Milt witnessed Habitat’s direct impact on Beaufort. Milt said that “rather than ignore or complain about the problem of poverty housing… Habitat provides the vehicle to do something about it.” He said that Habitat-sponsored events like the Birdhouse Auction and Upcycled Art Auction, High on the Hog BBQ events, and Lego Builds “help the community understand the need for practical help… not just for financial donations.”
From his experience with community-based builds, Milt realized that although a house build may only involve 100 people in hands-on work, the entire community is invited to join in Habitat’s mission, to better understand the problem of substandard housing, and to learn the many ways they can help. To date, LowCountry Habitat has built or rehabbed 47 homes in Beaufort County, providing safe, affordable housing for more than 60 adults and 120 children. As Milt said, “the end result is a decent, affordable home for families who partner with Habitat. It is a wonderful blessing to be able to see a tangible result right in your community.”
When she learned of Milt’s retirement, fellow volunteer Susie Gombocz said “His contributions to our cause are too numerous to mention and all done with a humble and generous spirit. Think of the hundreds of people whose lives have been touched by this generosity.” This is every volunteer’s opportunity: to contribute, directly and indirectly, to improving the lives of the families–the neighbors–who share life together in the Lowcountry.
Are you ready to join the Habitat Volunteer Team? LowCountry Habitat hosts volunteer orientation the second Saturday of every month at their office located at 616 Parris Island Gateway. It takes just an hour to sign-up to help make a difference in our community. For additional questions or to donate to LowCountry Habitat for Humanity, please contact the office at 843-522-3500 or visit www.lowcountryhabitat.org.