The Lowcountry of South Carolina has been my home since the summer of 2006. While I’m a Midwesterner by birth, I’ve come to adopt and love a number of Southern cultural traits.

In an email I wrote to cancel meetings when evacuation plans were still up in the air, I referred to Hurricane Irma as “a rude interruption.” Right then I realized I had embraced the Southern penchant for understatement.

In looking back on what Irma has wrought, several things seem clear:

We learned a lot from Hurricane Matthew, and most of us who have a role in preparation or follow-up were even more prepared than before.

We see the best and the worst of people in times of crisis. Basic human kindness often overrides issues like racism, citizenship and gender as people offer helping hands and support to others. This is a fortunate outcome in difficult times and encourages me to find a way to build upon this attitude.

Anger, fear and bad behavior were also apparent, especially as folks tried to gather supplies or obtain gasoline. Looting was also a horrifying thing to see. Perhaps some additional planning around this should be considered in the future.

Small changes in direction can make a big difference. As preparations for Irma began, it was feared that the Lowcountry could have felt the same terrible impact that ultimately devastated places such as the Virgin Islands, Cuba, Florida and beyond. As Irma made minor course corrections, my relief that our local situation was improving was coupled with horror at what others were enduring.

This applies not only to storms, but to other aspects of our life and work; considerations for small changes in direction need to be understood in relation to ultimate outcomes down the road.

Working together has more value than ever. We watched as various units of government, first responders, nonprofits, businesses and individuals came together for the good of all. Each did what they could, stepping forward or back, depending on identified needs, remaining flexible and communicating often. Collaboration and communication were critical success factors, and I am proud of all who put their egos in their pockets and understood this. Moving forward, this needs to continue as damage and needs are evaluated. I believe that this is will be a continued positive outcome of this crisis.

Gratitude for all that we hold dear became stronger than ever. Returning to the offices of Community Foundation of the Lowcountry, I was so happy to see my colleagues all safe, the building operational, and a return to high alert in providing service in response to the storm.

Living generously is in the DNA of this staff, and they do not disappoint. Contributions to the Disaster Recovery and Rebuilding Fund are welcome, as are grant applications from nonprofits dealing with the aftermath.

A simple “thank you” seems like a Southern understatement, but it is not meant to be. I am extremely grateful for you all.

To access grant applications, donate or learn more about the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry, visit

Denise K. Spencer is president and CEO of the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry.