Over the past 10 years, the Neighborhood Outreach Connection has worked to combat poverty in Beaufort County.
Now the founder and chairman of the nonprofit organization is asking the community for help.
NOC is most known for its after-school and summer educational programs aimed at helping children in low-income housing areas. NOC has learning centers in various communities, including The Oaks and Cordillo Courts on Hilton Head Island, and Avalon House and Simmons Cay in Bluffton.
“Kids that go to NOC don’t go to the Boys & Girls Club, YMCA or the Rec Center,” founder and chairman Narendra Sharma said. “These are just the residual kids.”
NOC is there for the families who can’t afford after-school programs or don’t have transportation to get their children to and from the programs. The organization also offers adult English classes to the Hispanic population.
NOC hires public school teachers to work with the children at its various centers and brings much-needed technology into the neighborhoods. Many families have no computers or internet access, which puts their kids at a disadvantage in today’s high-tech world.
Sharma said NOC served more than 500 children in 2017, and more than 95 percent of the children showed progress in reading and math based on standardized test scores.
According to Sharma, 40 percent of the 22,000 children attending Beaufort County public schools are below grade level in one subject. He said the achievement gap in the county is significant between minority and white children.
“Unless we do something about it, it’s going to impact our local economy,” Sharma said. “We are not going to be graduating students from high school with the right skills and knowledge so they can either go into higher education or join our workforce and be productive.”
Education and workforce development aren’t the only focuses of NOC. The group also provides health screenings to low-income families who otherwise would not have it.
The organization does this through partnerships with Beaufort Memorial Hospital, Volunteers in Medicine and the Department of Health and Environmental Control.
“If a kid is healthy and well, they perform well in school,” Sharma said. “If an adult is healthy and well, their productivity goes up in the workplace.”
For the past four years, NOC has run a learning center out of three units it owns at Cordillo Courts. Sharma said Cordillo’s board of directors asked him in 2016 to cease operations there by May 15 of this year.
The board claimed the group was not in compliance with the master deed, which states that units can be used only for residential purposes. Sharma said his organization was invited to set up in the complex years ago.
Sharma said his group went through mediation, and the judge ruled in the board’s favor, issuing a court order for the nonprofit group to cease operations at Cordillo Courts.
The Town of Hilton Head Island recently decided to add a community building to the property. The building will open to the public in about two years, and once it is complete, NOC will resume its learning center there.
In the meantime, the organization needs a place for its south-end learning center. Sharma is asking the public for help in finding a temporary location. The group has been talking with St. Luke’s Church and Providence Church about using their facilities.
“We need to find a solution,” Sharma said, adding that having no learning center on the south end of the island “would bring irreparable harm to these children and families.”
Another challenge the organization faces is figuring out how to expand in Beaufort County. Sharma hopes to replicate his business model to benefit individuals in other communities around the county, around the Lowcountry and eventually around the country.
“The challenge we have is huge,” Sharma said. “We strongly feel that the schools cannot do it by themselves in 180 days a year, six hours a day. We need to create a public-private partnership to find solutions.”
Amy Coyne Bredeson of Bluffton is a freelance writer, a mother of two and a volunteer with the Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance.