Since becoming president and CEO of Community Foundation of the Lowcountry, I’ve enjoyed learning about many great local organizations.
I recently attended a meeting of the Women’s Association of Hilton Head Island (also known as WAHHI). The organization – more than 800 women strong – is one of the largest and oldest women’s organizations in the region and will soon celebrate its 60th year. Considering Hilton Head Island didn’t have telephone service until 1960 – the year before WAHHI was established – that’s a pretty impressive anniversary.
WAHHI has always been community focused. Tracy Harris, the group’s current president, and Kathy Reynolds, the group’s president in 2016-2017, told me that the club has evolved from having a more social-garden club mission to a stronger focus on community service.
But even as a garden club, the members rolled up their sleeves and tackled community issues. Harris and Reynolds shared a story from the 1970s, when a developer wanted to clear-cut an area on Hilton Head Island. “A group of WAHHI women literally stood in the road with signs and wouldn’t let the bulldozers through,” Harris said. Although ultimately they were unable to stop the developer, they bravely met the problem head on.
In 2016, when Reynolds was president, the group sought to improve their grants process, so they contacted Community Foundation of the Lowcountry. “We needed some structure and someone to ‘hold the money,'” she says. “We realized we’d benefit from the Community Foundation’s 501(c)(3) status. We also understood that by partnering with the Community Foundation, we could get a better understanding of the community’s needs and we could raise the level of the professionalism of our efforts.”
With the Community Foundation’s help, WAHHI established the Women’s Association of Hilton Head Island Charitable Fund. Working with us, the group has been given “a different way to talk about all we do and a vehicle to establish a grants program with a better process,” Reynolds says. “The Community Foundation is our partner in all of that.”
In its most recent grants cycle, WAHHI received 23 applications. The theme centered around culture and environmental issues, moving away from the women and children focus it’s had in the past. “Women and children are still important to us,” Harris said. “But I’m passionate about the environment. Each president has the opportunity to shape the grants theme to reflect the focus of their term.”
In addition to the annual grants cycle, WAHHI is currently in the planning stages for its 60th anniversary. As they focus on this important milestone, they know they can count on the Community Foundation to continue to support them. “We’re thrilled with the resources provided by the Community Foundation,” Harris said.
Christopher Kerrigan is the CEO and president of Community Foundation of the Lowcountry. cf-lowcountry.org