Three years ago, Community Foundation of the Lowcountry partnered with the Town of Hilton Head Island and the Hilton Head Public Service District (PSD) to launch Project SAFE (Sewer Access for Everyone).
Through this successful public-private partnership, land was donated, new sewer lines were laid, and already more than 200 low-income families have been connected - for the first time - to public sewer.
For most of us, heavy rains are just a minor inconvenience. But for some families living on Hilton Head Island's north end, heavy rains meant sewage bubbling up through the drains in their homes, yards becoming soggy with septic overflow, or the inability to run the washing machine or take a shower during and after a storm.
These homes were on septic systems, which frequently fail in our environment of high water tables, heavy root systems and sandy soil. This leads not only to pollution in homes and yards, but to sewage and chemicals running into our waterways.
Connecting to public sewer comes with a cost - an average of $6,700 per household. For low-income families, some who must choose between food, medicine or a car payment, the fees made connecting beyond their reach.
So the Community Foundation pledged to raise $3 million to provide grants to low-income families to connect. Jim Allhusen, board chair for CFL, was a driving force in getting the Project SAFE initiative rolling and the $3 million fundraising campaign completed.
"The project resonated with me for a number of reasons," Allhusen said. "First, it's just the right thing to do. It was a promise made to these families a long ago and it's been a long time coming."
His passion for the environment, his concern for the health of local families and children, and the long-term impact this project will have, not only on the families, but on our community, energized him.
"This was a project that could be done right and could be finished," he said. "It was fairly finite: We knew how many roads, we knew how many families, and we could estimate how much money was needed to help those families connect. And we had two partners - Hilton Head PSD and the Town of Hilton Head Island - who were fully committed."
The moral of the story, Allhusen believes, is that working together brings solutions that we might not achieve working alone.
Our thanks to the partners, donors and volunteers who made this initiative successful.
For more information about Project SAFE, visit cf-lowcountry.org/projectsafe.
Qualified families can still apply for a grant to connect. Volunteers from the Deep Well Project are available to help families complete the application process. Contact them at 843-785-2849.
Christopher Kerrigan is the CEO and president of Community Foundation of the Lowcountry. cf-lowcountry.org