Profiles in Giving: Generous Lowcountry Volunteers

The Lowcountry is fortunate to have fostered such a strong culture of philanthropy. Whether giving time or money, it seems you’re never far from a helping hand. While there are too many to give their proper due, we thought we’d highlight a few kind souls who make our area richer by their generosity.

Carol Clemens

If you total up the number of hours Carol Clemens spends volunteering every year, you’d see that it’s very nearly a full-time job for her. Depending on the day, you’ll find her serving as an interpreter at Volunteers in Medicine, leading tours and programs at Coastal Discovery Museum, helping with homework at the Hilton Head Island Boys & Girls Club, teaching genealogy at the Heritage Library or serving as membership co-chair for the Hilton Head Audubon Society.

That’s in addition to the various side projects she’ll help out on, from lining up housing for student volunteers as part of the Notre Dame Club of Hilton Head to helping out with her church.

“As a retired high school Spanish teacher, I enjoy working with people and helping others,” she said. “Every organization I volunteer with allows me to teach or help others in some way. I feel that by giving of my time, in some small way I am helping others and making our community a better place for all.”


Margie Tomczak

Margie Tomczak has always been someone ready to “Fill the Need.” Sometimes quite literally. She is the energetic volunteer who spearheaded the “Fill the Need” program for Second Helpings. This unique program distributes groceries to the legion of workers who travel on and off Hilton Head Island on Palmetto Breeze Transit buses. “I was sort of the head cheerleader for that,” she said. “It’s evolved over time and it’s just a wonderful experience.” As it’s grown, it not only earned Second Helpings an “Organization of the Year” award, it has also gained support from organizations like Church of the Cross, Morgan Stanley, Vacation Company and Ameris Bank. It’s part of a dedication Tomczak has shown over the last 10 years as a tireless champion to the hungry and needy, starting with her time as president of St. Vincent DePaul Society. “I started with church and it was all about helping needy around here. When you’re new to the island, people are surprised that we have such a need here,” she said. Part of filling that need saw Tomczak asking for an unusual gift for her recent birthday: cash, donated by all of her friends to help a local single mom who needed eye surgery. “The way I see it, I have the time and energy to go out and help, so I’m going to,” she said.


Jeff Maine

Jeff Maine’s daughter Maggie was not even born yet when she was diagnosed with a host of health problems ranging from Dandy Walker Syndrome to six heart defects. The outlook was grim, with doctors preparing Jeff and wife Renae for life with a child incapable of seeing or walking on her own. Despite the dire predictions, young Maggie has proven to be a capable, bright young woman who serves as a beacon of inspiration everywhere she goes. She was even honored at this past year’s Heart Ball, her story shared nationally on heart.org.

Just as she has inspired so many, the miracles surrounding Maggie inspired Jeff Maine to spread a few more miracles with Proudly, a new kind of credit card that lets you automatically make a donation to the charity of your choice with each and every swipe and tap.


Ed and Susan Forbes

Once a month, Hilton Head Island’s best party is held at the gorgeous home of Ed and Susan Forbes. Those who attend are drawn by the usual trappings of a lavish party: a live DJ, swimming, fine food and the chance to mingle with friends old and new. But more than that, they attend because of the chance to give back. Each party helps raise funds for SOAR, just one among the many organization to benefit from this power couple’s attention, including The Special Olympics, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, Young Life, the Shriners and Volunteers in Medicine.

The couple’s path to giving begins in South Africa, where Ed grew up extremely poor with the only riches being the friends who supported him. He and some friends built a sailboat they used to cross the ocean to America in 1981, where Ed pursued the American dream while never forgetting to reach out to those less fortunate. Susan had pursued similar charitable aims, volunteering as a nurse for VIM and at Hilton Head Hospital and taking in those displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

They married six years ago, joining forces for the good of all. “Our favorite part about giving is that it is extremely humbling seeing the joy in these people’s faces,” said Susan. “Being able to give back makes us whole.”


Ben Kennedy

The motto of Brighton Builders is “building beyond,” and it’s a two-word mission statement that Ben Kennedy has brought into every aspect of his life. From a professional standpoint, it’s meant going above and beyond in not only creating elegant custom homes, but also in giving back, whether it’s through the company’s donation of a tiny home or in the free giving of time and resources to those in need. Just days after Hurricane Michael ravaged Panama City, Fla., Kennedy was part of a group of builders that ran toward the chaos, packing supplies and equipment and helping clear away debris. But then, he’s always been quick to deliver supplies and aid during crisis, having helped rebuild after five other hurricanes as well as the upstate’s devastating thousand-year flood.

It’s part of the way Kennedy takes a simple slogan and expands on it in inspirational ways. “I’ve survived cancer three times,” he said. “And I feel like I’ve been given three second chances and I want to give that to as many people as I can.”


Alfred Olivetti

Go Tri Sports, the company Alfred Olivetti formed 18 years ago, isn’t just a sports store and the event planner behind some of the most exciting races on the calendar. It’s also a force for good, through its Go Tri Gives organization. The nonprofit arm of Go Tri Sports has made it its mission to provide resources to the underprivileged youth of our community that need help with resources enabling them to participate in educational and athletic programs. Charitable races like Hope for Haiti and The Holy City 5K, raised funds for natural disaster victims and the families of the Mother Emanuel Church massacre in Charleston.

In addition to his charitable works through Go Tri Gives, Olivetti also gives his time and resources to the Island Rec Center Scholarship Fund and the Sea Turtle Patrol, inspired by the selflessness of his wife Keri, founder of Lowcountry Legal Aid. “She continues to show me the value in helping people,” he said. “Through life experiences, I came to understand that the key to success is to give more than you take. I believe this to be true in both business and personal relations.”


Darlene Schuetz

Growing up in Yosemite National Park, Darlene Schuetz was raised on a strong moral foundation that it is better to give than to receive. It was a platitude that she put into action when raising her son. “When we would travel and see communities with a large homeless population, we would give what we could,” she said. “It became second nature to my son to give. We looked for ways to make an impact with our own limited resources. We began by doubling our Thanksgiving shopping list and donating the entire meal to a shelter.”

That deep-seated need to give back translated to a slew of different avenues in which Schuetz volunteers, including Hospice Care of the Lowcountry, Hos-Pets, 100 Women Who Care Hilton Head, Italian American Club, Ken Anderson Alliance, Live to Give, Osprey Village and Deep Well.

“It feels wonderful to make a difference, no matter how small. I believe in living with an attitude of gratitude and to be truly grateful it is important to know not just what you have but what you can do to help others.”


Michael Znachko

Many years ago, Michael Znachko first stepped foot inside a Belize prison with the aim of spreading the gospel. What he saw was a sobering look into the addiction and hopelessness that often went hand-in-hand with incarceration. Beginning with daily 12-step meetings for the inmate population of 1,600, he founded Hope Addiction Prison Ministry, a force for good that soon spread through the country thanks to government, civic and church support. It wasn’t long before “The Belize Model” spread to the United States, where Znachko brought his ministry to Allendale Correction Institution and to facilities throughout South Carolina.

“Therefore, one of the ways to address addiction is to educate society,” he wrote. “What addiction is, its causes, its results on the individual and society, and what can be done about it. This is the objective and mission of hope ministry.”


Ezra “Cal” Callahan

When Ezra “Cal” Callahan retired to South Carolina, retracing a route in reverse that his parents made to New York where he was born, he did so with the usual goals in mind: tennis, golf and relaxation. But instead of fading away into retirement, he found something that sharpened his interests as a researcher to a razor’s edge: Mitchelville.

“It was such a hidden story,” he said. “Growing up, none of the history books had mentioned Mitchelville. I was surprised by its rich history and importance.”

Intrigued by what he had learned, he dove in to researching the first freedman community in the United States. He became the liaison between the Heritage Library and the Mitchelville Preservation Project, where he served as chairman of the planning committee and immersed himself in the stories surrounding it.

“Through the Heritage Library we were able to trace the roots of many of the people I was meeting, people who didn’t even know about their own relatives having a prominent place in the history of Mitchelville,” he said. And that connection to the living Gullah culture on Hilton Head Island, the way Mitchelville’s story can never truly be finished as long as new generations honor its legacy, forms a large part of why Callahan has given so freely of his time.

“It’s an amazing story. It’s the beginning of freedom for the black man here in South Carolina,” he said. “You think about the American dream that’s been projected over the years — owning a home, feeding your family and educating your children, that’s what existed for the freed slaves of Mitchelville.”