Meet three locals who have made an art of the simple act of doing good deeds.
Story by Barry Kaufman + Photography by Lisa Staff
This year, it feels like we could all use a little kindness. After all, everyone you know just went through 2020. And 2020 was a year that typified the saying, “these are the times that try men’s souls.”
So as we turn the page into 2021, let’s all make it our New Year’s resolution to just be a little nicer to one another, and a little more understanding of the struggles we’re all facing. If you need some inspiration, meet a trio of locals who have been the model of kindness for years.
This semi-retired volunteer helps provide tennis access to everyone.
While many around the island know Wayne Lilley for his work at Public Tennis, Inc. (PTI) and as a tireless champion of young athletes around the Lowcountry, you may not know that this in fact represents the third act in his life.
The first began in Massachusetts, where Lilley and his wife, Helga, built a software company together. Automotive Information Center proved successful, but Wayne always had other plans.
“My passion was to get away from my desk and pursue tennis as a second career,” he said. “My wife and I built the tech company together, but eventually she told me, ‘Wayne you’re going to drive me crazy if you keep working so many hours.’ So, we sold the company and began phase two of our lives.”
The Lilleys would ultimately land on the tiny Caribbean island of Nevis, where the opportunity to teach tennis to area youth had huge potential. “There was no place for kids to play tennis, so I made a deal with the local government to partner to build a couple of courts across from the secondary school.” The modest facility led to other court projects and to a program that was as much about mentorship as it was about tennis. It was a deeply rewarding seven years for Wayne coaching the kids.
When his journey took him to Hilton Head, Lilley’s first thought was to start all over again. “I didn’t want to teach at a club, I wanted to do something more like what I did in Nevis,” he said. “Initially, I asked tennis friends as volunteers to help teach local kids.” That led to doing Parks & Rec programs for youth, adults and special needs players. Eventually, Lilley’s interests and programs aligned with the good work of a nonprofit organization called Public Tennis Inc. “I was impressed that the founders of PTI were the catalyst responsible for putting the first public courts on the map in Hilton Head.” Sixteen years later, in 2017, PTI needed a burst of new energy. “They asked me to serve as President, and here we are!”
With renewed passion, PTI has grown its affordable public court programs for youth and adults, partnering with schools, Island Rec, Parks and Rec and the USTA. Lilley is particularly committed to special needs and Special Olympics athletes, partnering with SOAR Special Recreation. All of this has required engaging and training an expanded team of dedicated on- and off-court volunteers, professional coaches, and teen-player coaches. “Last year we taught 135 special needs athletes alone,” he said. “You’re not going to manage and sustain youth, adult, and special needs programs on a larger scale around the heroic efforts of just a few people. We’re thankful for the team effort!”
Helping children and adults through the game of tennis has long been Lilley’s goal. “We see tennis as a community sport, not just a club sport, and our goal is to build a large regional public tennis center which is affordable and accessible to all.”
“We have put together a conceptual sketch and a business plan for a public facility, and we’re exploring options with the county. I made a presentation back in February to County Council, and we were picking up momentum when Covid hit,” he said. “We’ll pick up the pieces post-pandemic.”
And when it’s finally built, for Wayne Lilley, it will be its own reward. “I just want us to have an impact on our kids and the community and to grow the sport.”
This retired nurse has found a way to change lives one epic party at a time.
Some people show kindness by writing checks. For some, the currency of kindness is the sweat from their brow as they volunteer their time or talents for a cause.
For Susan Forbes, kindess takes the form of throwing the most epic parties for those who need it most.
“I’ve been a nurse for 34 years. I’m a fixer. I’ve always been,” she said. “When I retired, I tried to volunteer at several places, and nothing seemed like a good fit. So when we bought Sparkleberry and renovated it, our designer MJ Bucci actually said to me, ‘If you’re trying to volunteer, my niece is Kathy Cramer.’”
As Executive Director of SOAR, Cramer has dedicated herself to enhancing the lives of those with disabilities. And she saw an opportunity in the Sparkleberry home that Ed and Susan Forbes had then recently renovated. It was the ultimate party palace.
“I found out that the special needs community does not have opportunities for social activities … hence came the Sparkleberry parties,” Susan said. “That first party we probably had 25-30 people. They’ve since grown to over 100 people. And we have a blast. They love to come to Sparkleberry. And I was just hooked after that first party.”
From that first party came a grand tradition. The monthly Sparkleberry parties offer the members of SOAR a chance to let their hair down and just an enjoy themselves among friends. These parties involve typical students from the local high schools who dance and party with the special needs crowd. The party goers are from age 8-80.
On the guest list you’ll find William, nicknamed the sportscaster, who can rattle off every statistic from nearly every sport going back 20 years. You’ll also find Marcus, who brings the house down every month with his karaoke rendition of Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire.” And of course it wouldn’t be a party without Jacob and his spot-on Elvis impersonation, right down to the costume.
Birthdays are celebrated at each party. Each guest who has celebrated a birthday that month picks a present out of a gift basket and gets a cupcake with a candle. The group also sings, “Happy Birthday.” One of the SOAR members, Devon, celebrates his birthday at every party. The Hilton Head Island Women’s Association joins in every Valentine’s Day with candy and hundreds of homemade cookies for all to enjoy.
“Everyone who comes to the Sparkleberry parties are like family to me,” said Susan. “These monthly events are also great for the parents and families of those with special needs. They get to spend time with one another enjoying a party, building friendships, and connecting to those who can relate on a whole different level.”
It also lets Ed and Susan’s family interact with a whole new group in their community. “It helps my grandkids grow up interacting with all different types of people and see that we all need the same thing, support, so be kind to everyone.” she said.
Her kindness doesn’t just stop when the party does, either. “We want to give back however we can, so anonymously we’ll do things like buy a scooter for a SOAR member who needs it to commute to work,” she said “At the end of every party we send those who are in need of food home with every drop of food left and always buy extra so no one goes without.”
The Sparkleberry home that has housed all of these extravaganzas is now on the market, but the Forbeses still plan on hosting. “Every house we’ve renovated, the first question is, ‘Can we have SOAR parties here? Is there enough parking, is there a pool? …’”
So the venue may change, but rest assured the party will go on.
This popular Realtor’s ‘Kindness Matters’ campaign came at the perfect time.
The concept of kindness took on a whole new meaning this past year. The struggle and the hardships we’ve all faced have forced us to take a fresh look at the people around us and how we treat them.
For Heather Baker, Board President for the Hilton Head Area Realtors and architect of the “Kindness Matters” campaign, this past year changed everything about the concept of kindness.
“I started it (Kindness Matters) last year because I just wanted Realtors to be kind to each other and people in our community,” she said. Not that they’re inherently unkind, mind you. Baker’s initial campaign simply encouraged them to focus on the niceties, like sending thank you cards, communicating about showings and giving back to our community. “When this year came and the pandemic started, it kind of took on a whole new meaning… It’s funny how that concept took us through this whole year.”
Sugarbaker, as she’s called due to the way her molasses-sweet Southern accent evokes memories of the show “Designing Women,” guided the evolution of the Kindness Matters campaign through the pandemic. What had first been a reminder for realtors of Southern manners became a powerful force for good, organizing food drives and gathering back-to-school supplies for children in need.
It has even spawned T-Shirts, masks and a weekly Facebook video series. During the month of April, Sugarbaker pulled a new item every day from the Gratitude Jar. “I’d take an idea out of the kindness jar every morning for 30 days of kindness. Every morning I got up and took a picture of whatever it was,” she said. These items would be a daily call to action, whether urging people to pay it forward in the drive-thru or call someone they hadn’t spoken with in a while. “That was kind of fun. My motto has always been, ‘The more you do for others, the more you do for yourself.’ It made people feel good and empowered them and gave them a sense of need when we were all wondering what was going on.”
Her favorite gratitude tip was “Hello.” Put your phone down today and look up. Hold your head up high and say “hello” to strangers. The kindness doesn’t stop there. Sugarbaker has been involved with a number of different causes going back to her Zeta Tau Alpha days, helping her sorority raise funds for breast cancer awareness. She still helps fight breast cancer, but that one cause is now joined by many.
Through her husband, Larry, she’s become an ardent supporter of both Disabled American Veterans and The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Her support of Disabled American Veterans is a tribute not only to her father, a disabled veteran, but also to her husband. Wounded in action and told he’d never walk again, Larry beat the odds and didn’t just walk. He runs marathons.
One of those marathons, Savannah’s Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon, sparked Sugarbaker’s interest in The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and has spurred her to organize several fundraisers.
And with each cause, the kindness only grows. But that’s just the way Sugarbaker was raised. “My parents were always the kindest people. They are the ones that taught us from an early age you need to do for others. They are the inspiration for the kindness.”
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