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We lean on each other


LOCAL Life asked Sandy Gillis to share her thoughts on what it means to be local. Gillis is the executive director of The Deep Well Project, a social services organization based on Hilton Head Island. LOCAL Life welcomes letters to the editor and comments to our website. Write to [email protected]

LOCAL SINCE 1986 Sandy Gillis is the executive director of The Deep Well Project, a predominantly volunteer-based nonprofit that helps locals in emergency situations. Learn more at

Thirty-four years ago this June I drove across the bridge to Hilton Head Island for the very first time. A job brought me here – not a vacation. I intended to learn a lot at my three-month summer internship at a local advertising agency, then go land an exciting job in advertising/marketing someplace like Atlanta or Charlotte or Jacksonville.

But then a funny thing happened — I never left Hilton Head. Three months became 34 years.

After a zany and educational internship at a local ad agency filled with creative, skilled and dedicated advertising pros like Tom Gardo, Tim Doughtie, John David Rose, Porter Thompson and Glen McCaskey, I moved on to an equally educational and fun job at Southern Marketing Services, with a cast of characters directed by Roger Fulton and Sally Park. All of these marketing titans — so gifted — taught me truths about business, but more importantly, about life and how to be a good person.

Next up, in the summer of 1989 I landed at The Island Packet as a sales representative. Yes, the person whose only sales experience was selling Girl Scout cookies, went into sales. And loved it.

At the Packet for the next 29 years I worked with and met an army of local legends, from the business world, sports arena, people of faith, the whole gamut. Some of these people were truly local and were “been here” folks. People like Abe and CharlieMae Grant and their daughter Carolyn and some of the esteemed members of the Campbell Clan — Emory, Morris, and my sweet friend Carol — who had the wisdom to marry a Campbell.

Many of the other people I met through my job and related activities were definitely “come here” people, who were pivotal in shaping the Island during the early days — dynamos like Charles Fraser, John Curry, Angus Cotton, Martha Baumberger, and Tom Peeples, to name just a few.

What an amazing 34 years I’ve lived on this lovely little Island. And I’ve learned the most significant trait that makes a person a local: Loving our community and caring for your neighbor.

Look closely at all things good, and you will track back to a person or a group of people who saw a need in our community, and cared enough to fix it. Billie Hack and Reverend Isaac Wilborn saw that hard-working people needed an excellent and affordable day care for their babies, and The Children’s Center was founded. Charles Perry and Brian Carmines realized youngsters on Hilton Head had no place to play ball or learn to swim, and The Island Recreation Center got built. And the Deep Well Project’s own Charlotte Heinrichs figured out neighbors were getting sick because their wells weren’t deep enough – so she got busy fixing that problem, plus a whole bunch more.

People who are caring and helping are at the core of being local — the silver lining in the storm ravages of COVID-19. In my role at Deep Well, I continue to see a long list of people helping in every way possible – food and financial help to cover rent and utility bills for their out-of-work neighbor, volunteering to help in the midst of the pandemic. Stepping up again and again to help. Local sees a need, then fixes it. Bless all the locals for all you’ve done – and continue to do — to care for and heal our community.