By Stephanie Braswell for The Island Connection
Established in 1989, Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach Services set out to address the undercurrents of poverty and support self-sufficiency for people in need on James, Johns and Wadmalaw Island.
The organization began two weeks before Hurricane Hugo devastated the Charleston area. After dealing with immediate concerns of disaster relief, OLMCOS began to dedicate itself to providing services urgently needed in the sea island community. Headquartered at 1684 Brownswood Road on Johns Island, OLMCOS currently extends aid to the community through education, wellness and outreach services. In partnership with more than 300 volunteers annually, the staff effectively delivers services without regard to race, religion, disability or any other extraneous consideration. Today, the organization serves approximately 5,000 families on the Sea Islands and in the Eastside Community of downtown Charleston.
Direct outreach services are available for food, clothing and financial support through an interview process conducted by the outreach intake worker. These services are for the most basic human needs. The food pantry provides assistance at no cost and supplements the diets of low-income and elderly residents. In conjunction, volunteer chefs conduct cooking classes on nutrition, teach how to extend a food budget and meal preparation instruction using supplies in the food pantry. Senior Food Boxes are distributed to eligible members of the community and the clothes closet is available for patrons to get clothing essentials. Emergency financial assistance is available for individuals for necessities like rent and utility bills.
However, since OLMCOS wants to make sure resources are used efficiently, recipients must first receive approval from a caseworker and complete a budgeting class. In addition, OLMCOS administers food, clothing and toiletries to the seasonal farmworkers on the islands. Twice a year, they coordinate with Fetter Heath Care Network to bring the 50 to 75 workers who spend June and July picking produce on local islands to the OLMCOS campus. During each of the visits, dentists from Wellness Center provide dental screenings, while dermatologists administer skin checks and provide prescriptions if needed.
What makes OLMCOS unique is their focus on the long-term sustainability and helping individuals move into more secure circumstances. They encourage education as a means for building self-sufficiency. Through a partnership with Charleston County Adult education, the OLMCOS education program offers classes in English as a Second Language, GED preparation, workforce development, budgeting, parenting, quilting and more. While adults are in class, their children are able to learn new developmental skills in the Child Learning Center. In addition, there is after-school program designed to assist elementary school age children with homework and basic academic skills with emphasis on math and reading.
To aid with summer childcare for working parents, OLMCOS holds a five-weeklong summer day camp at a nominal fee for rising 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th graders.
The Wellness Center offers health and wellness services including comprehensive dental care services, women’s prenatal care and annual exams and health education at no cost for residents who lack insurance or the means to pay for professional services as well as exercise classes for a small fee. This component is made possible by a team of professional volunteers (dentists, M.D.’s and hygienists) in partnership with MUSC and Roper St. Francis.
The Neighborhood House serves as the downtown site of OLMCOS and was originally established in 1915.
Located on America Street in the Eastside Community of Charleston, the Neighborhood House has provided help and hope for people in need for over 100 years.
With the help of a dedicated team of volunteers and other supporters, the Neighborhood House continues to be one of Charleston’s longest-running community assistance program.
Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach and The Neighborhood House are part of the legacy of the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy. A 20-member Board of Directors governs the organization which employs approximately 20 staff members. They rely primarily on community support to fund its total operating costs through grants, 800 + individual donors and support from the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy. Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach has been a reoccurring recipient of the Town of Kiawah Charitable Contribution funding. This year it was approved for a contribution of $20,000. “We are incredibly grateful for the continued support of the Town of Kiawah Island in offering hope and help to those in need in our own backyards,” said Michelle Boudet, Director of Development.
If you are interested in volunteering or more information visit www.olmoutreach.org