‘Hearts of Huger’ seeks to uplift and revitalize
Hearts of Huger board member Cynthia Lawrence eyes the scene like the conductor of an orchestra, knowing exactly what is needed to fine tune the effort.
“Once we get that fence up, we’ll need it painted!” she answers, and the volunteer sets off to get in position.
And that was the overall theme at last month’s Day of Caring event -- help where needed and make a difference in your community. Taking part in the effort in Huger were more than 100 volunteers, the majority of them employees from nearby Nucor Steel. Hearts of Huger, a local 501c3 organization with a mission to uplift and revitalize the Huger and Cainhoy communities, was front and center, keeping things running smoothly.
A non-profit founded by Nucor employee Tyrone Howard in 2007, Hearts of Huger has proven to be an agent of change in this tight-knit, mostly rural community, having participated in the last nine Day of Caring (DOC) events, as well as numerous service projects over the years. In DOC initiatives alone, they have logged more than 4200 volunteer hours, received more than $97,000 in material donations, and completed over 100 projects.
They have conducted repairs for local residents in need, including constructing new wheelchair ramps, fixing leaky roofs, and demolishing old homes to build new ones. They have also assisted in projects to enhance local fire department stations. In August, Hearts of Huger organized an effort to create a new home for local World War II veteran Rufus Lockwood, whose former residence had fallen into disrepair.
“The need levels are sometimes very humbling,” said current HOH board chair Bernard Watson, who assisted in the recent Day of Caring. “I get an opportunity to go out and see residents in dire need of help and struggling to make ends meet. Sometimes all I can do is refer them to a group who can do more…but the need is definitely there.”
And that is exactly why, continued Watson, Hearts of Huger came into existence.
“Tyrone had a vision of how we can bridge the gap between the needs of the community and a Fortune 500 company,” said Watson, who also works at Nucor. “There were people within Nucor that wanted to help – and make sure the help they were sending was validated and really needed.”
Many Nucor employees are members of the local community, added Watson, and they know their neighbors well.
“We talked about what can we do as Nucor employees and community members who grew up here,” he added. “…We step in and fill in those gaps.”
Watson’s fellow board member Cynthia Lawrence also is a Huger native. After spending many years living in Atlanta, she felt the call to return home and give back to a community that had given her so much. This is her second year with Hearts of Huger.
“It’s awesome,” she said. “I feel like Bernard, myself, and anyone else involved with Hearts of Huger who grew up here, it’s our responsibility to give back because so much has been given to us as children in this community. We really did live a village-style life, where everyone took care of each other…I can remember the days where many people had gardens or planted lots of vegetables, and men as a hobby did fishing and crabbing, and they came around and just gave it to people.”
Lawrence also recalls pitching in with her fellow community members at the former Cainhoy High School to paint classrooms and the cafeteria and even do the landscaping when the Berkeley County School District budget fell short for those things.
“We did it ourselves!” she said.
Once the school closed its doors in the 1990s, Lawrence says it took with it that community togetherness she enjoyed growing up.
“When the high school closed, the activities left,” Lawrence recalled. “…We had nothing to do in the evening.”
Lawrence has made it her personal mission to help revitalize the once dormant Huger Community Recreation Park into a vibrant, active place for area residents to gather. The park served as the site of the very first Hearts of Huger project and has been the focus of many more enhancement initiatives over the years. At the recent Day of Caring event, the site received new play equipment, a new basketball surface, freshly painted picnic tables, and new fencing.
The HOH organization is also supporting a summer enrichment program for kids – and Lawrence sees the park as the perfect place to tie the two together.
“When they leave the summer enrichment program (which ends at 2 p.m.) they can come right out here to the park and be involved in different programs,” she said. “It can help them with their socialization, and provide community sports to engage in. We hope to have volunteers come out and teach children tennis and golfing. That’s the vision. When we get a building, to have those things – that’s the goal, to give back to the community.”
But to fulfill that need, and a host of others, Hearts of Huger needs resources. Cost is a big part of getting projects completed, added Watson.
“Most of our building construction folks normally donate their time,” he explained. “…Our main challenge is having funds to secure materials to complete projects.”
At last month’s Day of Caring, for example, they had 15 different requests for help from the community, but they were only able to tackle eight of them for financial reasons, added Watson.
“I have two roofs now sitting in dire need,” he said. “One has a tarp over it after the last hurricane. The roof is leaking really bad. It’s gonna be about $6000 to reshingle it. Hopefully, in the next couple of months we can secure enough funding to replace it.”
And as long as there are needs, Hearts of Huger will be there to assist.
“The name really embraces what we want to do,” added Watson, of the organization’s overall mission. “We want to be the center of the community, the loving core that wants to help everybody. And we know the need is great.”
For additional information, to volunteer, or to donate, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (843) 790-4648. You can also visit their Facebook page at “Hearts of Huger Revitalization Effort (H.O.H).”