Group offers life-changing help for women in crisis
Charleston native Gina Marie Applebee didn’t need her eyesight to see how dark the world can be. Born with a degenerative retinal condition, by age 22 she was totally blind. But a lack of vision would prove to be the least of her worries.
After a difficult and abusive childhood, Gina found herself in a place no teen can imagine.
“Starting college, having no money, and being hungry and stealing and scavenging food for years,” said Gina, “after violence and grief and trauma, after exploitation, after social injustice, discrimination, after existential crises, and spiritual emergency, blindness begins to look ... not so hard.”
But the generosity of an organization known as Good Friends of the Lowcountry offered hope to Gina when she needed it most — and recently, she shared her testimony with those who helped make her turnaround happen. At the annual Good Friends of the Lowcountry luncheon, a time when the organization raises funds it will use all year long to aid local women in crisis, Gina and others spoke about the undeniable impact GFOL has had in the Charleston community.
For Gina, the road to a better life has been long and trying.
“It was a long hard road of coming home to myself,” she told the crowd gathered at The Cedar Room on Nov. 29. “... There had been no external haven for me. I have lived in ghettos with horrible housemates, and I’ve lived in many apartments with leaky ceilings, in two where entire chunks of the ceiling fell in. I’ve lived in a house in Missouri with no insulation, where the inside of the place was colder than the inside of my refrigerator and sometimes the freezer. Pipes were frozen and there was never any water. I would actually melt snow in pots on the stove to wash the dishes and flush the toilet.”
And that’s not all. Gina has lived with bats in the walls and rats in the ceiling. “And cocaine addicts and hordes of cockroaches, with no peace inside the walls or outside the walls,” she said.
This year, Good Friends of the Lowcountry helped change all of that, by providing Gina with a financial hand-up that is enabling her to build her own “tiny house.” She hopes to move in within the next couple of months.
“It’s a really, really beautiful thing that’s happened, because of women like you,” Gina said to the audience. “I think there are a lot of things we look for, but one of the most important things is this feeling of home — and at last I am going to be able to go home.”
Joyce Kephart Todd also shared her story with the GFOL crowd. She, too, received life-changing help from the organization, after her son was in a devastating motorcycle accident in June of 2017.
“Something happened,” she recalled. “Whether he was not able to negotiate the turn, or whether the brakes went out, we really haven’t been able to figure out why ... It was a single-vehicle accident. And he had gone to the edge of the Crosstown, and went over the side about 14 feet. Before he hit the bottom, he hit a bridge support. And it crushed the whole left side of his chest.”
Months of recovery and rehabilitation ensued, along with mounting medical bills and other financial pressures. Joyce’s son had been living in a home she owned and still owed a mortgage on. Since he couldn’t work, he wasn’t able to make the payments. Foreclosure was looming, until GFOL stepped in.
“The next thing I know, they wrote me a check!” she exclaimed. “I am telling you that was the biggest change in my life, because it just took so much off of me. I didn’t have to worry about expenses ... I was able to catch up.”
Those behind GFOL report there are scores of other similar success stories. In 2018 alone, they assisted 119 women, a 138 percent increase since the organization launched four years ago. The group provides one-time “hand-ups” that typically range anywhere from $200 to $800. Referrals to the program come from outside agencies and needs are met immediately.
“We minimize a lot of anguish and a lot of stress for our recipients,” said Amanda Haselden, a GFOL board member.
Co-founded by Meg Phillips in 2014, GFOL has continued to grow, both in fundraising and in the number of women it helps year after year.
“We started really small and it has just taken off and been really well received and we are so thankful for that,” said Phillips, who created the organization after being involved with a similar initiative in Charlotte. “... We’ve had a lot of success with it. I’m humbled people want to get more involved. We are truly women helping women.”
At their 2017 luncheon, GFOL raised just over $64,000 to be used in 2018. By August, the money had all been allocated to recipients, but there were still more women who needed assistance, noted Terri Henning, who also spoke at the group’s recent luncheon.
“We are giving hand-ups to women,” added Henning, “who are trying to help themselves and just need to catch a break.”
This year’s goal was to raise $100,000, noted Phillips. At last count, donations were over $133,000.
“We still have funds coming in, which is awesome,” added Phillips. “We’re almost double what we raised last year. It’s so exciting. We’re really thrilled.”
Much of the organization’s success can be attributed to their sponsors, who help offset expenses and allow all money raised to go directly to recipients, said Phillips, who noted that GFOL is all volunteer-based and has no paid staff members. Those in need are vetted through social workers and other case workers, who can apply to GFOL for assistance on their behalf.
“It’s a variety of these needs that really fall through the cracks,” noted Phillips. “Often they need immediate help ... We’ve worked with women who have had children and needed a place to stay that night, and we’ve provided that.”
Support has come from far and wide for GFOL, including Kiawah, Seabrook Island, and Daniel Island.
“More and more folks from Daniel Island are coming and getting involved,” she said. “... We’re excited about that!”
Those interested in registering for the next luncheon, becoming a sponsor or making a donation can visit the organization’s website at www.goodfriendsofthelowcountry.org.
“Good Friends of the Lowcountry is doing something really incredible here,” added Gina, in her final remarks to the group. “... So please keep up the good work.”
In closing, Gina left the audience with the following quote, from the book “The Golden Fool” by author Robin Hobb.
“It’s all connected,” she said, reciting the words from memory. “When you save one small part of the world, you save the whole world. In fact, that’s the only way it can be done.”