The Nicest Place in South Carolina: Pawleys Island

NICEST PLACES IN AMERICA 2020 FINALIST
"Kids Leading the Way"

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A call for support is met with a mighty response and two unlikely neighbors find common ground on racial justice.

The staff of Tidelands Health, a healthcare company with several hospitals on the coast of South Carolina, were on edge with fear and uncertainty about the COVID-19 pandemic as they watched their colleagues in the Northeast battle through what seemed like warzone conditions. If they were to be ready for what was coming, they needed a morale boost from their very own USO, a ray of hope for the future. And that’s just what the people of Pawleys Island gave them. The sleepy seaside community about 25 miles south of Myrtle Beach is best known for the barrier island of the same name that makes up just a small part of town. About 100 people still live there in historical homes and, in some places, the charming sliver of land is just one house wide.

Pastor Don Williams of Pawleys Island Community Church reached out to Tidelands and asked what his corner of the community could do to help. “We wanted to serve those who serve us,” says Williams.

They decided to show their support by telling the people at Tidelands just what they thought of them. It started small, with an empty basket outside the church doors. Church members were told to write to the workers at Tidelands, a handwritten note to thank them for their service, to say they were supported by the community. Word spread beyond the congregation, and by the time the campaign was over ten days later, 1,800 cards had been collected. After spending two weeks in quarantine to make sure the messages of hope didn’t accidentally infect anyone, they were delivered to Tidelands, bags and bags of cards.

cards for Tidelands Health from Pawleys Island Community ChurchCourtesy Tidelands Health (2)
Cards came flooding in to thank the workers at Tidelands.

“It was overwhelming,” says Amy Stevens, vice president of Tidelands Health. “It has probably been one of my favorite moments of my career and I’ve been doing this for over 20 years now. I just sat in my office and cried looking at the cards; I really did. It wasn’t just like someone signed their name. Every one of these handwritten cards had notes of encouragement.”

One card came from a 92-year-old World War II veteran that said that he considers the frontline healthcare work just as important as his own service in the 1940s. Another card came from a little girl who wrote jokes to give the doctors a smile, just one of many written in a child’s unsteady scrawl. Tidelands was able to distribute the cards throughout the organization. Between this payload and those sent independently, everyone at Tidelands, which employs 2,500 at four hospitals along with 60 other locations, was able to have one of their own.

Around the same time, Sheriff Carter Weaver, whose jurisdiction of Georgetown County includes Pawleys Island, wrote a different kind of letter: he wrote to his staff in the days immediately following George Floyd’s death. The first line reads, “I cannot sit here and remain silent.” Weaver, who has a law degree, analyzed the event from a legal standpoint and called for the officers to be arrested (days later, they were).

When he got a call from Eileen Carter, a 15-year-old rising sophomore at Waccamaw High School, asking about organizing a peaceful protest in Pawleys Island, he was on board. The sheriff, a White man, wanted to make sure the community had a safe forum to exercise their First Amendment rights. The student, a Black girl, had attended a protest in Myrtle Beach and wanted to bring the fight for racial justice home.

“She put a lot of thought into what she was trying to achieve in a short period of time,” says Sheriff Weaver of Carter.

She got the word out about the march on her social media accounts and with the help of her family. She emphasized that the walk would be peaceful, and that violence isn’t the way to solve any sort of problem. She wanted to work to unify the town, which she sure did. Some 175 residents showed up for the protest including Sheriff Weaver, who walked alongside in solidarity.

Elaine leads the protestCourtesy Tanya Ackerman/Kaleidoscope Press
Eileen Carter, center, made her voice heard on Pawleys Island.

First came talk, then came action. The Georgetown County police has changed some of its policies. Citizen advisory committees have also been set up and Sheriff Weaver has said his department will head guidance. He instigated the formation of a Youth Advisory Board, giving people like Carter a voice. A Citizens Use of Force review panel will be coming soon that will meet and review every time during the prior month that the department used force. They will look at files, body- and car-camera footage, statements and other recorded evidence.

“I think it’s important for transparency,” says Sheriff Weaver. “My biggest stance is that law enforcement talks too much. We just do. And we don’t listen. And that’s what we have been trying to do since this has happened. Eileen was a huge kickstarter in that process.”

The Nomination

Some are in a child’s scrawl, complete with stickers.

“You are a blessing. Love, Braylon”

Others, in flowing penmanship.

“We want you to know just how much we appreciate all your hard work and dedication to such a difficult job! We lift you up in prayer each day to keep you safe through this horrible virus. We are all so very proud of everything you do. Love, Betty McCulley”

All of them — more than 1,800 cards, notes and messages in total — have one thing in common. They were written from the heart.

Church members at Pawleys Island Community Church poured their love and encouragement into each message — a unique way of showing support for the team at Tidelands Health in coastal South Carolina working tirelessly to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s a lot of love in those cards,” Jim Coggin, a church leader who organized the card collection, said as he and other church members dropped off the cards to Tidelands Health.

In just a week, church members created the more than 1,800 heartfelt cards that will find their way into the hands of Tidelands Health team members. Some church members made it a family activity by encouraging their kids and grandkids to create cards.

The activity was inspired by similar efforts to send cards and notes of support to soldiers overseas. It was built on the notion of human connection — one person writing a message of encouragement to another.

“Our church family wants to be a blessing to the whole health system in our area,” said Don Williams, senior pastor at Pawleys Island Community Church. “We are so appreciative of the medical professionals at Tidelands Health who are serving us. We want to support, encourage and meet their needs during their courageous fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.”

And when Tidelands Health team members receive a handwritten card, they’ll feel the love at a time when community support means so much.

“The thought and love poured into each one these of cards is overwhelming,” said Pam Maxwell, chief nursing officer. “Over and over throughout this pandemic, our community is reaching out to support us and lift us up. We are truly grateful to the members of Pawleys Island Community Church and to everyone who has encouraged us during this challenging time.”

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