Sunday, September 21, 2014
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Home Works volunteers learn that help may involve more than a hammer

JOHNS ISLAND—Drivers on their way to the resort islands of Kiawah and Seabrook pass by pockets of poverty every day without even realizing it.

Emma Smith is one of those pockets; living off the grid in such extreme conditions that people wonder how she’s done it for so long.

“You do what you have to — to survive,” she said.

For the past five years or so, Smith, 61, has lived in the burned-out shell of her family home, or in a tent in the front yard. No water, no electricity. She cooks her meals over a fire, using flashlights and Tiki torches for light.

“She lives like it’s extreme camping,” said Jan Breuer, a volunteer with Home Works of America. “It’s very hard to believe that in the U.S. in the year 2014 someone is living in these conditions.”

It wasn’t always like this for Smith. The Johns Island native graduated with a degree in sociology and raised a family. About seven years ago, she said budget cuts ended her job in senior ministry, so she returned to her family home along Betsy Kerrison Parkway. But a fire in 1995 had left the home gutted and uninhabitable.

Eventually, unable to find work and with no other alternative, she moved into the condemned building, with blackened walls and a leaking roof.

People noticed her walking, or riding her bike. They saw her attempts at comfort: outdoor chairs, a tall stand full of plants, and more seats around the fire pit. But few knew her story.

Kathy Coder, secretary at Holy Spirit Church, said it seems no one gets involved these days.

It wasn’t until last winter, when the Lowcountry was hit over and over by snow and ice, that Smith started going over to Holy Spirit, right across the street from her home, to warm up and get a cup of coffee.

“Her hands would be just frozen,” said Coder. “When she came over here and started talking to some of the ladies, and they heard her conditions, that’s when they reached out.”

They called Home Works, who developed plans to fix the dilapidated house. Despite equilibrium issues, Smith jumped in to help the team and various church volunteers, including a group from Holy Spirit.

The first day, they cleared and cleaned the house, positive despite the soot and grime. But the second day brought bad news. Hank Chardos, founder of Home Works, had to call a halt to the project — something he hasn’t done in 19 years of the program.

“It was all boarded up before. Once we pulled the boards down and got a full look, the damage was just too much,” Chardos said, adding that it was then that they realized the tremendous structural damage the fire had caused, coupled by almost 20 years of exposure.

Chardos said they did what they could to create a temporary dwelling space, putting boards on the floors, walls and ceiling, and replacing Smith’s bed and linens.

“It was really devastating,” said Breuer. “To go into it with such hope that things were going to be better and all of a sudden it’s dashed. I really felt for [Emma.]”

As for Smith, she’s heartbroken. “I’ve put my story out there so many times and nothing’s come of it,” she said. “I’m just so downhearted, I’ve given up [on getting back in the house].”

From disappointment, though, comes hope.

Chardos said it gave Home Works’ volunteers a chance to understand the poverty in their own community. They were also able to connect with Smith’s daughter, who is raising a son, working, and going to nursing school. In September, Smith will move with her daughter and grandson into a two-bedroom apartment in Charleston.

She hopes it will provide a turning point in her life, with more job opportunities and public transportation.

For now, she continues her life of extreme camping, and if someone asks if she needs anything, she says, very firmly, “A job.”

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Sisters of Charity research shines a light on migrant workers

A juicy local peach, fresh tomato sandwiches, strawberries warm from the field — mmmm, the joys of the summer season.

While everyone has their favorite summer food, few people are aware of the migrant system that brings it to us.

The Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina wants to change that. They spent over a year visiting about eight farms in the state, talking to the migrant workers about their jobs and their lives.

Stephanie Cooper-Lewter, researcher, said the goal of the project and subsequent research brief, which was recently released, is to raise awareness and compassion for these workers, and to let the average person know how to help.

In her time in the fields, Cooper- Lewter said what struck her most was the migrant workers invisibleness because they live and work in rural areas, suffer language barriers, move place to place, and face growing anti-immigrant sentiments.

Yet without them, crops would rot in the field, she said.

Cooper-Lewter said the idea that migrants take American jobs is the No. 1 myth she would like to dispel.

In testimony from 2013, South Carolina farmer Chalmers R. Carr III, president of Titan Farms and USA FARMERS, reported this:
• out of 2,000 job opportunities, only 25 percent of applicants were American
• of that 25 percent, 89 percent who accepted the job never reported for work or quit
• in all, only 31 Americans worked the entire season

“Really, people don’t want this type of work in general,” Cooper-Lewter said, noting that it’s back-breaking labor, 12 to 14 hours a day in broiling 90-plus degree temperatures.

Maintaining an adequate workforce is just one of the constraints faced by farmers.

Melinda Wiggins, executive director with Student Action with Farmworkers, which helped conduct the research, said improving the system is a complex issue that requires delicate balance.

In the course of their research, the team highlighted five areas where change is needed:
A broken labor system. Because growers cannot depend on a domestic workforce to manage their farms, they must rely on immigrant workers to keep their farms operating. Crops picked by migrants include peaches, strawberries, blackberries, grapes, tomatoes, peppers, watermelon, corn, onions, collards, kale, turnips and more.

Dangerous conditions. Workers often toil dawn to dusk in heat and high humidity, with inadequate breaks and water supplies. They endure constant bending and picking, pesticides and sharp equipment.

Poverty-level wages. Most have incomes at or below the federal poverty level, making farm work one of the lowest paid jobs in the nation. Sometimes, salary is based on productivity. For example, some workers must harvest two tons — 4,000 pounds — of sweet potatoes to earn $50.

“Paradoxically, the very farmworkers who work each day to ensure the plates of others are filled may find themselves without enough resources to feed their families,” Cooper-Lewter said.

Substandard housing. Wiggins, with Student Action with Farmworkers, said housing is usually the worst area, noting that they have found migrants housed in gutted out buses, locked into camps at night, and husbands separated from their wives and children.

“It’s a symbol for me of the entire situation — a very visible symbol of the poverty,” she said.

Accessing schooling. Due to constant moving, migrant children often attend several schools in one academic year, which leads to incomplete education.

Wiggins, who started with the organization about 20 years ago as an intern, said in some ways, the situation has improved, with greater awareness and interest that has grown from the “eat local” food movement.

South Carolina has areas of concern, though. The state’s population is small, with 15,000 to 30,000 migrant workers, compared to 150,000 in North Carolina. Cooper-Lewter said this means the infrastructure is less stable; the workers and social organizations meant to help them are less connected.

Migrant workers are also suffering a backlash, with anti-immigration laws and attitudes of hostility, researchers said.

“I just want people to know that they want the same things that we do in life — to care for ourselves and the people we love,” Cooper-Lewter said. “My hope is that [knowing] would open hearts a little bit in terms of understanding and reaching out a little more.”

The brief concludes with concrete steps individuals can take to stand in solidarity and support the farmworker movement, encouraging people to:
• Eat organic, which reduces farmworkers’ exposure to pesticides and unhealthy chemicals.
• Support farmers who employ humane working and living conditions.
• Spread awareness about farmworker issues, such as improved wages and working conditions.
• Support the Children’s Act for Reasonable Employment, which prevents children from working in harsh conditions.
• Volunteer with organizations that help farmworkers and their families.

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Adrian Sister Jean Denomme dies at 83

ADRIAN, MICH.—Adrian Dominican Sister Jean Denomme died on July 29 at Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia. She was 83.

The Mass of Christian Burial was held Aug. 5 in St. Catherine Chapel. Burial was in the congregation’s cemetery.

Sister Jean was born in Detroit to Richard and June Penney Denomme. She graduated from Dominican High School in Detroit, and received a bachelor’s degree in Latin from Siena Heights College in Adrian, a master’s degree in education from the University of San Francisco, and a master’s degree in economics from Wayne State University  in Detroit.

She spent 16 years working in education in California. She was a teacher at St. Lawrence O’Toole High School, Bishop O’Dowd High School, and Holy Cross High School, all in Oakland, Calif. She also taught at Regina Dominican High School in Wilmette, Ill., and was principal at Aquinas High School in Chicago.

Sister Jean was the executive director at Santee Community Center in McClellanville, S.C., from 1975 to 1980.

She also spent 22 years in Michigan in education. In Detroit, she was an adult education teacher at Project C3, and Detroit Public School/ Marygrove, a teacher/coordinator at Higginbotham Education and was department head at the Community Based East Adult Education. Sister Jean also served as a consultant for one year at Schott Communities/ UD Mercy in Cement City, and as grants manager and administration assistant at Schott Communities in Cooper City, Fla.

Sister Jean is survived by a sister, Beverly Gattari of Clinton Township, Mich., and a brother, Michael Denomme, of Berlin, N.J. Memorial gifts may be made to: Adrian Dominican Sisters, 1257 East Siena Heights Drive, Adrian, MI 49221.


People & events


St. Joseph School gala
COLUMBIA—St. Joseph School’s 60th anniversary gala celebration will be Sept. 5 at 7 p.m. at the parish hall. Details: Terri Boyle, (803) 622-3650 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , or Petrina Marsh, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Run With Endurance 5k
YORK—Divine Saviour Church, 232 Herndon Ave., will host the Run With Endurance 5K Run/Walk on Sept. 13 at 8 a.m. Registration: $20 for the 5k and $15 for Deacon’s Mile. Sign up by Sept. 1 for a T-shirt. Registration ends Sept. 10. Register through the church, Sylvia Theater, or Contact: Amy Brown, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or (803) 493-5424.


Psalms study
MYRTLE BEACH—St. Andrew Church will hold “Psalms”, a Bible study on Thursdays, Sept. 11 to Nov. 20 at 10:30 a.m. or 6:30 p.m. in the parish center. Cost: $28. Email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or call the church, (843) 626-4685.


PICKENS—Holy Cross Church will hold its annual “Feastival” with music, crafts, yard sale, and more on Aug. 16 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 558 Hampton Ave. Call (864) 878-0574.

Charity Golf Outing & Auction
GREENVILLE—Knights of Columbus Council 9184 will hold its Charity Golf Outing & Auction fundraiser with a steak dinner Sept. 7 at the Preserve at Verdae. Details: Dick Zurawski, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or (864) 567-2158.

Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day
GREENVILLE—The Ancient Order of Hibernians’ annual Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day charity dinner will be Sept. 12 at Twigs Tempietto, 1100 Woods Crossing Road. The event benefits St. Clare’s Home for Joyful Hope. Cost: $45, includes dinner, dancing and a live auction. Details: Tommy Ennis, (610) 297-1812 or Tom Farrell, (864) 630-1922.

Homeschoolers Mass
SPARTANBURG—A Mass for homeschoolers celebrating the Feast of the Queenship of Mary will be held Aug. 22 at 6 p.m. at St. Paul the Apostle Church. Sponsored by Our Lady of Guadalupe Homeschool Group. Potluck follows. Bring a dish. Details: Aimee Miller, (864) 415-5780.

Women of Grace conference
GREENVILLE—The Women of Grace national conference, “Authentically Feminine, Authentically Masculine: Real Women, Real Men for Such a Time as This,” will be held Sept. 5-7 at St. Mary Church, 111 Hampton Ave. A men’s track has been added. Registration: $120 per person, $200 per couple at, (800) 558-5452.

PEOPLE & EVENTS includes items of general interest and events that are open to the statewide community. To send a notice, please include time, date, location address, city and contact email and/or phone number with area code. Items are run at the editor’s discretion and publication or frequency is not guaranteed. Send notices at least three weeks in advance of publication date to: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . For details visit and click on submit news.



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