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 | By Theresa Stratford

St. Peter Continues to Shed its ‘Light’ With New Outreach Center

St. Peter Church in Beaufort purchased a neighboring building in 2020 during the diocesan Bicentennial Campaign. The parish community knew they wanted to use it to serve people in the area, but how exactly was the question.

Parishioners recognize the challenges facing the area. The poverty rate in Beaufort is 19%. By comparison, Charleston is at 12% and Columbia at 14%; and the national poverty rate is just under 13%. This puts Beaufort at a great disadvantage, and a major struggle in the community is connecting with people in need in the northern part of the county.

After much deliberation and many “think tank” meetings, St. Peter’s leadership and volunteers decided to use the building to enhance the reach of nonprofit organizations that are already serving people in need. Specifically, the building would support organizations without offices north of the Broad River. Lowcountry Outreach was created to help meet that need.

“This building will basically serve as an extension of services that organizations in our county already provide,” said Elizabeth Palmer, executive director of Lowcountry Outreach. “We know how important it is for some of these organizations to just have a space for meetings and programs. We can now provide that for them.”

She said a big concern they heard from area nonprofits was the lack of spaces for support groups and meetings, etc. She said they also realized how desperately the services were needed in the northern part of Beaufort.

“Hilton Head Island and Charleston have facilities, but that is a far reach for someone in northern Beaufort County,” Palmer said. “We had an idea to make a home for many of these nonprofits in our new building. The parish supports the building operation with its tithe, and so we are able to offer the space without charging rent or usage fees. In doing this, we are also creating a hub of collaboration between those organizations so they can support each other in reaching more people in need.”

Since purchasing the building, volunteers have been hard at work updating and renovating the space. They’ve painted, replaced fixtures, fixed doors, worked on landscaping and more. 

Lowcountry Outreach is now welcoming its first partner organizations, such as Lowcountry Legal Volunteers, Family Promise of Beaufort County, Heritage Library Foundation and Lowcountry Gullah Foundation. The outreach is also partnering with United Way of the Lowcountry to establish and train a corps of volunteers to coach and support clients of the United Way Helpline.

Palmer noted that is not all the services they will provide and that they are open to more partners in the community.

One of the ways Lowcountry Outreach provides direct service is through its volunteer rideshare program. About 25 volunteer drivers have been vetted and trained to bring the homebound to medical appointments through a partnership with Good Neighbor Medical Clinic of Beaufort. The drivers have helped patients get to over 200 appointments in Beaufort, Bluffton and Charleston. And since the collaboration began, Good Neighbor has seen the patient no-show rate drop from 18% to 10%.

“Beaufort should be different because we are here, sharing our faith and serving those in need,” explained Father Andrew Trapp, pastor of St. Peter. “Our parish vision is to be A Light for Beaufort,” which is the name of the church’s spiritual outreach.

As for partners like Lowcountry Legal Volunteers, they are looking forward to operating out of St. Peter’s outreach and expanding volunteer and professional staff to serve at the new location. Family Promise, which provides housing support for families with small children, will have case workers at their new space one or two days a week to start with the hope of adding new case worker staff and growing their presence in Beaufort. 

“We are helping them do the work they are already good at. They were just limited by space and location. Now, they have that,” Palmer added. She is the only official employee of Lowcountry Outreach, but there are eight volunteers helping with operations and performing day-to-day functions. They are guided by a six-member board of directors that includes Father Trapp.

Lowcountry Outreach is volunteer-run. As Palmer explained, the program “is about harnessing the power of collaboration” among benefactors, volunteers and organizations. She stated that she will be working to solidify outside funding and grants to support and expand the services of the developing outreach.

“Each new stage of our initiative reveals another opportunity to meet a need. There is much more to do going forward, and we look forward to doing it,” she said.

Bishop Jacques Fabre-Jeune, CS, blessed Lowcountry Outreach in early June. Palmer said he toured the building and learned about the impact the facility will have on the community.

“We dreamed of opening a center as a focal point of our service to our neighbors in need,” Father Trapp stated. “Already, such beautiful things are happening through Lowcountry Outreach. We look forward to seeing all the beautiful things that God has in store in the years to come.”