Board members and staff of Bluffton Self Help and The Literacy Center came together June 3 to officially merge their two organizations into one. @HOPKINSSTUDIOS

Bluffton Self Help and The Literacy Center have merged their 80-plus years of community service to provide expanded support to the communities of Bluffton, Hilton Head and Hardeeville.

Since 1987, Bluffton Self Help has offered direct support services in the form of financial assistance, clothing, food, and skills training needed to enter the workforce. The Literacy Center, founded in 1973 on Hilton Head Island, has conducted classes for the GED and the English language.  

“Both organizations have similar core values, similar goals. This will make us a greater, stronger organization,” said Bluffton Self Help Executive Director Kimberly Hall. “The Literacy Center will become a program of Bluffton Self Help. For the most part, the user experience shouldn’t change at all – they should still experience high quality services.”

The Literacy Center Executive Director Brad Steele said the merge will be a great partnership between two legacy organizations.

“We’re complimentary. There are some synergistic components to our programs,” he said. “We’ve done literacy programs for more than 49 years, and the face of literacy has changed. It’s pivoted from strictly teaching English as a second language and GED, and has migrated to workforce training and workplace skills.” 

“We are thrilled to be joining Bluffton Self Help,” said Literacy Center board chairman Don Brashears. He sees the move as Bluffton Self Help being the umbrella organization for his and other nonprofits to maximize the number of clients who can be reached and benefit from the expanded services.

“The best thing is the synergy of the organizations because they do have a teaching facility into which we will be able to blend our courses,” Brashears said, “and we also have a work-related program for students to reach minimum-and-beyond standards to work in local businesses.”

The transition of merging the two organizations is already under way, following a quiet signing ceremony witnessed by staff and boards of both entities, said Hall. The Literacy Center already operates out of Kitties Landing and Hilton Head, and Bluffton Self Help is now operating out of Bluffton and the Hardeeville Library.

Brashears said that Beaufort County has a 9% to 12% illiteracy rate, and the merge benefits those individuals as well as people moving to the area from other countries. Stronger language skills help increase standards of living. 

“There is a really big workforce issue around that,” said Hall. 

Bluffton Self Help offers skills training, resume writing, job placement, mentorship. The Literacy Center has workplace training agreements with local businesses such as Vaden Automotive and the Marriott, some of which include on-site training programs. 

“We define personal success for our students and clients we serve if they’re successful in their homes, successful in their workplace, successful in the community at large, so we give them to tools to be successful,” said Steele. “We believe literacy is the bridge from misery to hope for many of our students. We’ve been working with Bluffton Self Help for years. Even though we do literacy training, many of our students look to us as a lifeline, so we have been connecting them to Bluffton Self Help.”

Steele added that serving out of the four locations will ultimately streamline the ability to help the organizations’ clients, making it easier for them to engage in the training opportunities and other support services. 

“This is part of a plan to create a better experience for our clients, so our folks aren’t shuffled around,” Hall said. “We have an education and resources center so the collaboration will increase among the education people. By combining those we’ll be a greater, stronger organization, and create additional access to serve more people.”

For more information on the services provided or to volunteer, call 843-757-8000.

Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.