Recruited by Helping Hand Center, this crew of workers recently replaced a set of stairs with a newly built handicap ramp that gives the resident, who uses a wheelchair, safe access to the home. COURTESY HELPING HAND CENTER

The holiday season is a time to give thanks for the blessings that enrich our lives, including the opportunity to live in our corner of paradise in the Lowcountry. Right around the corner, however, things are very different.

The rural areas of Jasper and Hampton counties are food deserts, resources are slim and poverty is prevalent, especially among the elderly. The closest grocery store, pharmacy and doctors are in Ridgeland, and the nearest hospital is in Beaufort. Public transportation doesn’t reach some areas, and many elderly residents don’t have transportation.

Nancy Morgan, executive director of the Helping Hand Center, opened her heart to help in an area that isn’t touched by most human service organizations. She spent her career working in community service and saw how “no” usually was the standard answer when the poor elderly asked for help. 

“I saw how hard it is for them. They have no clear understanding of all the paperwork,” Morgan said. She felt they were neglected, and she became disillusioned. 

But when she retired in 2009, she asked God to give her the resources to help. She started outreach to churches and soon Morgan became the one to call when hope was lost. 

In 2012, she officially launched her nonprofit organization, Helping Hand Center. Since then, Morgan has helped hundreds of individuals and families in various ways. 

One of Morgan’s many success stories started with a call from a social worker at Beaufort Memorial Hospital. An elderly diabetic man had had his leg amputated and he was worried and agitated, because he was now in a wheelchair and knew he had no way to get back into his house. He had no money to build a handicap ramp, and it would have to be constructed before he left the hospital. 

Morgan got to work and the project was completed within three days. She said that most of her clients live on Social Security or Social Security Disability and can’t afford $7,000 for a roof, or even the cost for a ramp.

The success stories are numerous and varied. 

“A man recently called me who had lost all hope. People here are always told there is no help,” Morgan said. “He was devastated and crying because his roof was ready to fall in. Sometimes we don’t even have the money allocated, but we start the project and believe the money will come. We walk in faith.”

Home repairs are often needed just to make a home safe. “I go into homes and they don’t even realize how unsafe it is,” Morgan said. “One elderly woman asked if we could fix a door that had been blown off in a storm. The doorway was boarded up so there was only one way in and one way out. She couldn’t even lock her door. It was tied shut with a rag.” 

And sometimes that walk of faith is literal. In another case, Morgan said when she walked into the house, the floors were moving under her. 

“I was terrified. The family told me to step where they stepped, but I was afraid to walk on it,” Morgan said. “The contractor said they were walking on the floor beams and used them as a path through the house.” 

Morgan got a contractor to donate the repairs and he told her that he also painted the house. “But I didn’t ask you to paint,” she told him. He responded, “I know, but if it looks better, they will feel better.” 

“Small changes matter,” Morgan said. 

In addition to home safety projects, Helping Hand Center addresses critical needs for the elderly and disabled with monthly health screenings, with nutrition and supplemental meals, and incontinence and medical supplies. 

Last year, 711 individuals received these services, and 63 families got help with new roofs, handicap ramps, handicap baths, deteriorated porches and entry steps, and falling ceilings.

There are six senior centers in the area where Morgan sets up regular health screenings to check blood pressure, heart rate and weight, and monitor diabetics, etc. This year three clients were sent directly to the hospital – one had emergency surgery to insert a pacemaker and one was close to going into diabetic coma. Both probably would have died without this intervention.

The amazing thing about Helping Hand Center is that Morgan runs the entire show – by herself – and says she loves every minute of it. “Finding money is the hard part. The people here are too poor,” she said. 

Kim Davis of Hilton Head Island volunteers at a senior center in Robertville and has crossed paths with Morgan many times. “She is a force of nature,” Davis said. “She has so much energy and passion, and she is revered by everyone. She keeps her head down and works. Mrs. Morgan is amazing.”

Davis said that she was impressed with how much heart Morgan has for people who don’t have resources.  

“The people in Bluffton, when they learn about Helping Hand, usually by happenstance, they become donors,” Davis said. “People want to help, and the money goes to people who desperately need help in rural areas where there aren’t many resources available. Bluffton is full of generous people.”

For more information, email helpinghand0912@gmail.com or find the nonprofit on Facebook @HHC.Jasper.Hampton.

Edwina Hoyle is a freelance writer in Bluffton.