Students and teachers with Neighborhood Outreach Connection pose for a group photo. COURTESY NOC

Founded in 2008, the Neighborhood Outreach Connection is a nonprofit organization that empowers people to pull themselves out of poverty and improve their overall quality of life.

NOC goes into low-income neighborhoods to offer help with education, workforce development and health services. The idea is to bring support to the people where they are.

“That is what separates the NOC model from other service providers,” founder and chair Narendra Sharma said. “We want to be in the neighborhood, where transportation is no longer an issue, and where we can connect with families.”

The organization has six learning centers in neighborhoods throughout Beaufort County – three on Hilton Head Island, one in Bluffton and two in downtown Beaufort.

The learning centers are staffed with school teachers and volunteers who help children with homework after school and during the summer. NOC also provides adult education classes in partnership with Beaufort County Adult Education, currently on hold because of the pandemic.

NOC brings technology resources to those low-income families who do not have home Internet access or computers.

The organization has partnered with Beaufort Memorial Hospital, Volunteers in Medicine and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control to offer health screenings and COVID-19 vaccinations. 

The NOC model has been extremely successful over the years but not without its challenges. Sharma said the toughest part of his job is dealing with investors who come in and convert low-income housing into luxury apartments, forcing hardworking families out and making it more difficult for NOC to serve them.

“It’s ruthless out there – the gentrification that is taking place,” Sharma said. “No one writes about it. No one talks about it. People are unaware of it. But yet it is happening in our backyard.”

Sharma is thankful for the rewards. Seeing families thrive after receiving a little help, hearing from a child who earned an A, running into former students who have graduated high school and are now working for a living, and learning that a health screening saved someone’s life all make it worthwhile to Sharma.

The organization is now in discussions with a housing development company to replicate and expand the NOC business model at its sites in Greenville, Charleston, Virginia and Texas.

NOC is grateful for the community’s ongoing support. A recent golf tournament at the Colleton River Pete Dye Course brought in more than $60,000.

In addition to more partner organizations, NOC needs more volunteers with backgrounds in education, healthcare and community development. Executive Director Madeline Helser-Howard said the organization has lost staff and volunteers during the pandemic.

“Other than normal cleaning supplies, snacks, things to get us through our day to day at the learning centers, I think that the volunteers are super important for us right now,” Helser-Howard said. “So we’re really looking for the community to step up and help kids that are the most at risk.”

For more information on Neighborhood Outreach Connection or to get involved, visit noc-sc.org or call 843-681-4100.

Amy Coyne Bredeson of Bluffton is a freelance writer, a mother of two and a volunteer with the Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance.