Verizon surprises local charities with $1.5 million gift to Heritage foundation

April 4, 2011 

  • These charities received checks Monday from the Heritage Classic Foundation as part of a $1.5 million grant from the Verizon Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Verizon Wireless: Boys & Girls Clubs, Children's Center, Children's Relief Fund, Child Abuse Prevention Association, Hilton Head Heroes, Hope Haven, Literacy Volunteers of the Lowcountry, National Alliance on Mental Illness, the Sandbox Children's Museum, the S.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, Strive to Excel, Volunteers in Medicine, and the Family Justice Center of Georgetown County.

  • The Heritage will not mail any tickets purchased after Friday. Any order taken after April 8 will be placed at will call. The dates for the 2011 Heritage are April 18-24.

Verizon Wireless continues to leave its mark on Hilton Head Island, even though it's no longer title sponsor of the Heritage golf tournament.

The Heritage Classic Foundation -- the group that runs the annual PGA Tour event -- announced Monday it will distribute $1.5 million over three years to area charities and scholarships, thanks to a grant from the Verizon Foundation, the company's philanthropy.

  • Half will be used to continue the Heritage Scholar program and the other half to support education, literacy, health and safety services, said Stan Smith, chairman of the foundation's charity committee. The news was announced during a luncheon, where $250,000 was disbursed among 13 nonprofit groups.

    "Lately, it's not always been great news for the foundation, but this is great news," Smith said. "We are very fortunate to have the Verizon Foundation still be involved in the foundation and the giving process. They feel like they're part of the family, to a certain extent, after all these years of involvement."

    A Verizon Foundation spokesman could not be reached for comment. The foundation awarded about $67 million to nonprofits in the U.S. and abroad in 2010, according to a news release.

    Verizon or its corporate predecessors have sponsored the Heritage since 1986. It announced about 18 months ago the 2010 tournament would be its last in the title role.

    To secure a spot for the Heritage on this year's tour schedule, the Heritage Classic Foundation pledged all $4 million of its reserves. The Town of Hilton Head Island and Beaufort County each gave $1 million commitments, as well. This year's tournament is April 21-24 at Harbour Town Golf Links in Sea Pines. Organizers are working to find a title sponsor for next year's tournament.

    The Heritage foundation had said it would be unable to give money this year because of the lack of a title sponsor to cover tournament expenses. Since 1987, the foundation has distributed more than $20 million to nonprofits through tournament proceeds.

    Monday's news was a welcomed -- and much-needed -- surprise for the charities.

    "We assumed there would be no money this year from the foundation, because we read the tea leaves. ... It was euphoria," said Nancy Williams, executive director of Literacy Volunteers of the Lowcountry, upon hearing the news of Verizon's grant. "We've been reducing staff and expenditures the last two years and this year as well. We were really down to pretty bare bones. With more money, we'll be able to sustain what we do and, hopefully, reach out to more people."

    As part of the grant, the Heritage foundation committed to promoting Verizon's Thinkfinity program, which provides free lesson plans and student materials for core subjects, including literacy. The program is accessible to schools, nonprofits and parents.

    Williams said her organization uses the program to train volunteer tutors and teach adults reading, writing and math skills. It's estimated about 10,700 adults in Beaufort County lack literacy skills and an equal number have only the most basic skills, she said.

    Tim Singleton, president and CEO of Strive to Excel, said he was ecstatic after hearing the news. Strive to Excel works with students from grades four to 12 to build self-esteem, social skills, healthy learning habits and direction for post-secondary education.

    "This is beyond huge," Singleton said. "We've been hanging on by a thread in this tough economy."

    A separate luncheon is scheduled for April 12 to announce the graduating county high school seniors who will receive scholarships for 2011. A total of 15 four-year scholarships will be awarded for the next three years.

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