From The Beacon: St. Helena branch finally on the way

ssaad@bcgov.netOctober 9, 2011 

Imagine stepping into history and strolling through the unique story that is St. Helena and the Sea Island communities of Beaufort County.

Imagine walking through the proud chapter of history that is the Penn Center campus and taking a journey of learning and opportunity, where we work together to protect our past and prepare for a positive future.

Imagine building a learning environment that can harness the power of knowledge and the tools of technology; a place to help transform new generations while maintaining a culture of strong family ties and a caring community spirit.

Imagine a place with open doors and opportunities for everyone. Imagine the voices of that renewed story, with new generations of seniors, families, children and teens arriving with hope and enthusiasm at a shared destination.

Well, you don't have to imagine any longer. On Thursday, the community will gather on St. Helena Island to break ground on this long-awaited and much anticipated county library project.

Through a generous commitment of land by Penn Center's board of directors and funding from USDA Rural Development, SC Department of Commerce, Beaufort County government and individuals representing all segments of the greater Beaufort County community, our new St. Helena library is due to be completed by November 2012. It will be an approximate 24,000-square-foot county facility, furnished and equipped with 21st century technology and materials.

As the site of one of the country's first schools for freed slaves, Penn Center is a National Historic District Landmark. The Penn Center Campus is a natural location for this new library branch. In 1906, the Laura M. Towne Library, as part of the Penn School, was providing public library services to black residents on St. Helena Island; built by the school's carpentry classes, the 10-by-10-foot, small-frame building began a tradition that we are proudly continuing today.

For those of you who are not one of the more than 91,000 library cardholders in Beaufort County, you might ask, "Why a library?" Did you know that libraries are communities unto themselves? They serve as a gathering place for children, teens, adults, seniors, students, home-schoolers, entrepreneurs and, of course, families.

The goals and ambitions of a library's customers are what ultimately define its character. Libraries connect our lives with the past and our dreams with the future. Our Beaufort County library branches are places where equal access means opportunity, where anyone can aspire and learn the skills necessary to walk on their chosen path. Libraries support literacy, education and lifelong learning. They bring technologies and resources to the community to improve the quality of life for all.

Yes, these are challenging times. Everybody's trying to do more with less. Thanks to Beaufort County Council and the dedication of our library system staff and fundraising volunteers, all of our branch libraries provide access to resources, materials and programs most of us could not afford.

Now, one more branch library will be built, and before you know it, the doors will open and lives will be changed for the better because of the opportunities that exist within the walls of a library.

Please join us at 11 a.m. Oct. 13 for the groundbreaking ceremony for the new St. Helena Branch Library. Local and state speakers, as well as school choirs from St. Helena Elementary and Beaufort High schools will gather to mark this important day in county history.

Sandra Saad is the director of development & marketing for the Beaufort County Library System and serves as the chief development officer for the Public Library Foundation of Beaufort County.

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