Bluffton architecture firm behind "secret Santa" billboard

rlurye@islandpacket.comJanuary 4, 2014 

At left, Bluffton resident Patricia Mulholland won an $11,600 prize package Saturday for her entry in a "secret Santa" contest sponsored by KRA architecture and design firm. Mulholland discusses the contest with Erin Laytham Lentz of marketing agency Swell New Media.

STAFF PHOTO

A Bluffton architecture and design firm revealed Saturday it was the business behind a "secret Santa" contest before announcing resident and local program winners.

KRA architecture and design, which remained anonymous throughout the contest, awarded resident Patricia Mulholland a prize package worth $11,600, including a $7,500 credit toward a custom residential architectural design. Mulholland was one of more than 500 people to enter the mystery contest by responding online to the prompt, "What are your #NewYearsPlans?"

For her entry, Mulholland strung together seven stanzas on her hope that January would bring a "fresh start" for her family, which has been tested by medical hardships and a tight budget.

That poem spoke to Michael Kronimus, principal at KRA, who said the company wanted to put a spin on its annual "secret Santa" giveaway.

"We wanted to actually go backwards and let them be creative for us instead of us being creative for them," he said.

Mulholland's package includes gift certificates from seven other Bluffton businesses, good for everything from personal training at Shaping Concepts of Bluffton to financial planning with Coastal States Wealth Management of Raymond James.

One other company, the Disney Vacation Club, contributed a two-night stay in a deluxe studio at any Disney timeshare location.

After hearing her name called Saturday at Dubois Park, Mulholland told the small gathering she was grateful.

"It gives you a lot of hope to know people care," she said. "This is just so special."

KRA advertised the contest through a billboard that directed people to the website MyNewYearsPlans.com, which was registered to Kronimus. In December, he told an Island Packet reporter he was a contributor to the gift giveaway while denying he was behind the billboard.

Kronimus in fact planned the contest as an effort to give back to the community and spread the word about KRA's residential work, he said. To accomplish both, the company also pledged Saturday to give 10 percent of its 2014 profits from residential architecture and design to an organization of Mayor Lisa Sulka's choosing.

In 2013, that amounted to about $2,500, Kronimus said.

Sulka, who said she did not know which business was behind the contest until Saturday, picked Backpack Buddies of Bluffton, a volunteer-run service coordinated by Crossroads Community Support Services. The program provides about 450 Bluffton and Hardeeville children at risk of going hungry over the weekends with backpacks filled with healthy food.

Every school has identified more students who would benefit from the program, but the organization has limited resources to help them all, director Ken Kroupa said.

"This [donation] will enable us to address those waiting lists," he said.

Sulka said she was excited to see a local business supporting that cause.

"We have a lot of people in need," she said. "It just shows you how someone can give back to the community ... ."

Mulholland, the contest winner, is a former social studies teacher at Bluffton Middle School. She was accused of using inappropriate language with a student in 2012 and subsequently left the school district. Rather than face charges that arose from the incident, she chose to participate in counseling, anger management and community service. The Bluffton Police Department has said Mulholland might have accidentally taken some of her husband's medication on the day of the incident.

Reached Saturday evening, Erin Laytham Lentz, who conducts social media for KRA, said the business was not aware of the incident when they chose Mulholland.

Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.

Related content:

Anonymous business behind 'Secret Santa' billboard to announce winner Jan. 4, December 28, 2013 'Secret Santa' billboard piques interest in Bluffton, December 9, 2013

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