Lowcountry Jaycees for young professionals make comeback in Beaufort area

emoody@beaufortgazette.comMarch 27, 2014 

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    For more information or to get involved with the Lowcountry Jaycees, go to facebook.com/LowcountryJaycees. The community-service organization is open to people ages 21 to 40. The next meeting is 6 p.m. April 3 at Groucho's Deli of Beaufort, 81 Sea Island Parkway, Lady's Island.

Kyle Warren joined the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce three years ago, and it didn't take the 27-year-old long to notice he usually was one of the youngest people at chamber functions.

"And that can be quite intimidating to a young person in my age group," he said.

Warren and others in the 21-to-40 crowd are starting -- re-starting, actually -- a group that could make leaders their age feel more comfortable.

"The Jaycees do a whole lot," Lowcountry Jaycees president Courtney Duncan said. "It's not just a community-service group, not just a leadership group, not just a networking group. It's a combination of all of those."

The Lowcountry Jaycees, a chapter of the United States Junior Chamber, has 39 members and is growing quickly after struggling at first to attract interest, Duncan said.

A teacher at Thomas Heyward Academy, she was active in the Myrtle Beach chapter. Duncan said that upon moving to Beaufort, she detected a void for other young professionals who wanted to be involved but weren't sure how.

That's why she started the chapter.

Already, members are volunteering at nonprofit events, such as Happy Days for HELP of Beaufort, and are arranging their first fundraiser April 12. The Tailgate Extravaganza at Live Oaks Park in the town of Port Royal will include a cornhole tournament, live music and activities for kids.

Proceeds will be donated to other organizations or used for service projects, such as buying Christmas presents for underprivileged children.

"I really look forward to leveraging the energy of the young folks... and to get them involved with the rich, vibrant, volunteer environment here," external vice president Ben Boswell said. "My vision for it is to ultimately be able to provide manpower to assist with various causes."

While this chapter is new, the Jaycees were a strong presence in Beaufort from the 1950s to 1980s, according to former members.

Men belonged to the Jaycees, while their wives were in the Jayceettes. Both met regularly, and the men's group in particular was active when it came to supporting public policies and promoting government action.

"It allowed people to join a club, and be part of a club and do things with their peers, and give back to the community," said Ed Gay, who was president in the 1960s. "It's kind of a training program, too, I think. From the first meeting, you were indoctrinated into being a responsible citizen, doing things for the community and doing good."

Gay and other former Jaycee presidents, including Pat Dennis, recalled building a playground on West End Road, which no longer exists. They also built -- and, in Hurricane Gracie's wake, rebuilt -- what is now Basil Green Complex. Past president Lenair Woods said Beaufort's recreational program was a focus for years, with Jaycees members often coaching youth sports.

"Back then people didn't mind working and doing things... giving up their Saturdays and doing things," Woods said. "There was a lot of serious work done, a lot of perspiration and muscles."

The Jaycees were also instrumental in getting the Beaufort Water Festival up and running in cooperation with a number of other organizations.

The first commodore, John Bigbee in 1956, was an active Jaycee, and the organization ran the beauty pageant for decades, according to newspaper archives.

It's a legacy Warren, internal vice president for the Jaycees, hopes to build on.

"I'm hoping it can become what it used to be, a great, strong organization that young professionals can be part of and be proud of," he said.

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.

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