How to leave a resort better than you found it

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comMay 10, 2014 

Many years ago while cruising through the suburban sprawl of Allendale, I stopped in at the country club.

The pro had worked on Hilton Head Island for a long time and I wondered how he saw the glamorous game from the bunkers and roots of a poor, rural county. He was so close, yet so far, from the island links, where Arnold Palmer drove life into Charles Fraser's dream resort almost half a century ago.

I don't recall what the gentleman golfer said about the game. But I haven't forgotten this:

"When you come to Allendale, you better have your social services hat on."

Oddly enough, the same can be said about the other end of the long bus ride for workers who leave job-starved Allendale for Hilton Head.

The social-services aspect of resort life was discussed last week during the University of South Carolina Beaufort's first Charles E. Fraser Sustainable Resort Development Conference in Sea Pines.

Experts of many stripes discussed how to mitigate tourism's impact on the local community. They talked about "best practices" for the industry to give as much as it takes in environmental, economic and human terms.

I sat in on a portion of the session on the human terms - or "community well-being." The golf pro from Allendale would have felt right at home, even though the view from the new Plantation Golf Club where we gathered gives no hint that the community is not well.

But we know many human issues come with seasonal work, low-paying jobs, jobs that depend on tips, jobs that are a long way from home, and jobs with late hours that easily blend with a boozy, nocturnal lifestyle.

Housing costs, immigration issues, language barriers, heirs property, latch-key kids, rich kids, poor kids, moms with two or three jobs, and transients of all economic stripes coming and going like the relentless tides - all chip away at the great economic boon resorts brought to the impoverished Lowcountry.

At the conference, we learned that gauging the well-being of a community doesn't have to be a guessing game. Fraser, who understood the human heart but relished data to prove what made it tick, would have been tickled to hear all the numbers Laura Simmons showed the conference named in his honor.

Simmons is a social research specialist at the University of North Carolina Charlotte Urban Institute. She talked of the hundreds of "indicators" that can be gathered, neighborhood by neighborhood, and combined into a single "index value."

"We want to empower our city with data," she said.

But gathering, digesting and disseminating data is hard work. It sounded familiar when she said it's a project that can start with a bang and then struggle when community support swings to something newer.

Rob Carey, director of the Regional Economic Analysis Laboratory at Clemson University's Strom Thurmond Institute, said nonprofits are big business. Agencies on the frontlines of addressing human needs bring thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions worth of economic output to Beaufort County alone, he said. Statewide, the economic impact is in the billions.

And Fred Leyda, director of the Beaufort County Alliance for Human Services, told of a remarkable evolution in this county. In the 1970s, a handful of local agency directors met over lunch. That became the Beaufort Youth Council, which has evolved into an alliance of 120 member agencies meeting human needs in this county.

Best practices include things that seem so simple, but are not: communicating, coordinating, organizing, and sharing.

We once were known as the home of "the Beaufort shuffle," Leyda said. People in need were shuffled from one agency to another. We also have been known, Leyda said, as a place of "silos," where everyone wants to start a new agency instead of working with the ones already in place.

But the Beaufort County Human Services Alliance, the United Way of the Lowcountry, the community foundations, the Together for Beaufort County Initiative, and many other entities are harnessing the immense power for good that newcomers bring to resort communities.

The same year Arnold Palmer won the first Heritage golf tournament in Charles Fraser's Sea Pines, the community was a stop on another high-profile tour. It was U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings' "Hunger Tour." It showed rank poverty in this region and state, where children had stomachs full of worms.

Tourism and resort residents helped change that.

But to sustain that positive impact, as the Charles Fraser conference seemed to want, we need to listen to the old golf pro in Allendale.

When you come to a resort community, you better come with your social services hat on.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

Related content: Meet the presenters at the USCB Charles E. Fraser Sustainable Resort Development Conference

Beaufort County Human Services Alliance

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