The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette will update readers on some of the most memorable people we covered in 2016. Here is the third story in our “Where are they now?” series.
Lottie Lewis has watched as Allendale and Hilton Head Island have been linked for decades.
Every day, workers from the rural S.C. town commute 2.5 hours one-way on public buses to fill service industry jobs on the island. Many leave behind children who stay with older relatives. In some cases, kids are left home alone after parents leave for the island at about 5 a.m. until they return at 7:30 p.m.
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So Lewis, an Allendale City Council member and community activist, decided to step in and do something for what she calls Allendale’s “latchkey children,” who have nobody at home after school.
Lewis and her husband, Frank Lewis, have worked for three years to convert an old home on Wagner Street in Allendale into a community center Lewis called “Emma’s House,” named after her mother.
But what Lewis never suspected was that an outpouring of support would flow back to her cause from the beneficiary of so much of Allendale’s workforce: Hilton Head.
Emma’s House is now set to open this month, thanks in part to items and almost $2,000 donated from Hilton Head residents who gave after first reading Lewis’ story in The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette in August as part of the newspapers’ series on the local workforce, “Propping Up Paradise.”
“The support has been outstanding, “ Lewis said. “ People here have to sacrifice to get to work on Hilton Head, so it’s something that their children can get help from people in the community where they work to get to everyday...”
Emma’s House is scheduled to open Dec. 22 for volunteers and supporters in a “Christmas Coffee” event. The organization plans next month to accept its first group of students enrolled in an after-school study program.
A little purple refuge
Almost everything in Emma’s House is purple. The color fills the house in honor of Lottie’s mother, Emma Polite, who was known as the “purple lady” for her wardrobe and habit of planting purple flowers, Lewis said.
A few new purple touches, new books, food, clothes and countertops have all been added to the space from Hilton Head donations to the house.
The Original Six Foundation, a nonprofit created by S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley to help the state’s neediest communities, has also been instrumental in opening Emma’s House, Lewis said.
The foundation is providing support through its after-school program already in place in other low-income areas of South Carolina, including help with enrollment and the curriculum.
Haley was originally scheduled to attend the opening event this month before she was appointed as President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for the position of ambassador to the United Nations, Lewis said.
Children attending Emma’s House will get snacks and a program focused on helping them study, as well as socialize in a safe space, Lewis said.
The program also benefits from other donors, church groups and volunteers Lewis has enlisted to help teach classes and provide support.
One of the volunteers, Earline Jones, a public school bus driver in Allendale for 30 years, said she sees the problem Emma’s House is hoping to address first-hand.
“I drop these kids off at the end of the day, and I know there’s no one there waiting for them,” Jones said. “And you can see over the years that it’s had an effect. That’s why I come here to help Miss Lottie because we need this. They need this.”
Lewis’ next goals include adding central air conditioning and heat to the house, which now relies on space heaters and fans, if she can raise the funds through donations and grants. She said she is also working to make the house an internet hotspot, as most students in Allendale struggle to do schoolwork without internet at home.
The system of busing service industry workers from Allendale to Hilton Head likely won’t end anytime soon, given limited job opportunities close to home, Lewis said.
“So all we can do is try to make it better,” she said. “And you know I’ll never stop doing that.”
Call Lottie Lewis at 803-584-4556. All donations to Emma’s House will be made through the 501(c)(3) charity Allendale Enterprise.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
HOW WE KNOW THEM: Lottie Lewis was featured in the "Propping Up Paradise" series, which explored Hilton Head Island's workforce crisis, for her work helping children whose parents make five-hour daily round trips to work on Hilton Head.
WHAT'S NEW: Lewis is set to open her after-school center, "Emma's House," in Allendale this month and raised about $2,000 from Hilton Head residents for the cause.