For 15 years, the Bluffton Police Department watched its peers across the Broad River build and strengthen ties with some of the most vulnerable members of the community.
Each week, 20 homebound, elderly and disabled residents in the city of Beaufort receive a call from a member of the Volunteer Outreach in the Community Effort (VOICE). After seeing the program's positive results, the Bluffton department decided to launch a version of its own.
"We heard some great success stories and it's something we wanted to complement here in our own town," Bluffton Police Lt. Joe Babkiewicz said.
Officers have been developing Citizen Assistance Response Efforts (CARE) for about a month and a half, he said. In the coming weeks, the department will seek out clients who want to receive a short call every day or every few days by spreading the word to local assisted living homes and senior care agencies.
"We just want to let them know we're here and give them a friendly voice to talk to," Babkiewicz said.
He also hopes to sign up a large group of volunteers. The Beaufort Police Department enlists 14 people at a time to run VOICE, according to Beaufort Police Cpl. Hope Able.
"We could use as many as possible," Babkiewicz said. "You can never have enough."
Once enough volunteers are on board to handle the demand, calls will begin, Babkiewicz said.
Like the VOICE program, CARE is geared toward those who are generally confined to their homes. The service is largely meant to provide clients with some social interaction. In Beaufort, volunteers often chat and gossip with their regulars.
CARE and VOICE, however, boast another benefit: volunteers can request a health and welfare check if something seems wrong or the clients have been out of touch for three consecutive calls.
That has been a safety net for some. On one occasion, a VOICE volunteer sensed something was wrong with her client and asked police to follow up, Beaufort Police Chief Matt Clancy said. An officer found the man passed out on the floor next to his wheelchair and was able to call for help and save his life.
"He said he was fine ... but she just knew he didn't sound good," Clancy said. "She just had a funny feeling."
Volunteers develop that intuition over time, especially about those they have contacted for years.
However, Babkiewicz said he hopes residents will feel comfortable making short-term referrals as well. If a caregiver needs to go out of town, leaving a sick, elderly or disabled relative behind, CARE volunteers can provide some peace of mind, he said.
"It puts them at ease knowing we're able to check up on them and make sure everything's OK," he said.