About once a month, a group of nearly 50 men and women gathers to eat, swap stories and figure out ways to help those in uniform.
The Lowcountry Retired and Active Law Enforcement Association is dedicated to supporting local law enforcement officers and their families through tough times.
Though many of the association's members have retired from careers at police and sheriff's departments all over the country, they can be found working at local security firms or volunteering for law enforcement agencies, including for the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office Cold Case Team.
The camaraderie of relying on fellow officers doesn't end after retirement, association president Bert DeFazio said.
"It's a brotherhood," said DeFazio, a retired New York state police officer who directs security at Windmill Harbour near Hilton Head Island. "It's in your blood."
Among the group's undertakings since it was established four years ago is helping police officers with terminal cancer or with disabled children pay bills. It has donated to the Wounded Warriors program for disabled veterans. It has raised money to launch a Sheriff's Office search-and-rescue program for people with Alzheimer's disease.
Its biggest fundraiser of the year, an annual car show held at the Food Lion Shopping Center off U.S. 278 in Bluffton, will be this weekend. The show includes cars from a variety of car clubs and, for the first time this year, motorcycles. Proceeds from the event fund the association's giving throughout the year, DeFazio said.
Most recently, the association revved up its giving by establishing scholarships for two local students who have relatives in uniform and who are considering careers in law enforcement.
Devin Oliver, who graduates from Bluffton High School today and plans to attend The Citadel in the fall, received $1,000 from the association after finding out about the scholarship through his school's guidance office.
"My dad was a police officer for 27 years, and I've always had an interest in giving back," Oliver said.
His father, Bruce Oliver, a retired police detective from upstate New York, currently works for the security staff at University of South Carolina Beaufort. The scholarship will help pay for some of the uniforms Devin is required to buy for his freshman year at the military college, Bruce Oliver said.
Norm White, an associate member who chaired the inaugural scholarship committee, said the group gives away all the money it collects and has no administrative costs.
Sheriff P.J. Tanner said the association has been a "great support" to his office, in particular by donating $1,000 to Project Lifesaver. The program outfits people prone to wander, such as Alzheimer's patients, with electronic bracelets that can be tracked.
"They're always offering any assistance they can provide," Tanner said.
- Thanks to donations, Sheriff's Office closer to launching new track and rescue program, April 23, 2013