A son of Hilton Head Island was featured on the “Today” show Tuesday morning as part of its national #ShareKindness campaign.
Peter Ranney was a friend of my son in the high school class of 2000.
The tall, kind of quiet kid is now married and living in Roswell, Ga., and he and his wife, Holly, have a new son named Tucker. They also have Gracie the pet pot-bellied pig that Peter gave Holly as a wedding gift.
But then there’s this. Peter and Holly have a charity that raised more than $1 million last year.
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It’s called Sunshine on a Ranney Day. Over the past four years, it has renovated homes for children with long-term illnesses. It makes dream bedrooms, in-home therapy rooms, and wheelchair ramps and lifts. And it makes barrier-free bathrooms.
One child loved basketball, so his bedroom was transformed into a basketball court. A couple of the Atlanta Hawks came to the big reveal, along with the “Human Highlight Film,” Dominique Wilkins.
“These kids spend way too much time in hospitals,” Peter told me this week. “Hopefully, this gives them a place that is calming and soothing, where they can forget about it.”
The 4-minute “Today” show piece focused on the charity turning the drab sleep-over rooms for parents at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Egleston hospital into something like rooms in a boutique hotel.
“Peter and I discovered that this was our mission in life, and our hope is that we can inspire other people to share their kindness,” Holly told “Today.”
It did not come together in a single moment.
Peter has been around construction all his life. He ran from it, in fact. But, oddly enough, that’s where he has found his purpose.
His parents, Steve and Patte Ranney, moved to Hilton Head in 1978. Steve has been a contractor all that time. He built our home. Now he works construction in the winter, mostly hurricane renovations right now, and captains the Gullah Gal charter boat in the summer.
Growing up, Peter worked for his father, as well as at the Piggly Wiggly at Coligny Plaza. He played baseball and soccer and ran cross-country and drove an old Ford Bronco that, at one time, sported a doctored “Save the Sea Pines Deer” bumper sticker that read, “Eat the Sea Pines Deer.”
Islanders remember Steve Ranney as the intense, bearded youth baseball coach and soccer referee. He still has the beard, but it has changed colors, and he’s now playing Santa Claus around town.
Patte Ranney is the opposite. She’s an instructor of classic yoga and meditation. She has a braided ponytail down to her waist and plans to spend a month in India soon. She has led boating trips into the marshes with visitors and delivered The Island Packet. She now has seven grandchildren from the five kids she and Steve raised on Hickory Lane. They may hold a record with 17 consecutive years of a child from the same family attending Sea Pines Montessori Academy.
“I didn’t see these qualities in him as a teenager,” Patte says of her second child, who is now 34.
Peter told his dad he didn’t want to work in construction. He escaped to Clemson University and an accounting degree. He got a job in Atlanta, where he met Holly playing in a co-ed softball game.
She was a buyer for Rooms to Go, specializing in children’s furniture, and was involved with home decorating.
When they bought a home, she discovered Peter could fix things and build things, like the special house for Gracie the pig who’s now on their charity’s logo.
A pastor at Northside Baptist Church in Roswell hit a button when he talked about using your talents to benefit others.
That slowly evolved into the Ranneys fixing up a dream bedroom for a child named Matthew, who had a brain tumor.
“We made his bedroom into a military bunker for him,” Peter said. “That project kind of set everything off.”
The work was done by volunteers. Now a host of builders, suppliers and building professionals donate materials, labor and ideas. They have a big gala each year to raise money. Peter, Holly and one other person make up the staff. He says 89 percent of donations go to the makeovers. Peter and a partner have a home remodeling business, but he says he’s retired from accounting.
The charity uses social media heavily, with slick, professional videos capturing the special moments when children and their parents see their new rooms for the first time.
The top request they get is for the barrier-free bathrooms so children, some of them not so small, no longer have to be lifted into bathtubs.
“We want to help the kids,” Peter said, “but what we’ve found is we’re really affecting the caregivers more. This really makes their lives easier.”
He said they want the nonprofit to expand to other cities and states.
“We didn’t realize there’s such a need out there for this.”
Back home, Patte Ranney reflects on the “Today” show shout out and thinks maybe her children were listening after all, and that they “get it.”
“We like to think we teach our kids a lot,” she said. “As it turns out, they’re teaching me a lot.”