This is the story of a small world — and a small apartment.
Pedro Bermudez came from Cali, Colombia, to Hilton Head Island — legally — in 1991. In time, he was joined by his wife and four children.
He’d already had a career as a policeman. Drug-cartel violence is one reason he wanted to move, even though it meant leaving a tight extended family headed by his father, a farmer, who lived to be 99.
In his new land of dreams, Bermudez has been a workaholic, forming that unseen foundation of his new home’s economy.
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Bermudez worked for years at a resort on Daufuskie Island, where ferry boat rides to the island with no bridge added to a long work day. As soon as he got off the boat from work, he went to his second job, busing tables at The Old Fort Pub restaurant. On weekends, he worked a third job.
At 68, he’s still working. For about five years, he’s worked in maintenance at the Colleton River Club in Bluffton.
This is where his world gets small.
Bermudez moved to Bluffton when it offered a lower cost of housing. But that’s not the case anymore.
He rents a two-bedroom apartment for $1,100 per month. He lives there with his wife, a teenaged niece and nephew, his adult son, and two young grandchildren who are there every other week.
On resort salaries — even working three jobs — he could not afford a home. He especially wanted it as his children were going through the local public schools.
But now his dream is coming true.
Bermudez is buying a Habitat for Humanity house on Hilton Head. The wall-raising celebration just took place, and during the long process to get to this point, he’s already done most of the 400 hours of “sweat equity” Habitat requires.
In a twist of fate, his home is sponsored by residents of the Colleton River Club.
It’s a small world, in that way.
But it also shows the expanded world of those property owners who could easily never look beyond the gates of their beautiful, high-end community.
This is the 11th home to be sponsored by Colleton River residents over the past 15 years through Hilton Head Regional Habitat for Humanity. They have given away about $750,000 for the homes, which now cost about $70,000 each, and for the road leading into The Glen neighborhood off Marshland Road, where Bermudez will live. The land was donated by the Town of Hilton Head Island.
Colleton River residents sponsored the first home there, and now the last of the 16 homes in the first phase, as well as another one in between. Sixteen more homes will be built in the second phase, said CEO and president Pat Wirth.
As we sat in a Colleton River clubhouse that Bermudez helps keep clean, I asked him what it means to him to have a home. His eyes welled with tears.
“Everything,” he said. “Everything.”
Sitting with us was the leader of the Colleton River Club Friends of Habitat, retired car dealership owner Bill Spadafora from Indiana, Pa.
With help like that, Habitat for Humanity has tackled the housing problem in Beaufort County since the early 1990s.
The Lowcountry Habitat for Humanity chapter in Beaufort dedicated its 48th home in December, and construction will begin soon on a 25th anniversary home on Greene Street.
The Hilton Head Regional Habitat chapter dedicated its 100th home in 2017, as it has filled neighborhoods in Bluffton and Ridgeland.
Both local chapters are supported by volunteers and charitable giving, as well as ReStore shops.
Wirth said 400 people expressed interest in the next 16 Habitat homes. They must have the ability to pay 30-year, interest-free loans of about $500 per month for a simple, 1,050-square-foot home. They also must meet other criteria, take classes on finance and other topics, and donate time.
Erika Bermudez, Pedro’s adult daughter who works at Regions Bank in Bluffton, said, “It’s an American dream for him.”