Locals and volunteers gathered in the Shelter Cove Community Park on a chilly Saturday afternoon for the Welcome Home Ceremony to thank community heroes, town officials and first responders for their service during Hurricane Matthew.
Event organizers recognized fire and rescue departments, local law enforcement, the South Carolina Highway Patrol, utility workers, hospital employees and other first responders in between music sets featuring local bands. Local businesses, Hilton Head Strong, Bluffton Strong and even the famous “Welcome Home” sign that greeted Hilton Head Island residents in the aftermath of the storm made an appearance at the celebration.
Carl Schroeder, a broker with Foundation Realty who helped organize the event, said the ceremony Saturday was a way for locals to give back and say thanks to those that helped them return to their homes so quickly. He said he partnered with his coworker, Mary Lynn Finn, to start the event nearly two months after the disaster and about 60 people had volunteered to help.
“(First responders) were here when we were not here and they saw the damage,” he said. “And they were able to allow us to get back to the island so quickly. And I think people don’t realize how hard they worked starting Saturday morning to get us back by Wednesday at 3 o’clock because we didn’t see the initial damage.”
Schroeder said he and Finn didn’t experience much damage themselves, which is probably why they wanted to help others. He said vendors would donate proceeds earned at the celebration and volunteers were collecting donations
“Everybody is ecstatic, the first responders are ecstatic, all of the people ... it’s just unbelievable,” he said.
Olga Klyushina, of Bluffton, said she volunteered for the event with her daughter, Aleksandar, 7, to collect donations to help rebuild on the island after the storm. She said she didn’t experience significant damage from the hurricane herself, but knew many friend who did.
“It’s a good learning experience for (kids) to know what happened and learn what happened,” she said. “It’s a lot of people out here today and that’s a wonderful thing.”