FROM BLUFFTON TODAY:
Bluffton Self Help will stretch its nonprofit legs come November when it moves its operations from Old Town into a 6,700-square-foot facility in Sheridan Park. Renovation and transformation of the former tile and granite showroom at 39 Sheridan Circle will begin Wednesday.
Monday’s sneak peek at the new space put a smile on Ida Martin’s face, the woman who started helping neighbors in 1979 and formed Bluffton Self Help Inc. in 1987 from the trunk of her vehicle and garage.“This is one great day for me,” Martin said on Monday. “I never thought I’d see something like this. This is enough to make tears come to my eyes.”
Bluffton Self Help showcased its new facility during a media and donor event Monday, marking the end of a 19-month-long project to find and secure a new, bigger space and the beginning of Phase 2 of the nonprofit’s building campaign. The goal is to raise an additional $300,000 for renovation and for a 10-year endowment that will help pay for upkeep and utilities, according to Peter Bromley, president of the Bluffton Self Help board. The building was purchased outright for $575,000 through grants, donations and fundraising campaigns. “Having just closed on our new building, we are now one giant step closer to bring this very important community project to reality,” he said.
Last year, Bluffton Self Help provided food, clothing and emergency financial aid to more than 22,000 clients, all from its 1,000-square-foot town-owned building (and former jail) on May River Road. The nonprofit has simply outgrown its current space and is bursting at the seams, according to Bromley. “This was not a case of ‘nice-to-do,’ this was a case of ‘have-to-do’,” Bromley said of the move to a larger space.
Bluffton Self Help’s board had considered knocking down the existing building on May River Road and building a new 5,000-square-foot two-story facility on the same site, but soon learned it wouldn’t be large enough and issues with the lack of parking and safety remained. “It still didn’t solve the problems that we had with that space and the town also thought that wasn’t the best place for us to be,” Bromley said.
The town of Bluffton then donated a 10-acre site near the Post Office but pre-construction infrastructure costs (preparing the raw land for water, sewer and utilities) escalated to more than $1.2 million and pushed a move-in date well into 2013.“Because it was a virgin site, we would have had to put in all of the infrastructure and that would have been cost prohibitive,” he said. “It would have been irresponsible.”
The board decided a pre-existing building was the way to go.“Thanks to the extremely generous selling terms from the owner, we will now be in our own building before Thanksgiving, 15 to 20 months sooner and $500,000 less than building on the town site,” Bromley said.
On Monday, Tray Hunter, Bluffton Self Help board member and building chair, highlighted how the larger space will be used. At the May River Road location, everyone has to come in and out one door. In the new space, food and clothing distribution and client services will be split up into three separate areas, allowing for better flow and client privacy. “People won’t have to wait outside anymore and won’t be in the elements, and this offers a piece of dignity; people can come inside and aren’t out in the open,” said board member Christine Loeffler.
The new Bluffton Self Help will offer three private interview rooms and an opportunity to offer Benefit Bank, an online processing service to file for eligibility on state and local programs such as food stamps, child care assistance, educational grants, tax returns, medical assistance for medication and equipment, income assistance and voter registration.
There will be extra freezer and refrigerator space. Out back, food trucks from places like Second Helpings can make deliveries to three bays. When Second Helpings recently delivered 30,000 pounds of food, Self Help was forced to rent a storage unit to store all of the extra food, Hunter said. For the first time, off-season clothing and toys will be stored onsite. “Right now we can’t take toys until after Thanksgiving because we simply don’t have anywhere to store them,” Hunter said.
Office space and a volunteers room will fill the upstairs and include a multipurpose room for training, meetings and classes. “Here’s a chance for us to do what our name says, self help. People will be able to help themselves with the classes that we’ll be able to offer,” said John Orth, vice president of the board. “We just never had the space before.” A money management class will be offered, among others, he said.
“It’s a real evolution; we’re evolving into something great,” said board member Walt Hollis.