October 30, 2009

The Spirit of South Carolina

October 20th, 2009: Sarah Piwinski, Executive Director of the South Carolina Maritime Heritage, visited our club this past Tuesday to fill us in on all the Spirit of South Carolina is doing for the young people in Charleston and the surrounding coastal areas. It also allowed all Rotarians to see our dollars at work as our club, through RCCF, has provided two grants to help The Spirit of South Carolina.

The ship is a pilot Schooner reminiscent of the Frances Elizabeth, a ship that was built here in Charleston in 1879. The new ship's plans were adapted from plans for the Frances Elizabeth, which were found in the Smithsonian Institute.

The ship was officially launched in March of 2007 and has been busy ever since then. She is a 140 foot long ship that focuses on a cause near and dear to one of Rotary's most valued causes, education. She not only teaches young people how to sail, kids that participate learn the value of team work and can incorporate things they are currently learning in school to the ship such as history and math. Most students that participate in the many programs she offers are 5th to 8th graders and come from all over the Lowcountry, typically through their schools.

The most popular program, the Day Sailors, caters to students in the Charleston, Georgetown and Buford areas. Students come on board with their class and spend the day on the ship learning and having fun. This summer, the Spirit of South Carolina hosted 40 students for a brand new six-week program that showed huge success. This program was funded by the South Carolina Education Department and allowed students to participate in 5 weeks of land programs that included reading, swimming, local college tours, math etc. After completing 5 weeks on land, 37 graduates of the program got to spend a week on the ship in New York's Long Island Sound putting to use all that they had learned and getting to experience all sorts of new things including for most of the kids, a first plane ride to and from New York City. The goal of this program is to increase literacy, learning and staying in school to all of our young people here. The program, through the funding provided by the Education Department, was at no cost to any of the students. This program was a huge success and one the Maritime Center hopes to continue well into the future.

There are many other worthwhile programs that The Spirit of South Carolina does and many new ones that will come down the pipe in the future. It's a unique way for us to take advantage of the ocean and teach kids of all ages not only sailing, but many other things that will hopefully enrich their life and focus on the importance of education.

There are many ways you can help: Funding a student or class which is what our two grants did. You can make donations, volunteer your time, contribute to the Donate a Book program they just recently started for students and many other ways. For more information, please visit www.scmaritime.org.

Contributed by Darby Siegel, Keyway Committee

October 15, 2009

What's Beyond the Headlines?

October 13, 2009: Today, we had the pleasure of being addressed by our Solicitor, for the 9th circuit, Scarlett Wilson. Scarlett was born and raised in Hemingway, South Carolina, attended Clemson University and continued on to attain her law degree at The University of South Carolina School of Law. Upon completing her education, Ms. Wilson clerked for a judge and went on to work for the US Attorney's office. In 2001, Scarlett was appointed as interim solicitor to the 9th circuit and in 2008 was elected to her first full term in office.

During her short time in office, Scarlett says "Numbers are great. We lead the state in trial convictions, and total convictions and we have moved more murder trials than ever before!" That being said, Scarlett noted that she could spend all day on statistics but what, perhaps, would be more enlightening would be a "day in the life" so to speak, a bird's eye view into the daily challenges of our legal system. To illustrate, Ms. Wilson used the following example: In 2001 a case was investigated where a young woman was coming home from work, on the phone with a friend, when a gun was put to her head and a man began demanding money. The victim was then beaten with a gun, raped and dragged into the woods to die. The woman later awoke, made her way to her apartment and called for help. She gave a statement to the police, provided DNA samples and pictures to authorities, but there were no suspects! Fast forward, five years later a man is being released from prison for a separate crime, a DNA test was required and run through the system, he was a match. For a solicitor this is a "slam dunk" case, you have a victim, a witness and good evidence, but when the state contacted the victim she "had moved on, she was engaged to be married, and was not willing to go to trial". Our solicitor contacted her parents, they begged that she not pressure their daughter who was "finally making progress, and was so fragile" as Scarlett said, "What do you do?" There are hard decisions to be made, in the end, after much negotiation, the solicitor's office made a deal sending the offender to jail for 15 years, and the potential to be committed for the rest of his life (because he is violent sexual predator). Scarlett pointed out that the news paper headline on this case may have read "solicitor makes deal with rapist for 15 years", but the other option was dragging this victim and her family through a trial that she did not think she could bare. Ms. Wilson, ask of us, as leaders to ask more questions, what else is there to the story? Scarlett also said "I recognize that I work for you, and I welcome individual questions, there are certainly conversations that I can have one on one with a citizen that I would not have with the press". The solicitor went on to explain that often times information is kept confidential to protect a case, it is most important to protect the case and preserve the right to appeal, and the state is much more likely to be affected by that than a defense attorney.

During question and answer, Ms. Wilson briefly discussed the mayor's legislation in regards to searching prisoners on parole, she is in favor of the bill, the bill allows our officers to search prisoners who are serving the rest of their terms on our streets, and if they were in prison we could search their cell daily. Scarlett Wilson's office is working diligently to clean up our streets, but she must have the support of the community to do so!

Reported by Elizabeth Wooten Buwell, Keyway Committee

October 9, 2009

Blueprint for the Arts in Charleston

October 6, 2009 : Our speaker, Martha Rivers Ingram, is a Charleston native, a graduate of Vassar College and currently the Chairperson of the 2010 Spoleto Festival. She is an author, a philanthropist, and a professional expert in the management of educational and civic organizations that serve the arts.

After graduating from college Martha married and moved to Nashville, TN where she made her mark. Today, she continues to serve as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Vanderbilt University and is a past chairman of the Nashville Symphony. To stimulate future planning and growth for the arts in Charleston, Martha presented a historical tour of the vast development of the arts programs in Nashville. As the "Athens of the South", Nashville established its program in 1851 with a theater that had the second largest stage in America. Patrons paid up to $200 for show tickets at that time, which is the equivalent of $4000 today! However, the ravages of the Civil War almost destroyed the arts program which was in disarray until the 1950's when an effort toward restoration began.

To sustain a new program Nashvillians realized that they must have strong attendance or the arts would die. Success demands a fragile balance of money, audience, talent and proper facilities for the performances; hence they built a new facility even before they had an orchestra, ballet, opera or theater group to use it. It was then that The Blair School of Music, of Vanderbilt, built Ingram Hall which has sense housed wildly successful companies in all of the above areas.

Turning to Charleston, she spoke of the dream to reinvent The Gaillard Auditorium, to transform it into a new facility. The estimate for refurbishing the existing facility is in neighborhood of 80 million dollars, versus 180 million dollars to build a brand new facility. A preliminary design would update the from elevation to emulate The College of Charleston’s Randolph Hall. There is also much work to be done on the interior of the existing facility, most importantly improving the acoustics and atmosphere.

Martha closed presenting a picture of the new Bass Hall in Fort Worth, Texas, now considered the best in the nation. It is a proven fact the improve more beautiful facilities draw larger audiences and create new opportunities for groups to hold their events at the performing arts center.

She brought a message from Mayor Riley; sharing that he is committed to the improvements of The Gaillard. While the city can help, it recognizes that it must be a joint venture by the private and public sectors of our community. The city can assist with the basic up-fits for safety, but the bells and whistles that add beauty and charm must be privately funded. It is estimated that it will take five years to complete the project if, we need to begin gathering the funding today. Spoleto can serve as the catalyst for this project, and Martha Ingram has provided the spark.

Reported by Fred Sales, Keyway Committee

October 5, 2009

"The Foreclosure Crisis"

September 29, 2009: Jennet Alterman introduced Toby Smith as an extremely accomplished professional who came to Family Services, Inc. in 2007 and has been misnamed as the "Queen of Foreclosures." She also teaches financial literacy, serves as an associate Minister and just completed her first book: Goofy Things Girls Do to Get Guys.

Ms. Smith provided an excellent overview of the Foreclosure Crisis from Spring 2007 where they were managing just 30 cases a month until today's vastly expanded workload. She explained FSI's philosophy is to provide a secure environment to strengthen the values of individuals and families.

Quotes like "this should not have happened to us" and "we're not that kind of family" are common place in Toby's daily life. She explained to us she knows first hand what these people are feeling having almost lost a home herself due to an adjustable rate mortgage. "It's not about pedigree" nor is it the financial illiterate and irresponsible that the media paints; "it's not about your neighbor, it's about you". Ms. Smith feels that FSI is about a year ahead of the curve. They are providing a service that the federal government isn't. In the winter of 2008 they expanded their staff and have been able to handle the crisis shift from sub-prime to mainstream. They hold default clinics in the seven areas of greatest need but the problem still remains that people are embarrassed and wait too long to seek help. Toby explained that in the Spring of 2009 the government unveiled the "Making Home Affordable Modification Program (MHA) but it takes 90 days to get a mod and every day brings a family closer to crisis.

She concluded with a stimulating and informative Q&A session but not before sharing her personal observations: "the recession will continue to impact those who have withstood the crisis the longest...i.e. the affluent and they are the ones least emotionally equipped to handle the downturn and seek help. For more information contact Family Services, Inc. at 1-888-320-0350 or visit their web site: wwww.fsisc.org

Submitted by Bill Crowe, Keyway Committee