FOCI and the Spirit of Giving

The River Club Six Months After
October 8, 2019

The Sprit of Connection and the Practice of Giving

The causeway that links Callawassie Island to the mainland is for many residents the spot where they first knew. “Right there, we began to feel that this is our home,” is a story told by many, and passed down now through generations. Not only a place of beauty and inspiration, the causeway may be the firmest symbol of the connections that enrich our lives here. For an island to trace its value to connection might seem ironic. Yet for Callawassie Island the spirit of connection plays a big part in the pleasure of life here, and in the satisfaction we get from it.

We see more poetry than irony in this unlikely pairing of island and connection. And cultivating connections is a way of life for many.

This month marks the 19th annual charity golf tournament hosted here by the Friends of Callawassie Island. The FOCI Tournament has raised as much as $40,000 to benefit as many as 24 different local charities. With more than 125 golfers and corporate sponsors, the tournament is the largest FOCI fundraiser, generating more than half the funds that FOCI awards through grants each year to selected charities.

Looking back at the beginning, we see the longtime realization that our beautiful home is even better when it is connected in certain ways with the communities that surround it. Embracing the human environment of our island home enriches us in turn, by calling up the feeling of gratitude we share for the exceptional good fortune we enjoy in living here. The neighboring towns in Beaufort and Jasper Counties include people from all walks of life, and worthy organizations that work to serve their needs. Adding support to those organizations is one example of the connection that makes life on Callawassie Island so worthwhile.


When Giving is More than a Season

“This is the most giving island,” said FOCI president Bitt Dennis. “Our residents give so much, and not just money, but their time and effort, too.” Anyone who ever had a hand in organizing a golf outing – much less a tournament – can tell you it is no easy endeavor, with thousands of details to corral and hundreds of hands to coordinate. The FOCI golf tournament is just one of the two major events organized each year to raise funds for local charities.

On alternate, even-numbered years, FOCI presents a theatre event, that is 100% produced, directed and performed by Callawassie Islanders. Director Elaine Diaz brought with her to Callawassie Island a wealth of theatre experience. She demonstrates a proven conviction that theatre can bring people together, create fun on both sides of the curtain, and raise money for a good cause, all at the same time. Elaine is often the author of the FOCI plays, as well as the director. The community enthusiasm and the wide reach of involvement that the plays create is a sign of her ability to make that involvement worthwhile.

Odd-numbered years belong to a FOCI yard sale, and this timing provides plenty of opportunity for Callawassie Island households to generate a backlog of “merchandise” – gently loved items that are welcome in a new home.

Fund-raising events are not always a two-step for FOCI. This year they were glad to add to their calendar a dinner/dance featuring Callawassie Island’s own resident classic rock band, “Artificially Hip.” Additional fundraising events have included a homes tour and a golf event called Birdies for Charity.


Nourishing our Neighboring Communities

FOCI evaluates grant applications four times a year, and the disciplined process they observe, including a standard application, makes the funds they raise go a long way. Candidates must have the tax-exempt 501c3 classification, specify the size and purpose of the grant, and indicate whether an increment would be helpful if the full amount is not allocated. FOCI members visit the proposed charities after reviewing the grant, and ask that they demonstrate evidence of results.

A small selection of examples includes the Boys & Girls Clubs of Beaufort and Jasper Counties, the Special Olympics, Second Helpings and local food banks, and Deep Well. Causes that stem from a particular interest of many Callawassie Island families include Memory Matters, for brain health education and memory care services, and NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization, dedicated to building better lives for millions of Americans.

The quarterly evaluations favor charities where Callawassie Islanders have hands-on experience as volunteers, and smaller charities that have limited resources or lack corporate sponsorships. Organizations in Beaufort, Jasper, and sometimes Colleton Counties that emphasize education, human services, health, and youth activities get careful consideration. FOCI seeks charities that need hands as well as funds, because forming connections with each other and giving of our time to one another in many cases, is more valuable than money.

Our blessed coastal locale offers much the same beauty to everybody, so it’s the spirit of Callawassie Island that sets us apart. The facilities and assets we enjoy can be found in some manner in other island communities, although our particular point of view is unmatched. The warmth that Callawassie Islanders show in their regard for each other – and for the communities that surround our special island – is an essential ingredient in the life of Callawassie Island.


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A Vision Comes to Life at the River Club

Callawassie Islanders imagined it. Together we saw it come true. It started with striving to find out how to make the Callawassie Island River Club even more a part of the Members’ lives. Already a kind of home-away-from-home for many residents, the Club was a setting that people enjoyed so much they said they’d like to experience something like that on even more casual occasions. Staying special and still becoming more of an everyday experience for the Members, was the balance that needed to be struck with the new River Club. Six months now since the opening, we can take stock with real satisfaction of achieving that goal.

For generations, the River Club had offered families, couples, and individuals a relaxing, away-from-it-all feeling – for an hour, a day, an afternoon. Islanders enjoyed the River Club so much that it grew and evolved over time to become an experience that was well beyond poolside refreshments. The gorgeous vantage point and the memories people made there drew Islanders back for cocktails, dinner, or an evening with loved ones getting away from the hustle and bustle of our daily lives..

Members and staff combined nurtured a vision of the casual yet classic Callawassie Island Club experience at the River Club. The true teamwork of members and staff streamlined the process to make the assets and resources of the River Club as first-rate as the experiences people had grown to expect there. What began as a poolside experience would come to rank among the best of all the private residence clubs on the coast.


The Sum is More Than Its Parts

The first six months of operations at the new River Club has borne out this vision and fulfilled these expectations, and more. Like a company that adds a jet and then sees that its business is transformed, rather than just made faster, the River Club turned out to offer even more that we saw in the vision.

The feeling Members have at the River Club in some ways seems altogether new. “Members seem to circulate, to visit at each other’s tables at the River Club,” Assistant General Manager David Spivey observed. “The feeling there is even more relaxed, and you can see that in the way people connect.”


Yet the Parts are Pretty Spectacular

“It turns out this isn’t just an improved version of what we had,” David said. “It’s something altogether new.” Members say this is the best view of the river anywhere, as the building was sited to be parallel with it. More tables oversee the river in this new design, and the screened-in porch adds even more river-view dining than ever before. The porch also provides a way of dining outdoors without the insects, citronella, or the Skin-So-Soft. Ceiling fans and outdoor heaters make the porch a year-round option.

What’s served on those tables has a different slant, too. The idea was to meet the same high standards as at the Callawassie Island Clubhouse, yet to offer a menu that fits a place where nice jeans qualify as “dressing for dinner.” Executive Chef Jim Spratling created a menu that you might call “fine casual.” In addition to original creations that continue his tradition of blending Lowcountry freshness with hometown traditions and big-city originality, Jim turned the powerful new commercial kitchen at the River Club into a place where burgers and pizza get the same attention as elegant cuisine, and where local and craft beers are curated as carefully as the wines.

Speaking of pizza, the new pizza ovens at the River Club are just the outward and visible signs of another example of Chef Jim’s careful attention to Members. “You just listen,” Jim said. “When people talk about what they loved in their hometowns, food is a part of that. It doesn’t take a survey; all you’ve got to do is pay attention.”

Nevertheless, Chef Jim realized that pizza is a particular subject on which people do not always agree. “If you’re from New York, it’s a slice you could eat on the run if you had to. If you’re from Chicago, it’s deep-dish, for sitting down and tucking-in. If you’re from Cleveland, it could be either, both, or another approach.” So, he took care to formulate a River Club version of pizza that everybody’s glad to see come to the table. He even imports dough from NYC. “People say you can’t match it anywhere else because of the Catskill water it’s made with. So, we got it,” Jim said.

Parts of the River Club experience are not as visible as the cuisine but still adds into this equation where 2 + 2 = 5. A heated swimming pool by the river, taking a page from the Callawassie Island Clubhouse book, plays a role in this. Cooling the swimming pool in the height of summer and warming it through the winter, with an efficient, geo-thermal heat pump, means members enjoy swimming many more weeks a year. And just beside the pool, another environment-friendly design lies beyond the overhead pergola. A “rain garden” was designed-in there, with rocks and grasses that slow and evaporate runoff, easing the demands on drainage.


Our Warm and Balanced Connection

Now that we’ve settled-in to the new River Club, and we see it returning even more than we envisioned, more than we put in, there’s a moment to reflect on what the success says about Callawassie Island as a whole. We listened to each other and cooperated. Our trusted management and staff recognized the importance of what we were talking about and added the resourcefulness and will to see it through.

It’s the spirit of Callawassie Island that sets us apart. Our lovely region offers much the same beauty to everybody (although our vantage point is undoubtedly second to none). The facilities and assets we enjoy can be found in some fashion elsewhere, too. However, the true leadership that inspires such confidence as we move always forward, and especially the warmth that Callawassie Islanders show in their regard for each other – these are the assets of a higher order. The gratitude we feel for this is part of the satisfaction that comes from living on Callawassie Island.

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