Kiawah Island gets a bad rap sometimes.

They are occasionally derided as rich folks living in a gated community shut off from the rest of Charleston.

That is not only an unfair stereotype, it's not true.

Yes, there is a good deal of wealth on the island — but they are in fact very much a part of the community, particularly Johns Island. More so than a lot of people.

Hundreds of residents from Kiawah, and sister island Seabrook, volunteer in Johns Island schools such as Haut Gap Middle and Mount Zion Elementary, where they tutor and mentor students. They spend time with the kids, go to football and basketball games at St. John's High with their families.

Talk to some of these people on the barrier islands and you will realize how sincere they are, how much it means to them to be involved in the community.

Many town officials volunteer to sit on the boards of Johns Island charities.

See, many of these folks are retired and they have both the time and inclination to give back.

And they do quite a bit.

Locals do good work

The town of Kiawah has a charitable giving program that has donated more than $350,000 to Johns Island charities in the past three years.

This money comes from tax revenue and tourism dollars that pour onto the island during the summer. Town Council solicits requests from nonprofits and gives out money twice a year to churches, libraries and Meals on Wheels programs, among other things.

The Sea Island Habitat for Humanity has received $75,000 from the island since late 2010. The Barrier Island Free Medical Clinic, which provides health care for uninsured folks living in poverty, has gotten $80,000 in the same period.

Rural Missions Inc. has seen about $53,000 from Kiawah recently.

“They started helping us three years ago,” says executive director Linda D. Gadson. “We use the money to improve housing conditions on the island. We renovate, restore and sometimes build new houses. Kiawah has been a blessing and we are grateful. We hope they allow us to continue to apply for the money.”

That's the idea.

“We feel like it's important because there are local folks doing good work,” says Kiawah Mayor Charles Lipuma. “We feel like it's important to help them fulfill their missions.”

A great message

Kiawah doesn't make a big deal out of this.

They don't send out press releases or toot their own horns. That speaks volumes about their sincerity. They are truly trying to make a difference, and are fortunate enough to have the resources to do it.

And, honestly, they're pretty humble about it.

“We do it because we feel we're good neighbors,” says Alan Burnaford, a former council member who supported the giving. “We've been a little bit more blessed in some cases, and we just want to give back some time and money.”

That's not just a great message for Christmas, but for the entire year.

Reach Brian Hicks at or read his blog at