Growing pains: Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy raising money to expand

file/Grace Boehm/staffChaplain Rob Dewey comforts the family of 22-year-old Jackie Lee Washington after his body was found in the Ashley River in September 2010.

For the first time since its founding more than 25 years ago, the Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy had nobody available to send to an accident scene earlier this year.

It was a sign that it was time to expand, according to its founder, the Rev. Rob Dewey, a former police officer and Episcopal priest.

“We’re kind of behind the Eight Ball trying to keep up and give what the community is asking for,” he said.

The ministry is kicking off a campaign to hire a third full-time chaplain this week.

The number of people moving to the Charleston area is a big part of the reason. The population has increased 42 percent since Dewey started in 1990, according to the ministry’s figures. Then there has been the increasing number of tourists with Charleston’s rising reputation as a destination spot.

More people and more traffic has meant more accidents and grieving families. Believer or nonbeliever — when standing beside the twisted metal that just moments ago carried a loved one — sometimes you just need a shoulder to cry on.

Chaplains also comfort police officers, firefighters, EMS technicians and other first responders who deal with tragedies.

Requests for chaplains at emergency calls has increased 26 percent in the last two years, according to the ministry.

Another reason for the need for another full-time chaplain is that Dewey himself has become much busier, not only overseeing a growing staff but being called around the country to train others. He’s the 2015 lay coordinator for FBI chaplains across the country. He also gets called out of town to teach a course he wrote for the University of Maryland after 9/11.

The ministry brought on a second paid chaplain in 1998. Rich Robinson, a former Charleston police officer, is the other full-time chaplain. The ministry also includes 19 volunteer chaplains.

The campaign to raise money for another chaplain starts Thursday with a fund-raising dinner financed by Anita Zucker, the educator, businesswoman and philanthropist. The 100 tickets to the event have already been sold.

The ministry is also looking to the Community Foundation’s May 5 Lowcountry Giving Day to raise more money.

There is no particular deadline for hiring the third chaplain.

“The process of hiring a third full-time chaplain involves vetting individuals to ensure they have the proper balance of skills and experience,” Barbie Schreiner, the chaplaincy’s director of fund-raising, said in an email. “We currently serve 38 agencies, and that requires a chaplain to have a broad skill set that can be appropriate for a police department and/or an elementary school.”

They’re looking for somebody with a master’s degree, experience with law enforcement or first responding agencies, experience with disaster preparedness and “a vast understanding of critical incident stress management,” she said.

Chaplains operate out from a faith base but vary their approach according to what’s needed and wanted on-scene, Dewey said.

“We go on a scene and see what we can to do help,” Dewey said. “We are there for support. It’s what we call the ministry of presence.”

Chaplains handle emergency calls, death notifications, one-on-one counseling sessions, hospital visits, ride-alongs with first responders, community outreach opportunities and agency relations.

The ministry does not take any government money but offers services to government agencies.

The Highway Patrol quit calling local chaplains to accident scenes about a year and a half ago. Now when a trooper decides a chaplain is needed, the trooper contacts the S.C. Law Enforcement Assistance Program.

Dewey complained to officials at the Department of Public Safety and the Charleston Legislative Delegation about the change in December.

Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Sherri Iacobelli said at the time that the department was concerned about liability by calling in chaplains from outside its network. She said troopers would not call local chaplains but would not prohibit them from being at accident scenes.

Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553.