Rural Mission, the faith-based charity located on Johns Island that rehabilitates homes for low-income residents and works with migrant farmers, now is scrambling to rebuild its operation before the 49-year-old nonprofit is forced to close its doors.
Changing demographics on the Sea Islands and a slow-down in funding have drained Rural Mission’s bank account, forcing it to scale back on staffing, services and programming, even as many families continue to need help.
That need is shifting further afield, according to Rural Mission’s Anderson Mack Jr., coordinator of special services. He said the nonprofit ministry has been working increasingly with residents of rural Hollywood and Adams Run.
“The costs for gas and travel are going up,” Mack said.
Johns Island, once farmland thought to be distant from Charleston’s urban center, has become less remote in recent years as the city approves large new development projects that are adding hundreds of homeowners to the area.
As a result of annexation, development and population growth, many who have called Johns Island home for decades, even generations, are slowly moving away, according to Rural Mission Executive Director Linda Gadson.
Her offices are located on an increasingly valuable 5-acre waterfront lot near Bohicket Marina that has a clear view across the water of Wadmalaw Island and a few large riverfront homes.
“We can look across from poverty and see affluent America,” Gadson said. “The haves and have nots, that’s what it comes down to.”
As the U.S. in recent years has cracked down on illegal immigration, fewer migrant farm workers have sought employment in the area, and enrollment in the Head Start program administered by Rural Missions fell below 10, Gadson said.
Two years ago, the program was discontinued and federal funding of about $300,000 dried up. That hurt. The money, which represented three-fifths of the nonprofit’s annual budget, was used to pay basic bills and operational expenses.
Now, Rural Mission, with five regular staff members, is struggling to assist about 2,000 individuals, Gadson said.
“We don’t have a fundraiser other than me, and we don’t have a grant writer,” she said. “We are really in need of both, even if just part-time.”
Rural Mission was founded in 1969. Next year will mark its 50th anniversary. Gadson has been with the organization for all but three of those years, and Mack for all but eight.
Over time, three other organizations — Our Lady of Mercy, Habitat for Humanity and Next Step — also have provided services to low-income clients on Johns Island.
“In our case, we are different in that we concentrate on housing rehab and renovation as opposed to construction,” Gadson said. “Plus, there is the religious aspect: our Prayer Warriors have been operating since 1986.”
The ministry holds non-denominational services in its chapel, busing worshippers to the property.
“And we do crisis assistance when funds are available,” Gadson added, referring to the provision of medicines, transportation, food and cash to pay utility bills.
But all of it is at risk if the nonprofit can’t adjust its goals, find volunteers and raise money. A new board of directors will help, Gadson and Mack said.
“The board has to make a decision about refocusing,” Mack said. “A needs assessment is to be done to look at what we need to do as far as ministry on these islands.”
As for the property, Gadson said it is God’s blessing, a treasure she hopes she can hold onto.