Rural Mission, a faith-based Johns Island charity in its 50th year, will suspend operations at the end of the month. The charity is turning over its assets to the South Carolina United Methodist Camps and Retreat Ministries, with which it is affiliated.
Rural Mission rehabilitates homes for low-income residents on Johns and Wadmalaw islands, works with migrant farmers in the area and offers crisis assistance (when funds are available) and religious counseling. In recent years, it has extended its reach to Hollywood and Adams Run.
Changing demographics on the Sea Islands, higher costs and reduced income have made it increasingly difficult for the organization to function. In the past few years it has scaled back on staffing and programming, though the needs of low-income residents have not diminished, according to Executive Director Linda Gadson.
“We’ve been struggling and struggling and struggling,” Gadson said. If you can’t pay the bills, you can’t pay the staff, then what do you do? The next thing you do is sell.”
The plan had been to sell the charity’s valuable waterfront property and use the money to eliminate debt, restructure the operation and find a new home. But because the United Methodist Church is the official owner of the property, Gadson and her board of directors discovered they could not pursue that strategy.
“That left us with no feasible choice other than to close the mission and turn everything over to the United Methodist Church, which then would be responsible for our bills,” board member Skip Johnson wrote in an email. “That's what we did, so the mission's last day will be Feb. 28.”
It is unclear what the church will do now. It could sell, invest in the existing charity, start a new mission or find another use for the waterfront property.
Arthur W. Spriggs, executive director of South Carolina United Methodist Camps and Retreat Ministries, noted that fundraising for Rural Mission has always been a challenge, but became especially difficult in recent months.
"This has prompted us to temporarily suspend operations as we work with the South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church — with which Rural Mission Inc. has a historic connection — to determine the next steps for our ministry," Spriggs wrote in an email. "We ask that you keep the people of the Sea Islands in your prayers, along with the future ministry of Rural Mission."
The charity sits on a 5-acre waterfront lot not far from the entrance to Kiawah and Seabrook islands. The area has seen significant development on both sides of Bohicket Creek.
Three other organizations — Our Lady of Mercy, Habitat for Humanity and Next Step — also have provided services to low-income clients on Johns and Wadmalaw islands.
Gadson said she hopes to be able to collaborate with the church to find a solution that enables Rural Mission to reorganize and continue its work.
“I believe that this is a sign of hope, a new beginning, and that the people of the islands will still have access to some pretty valuable property,” Gadson said. “Where we stand right now is that we need to get a new vision. ... We’re gonna work through this together.”