Feet in the vineyard
There is a bumper sticker once seen frequently that read, “Think Globally. Act Locally.” Unlike the musings on most bumper stickers, there’s great wisdom in those words. Aren’t we all guilty at some point of focusing our attention on a crisis across the world, when in fact there are crises occurring right outside our own door?
Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach Services, Inc. (OLMCOS) is the quintessential “act locally”
organization. With two locations — one supporting the Sea Islands and one supporting residents living in the Eastside of the peninsular Charleston — OLMCOS provides essential services most of us take for granted.
The “founding organization,” the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy, harkens back almost 200 years, to a time when Bishop John England was attending the First Provincial Council of Bishops in Baltimore. While there, he met four young women willing to begin a religious congregation under his authority and commit themselves to a vowed life dedicated to assisting the poor, sick, orphaned and uneducated. Shortly thereafter, they sailed with him from Baltimore to arrive in Charleston on November 23, 1829. Within a year, the sisters started a school in their home.
Almost exactly 160 years later, the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy saw a need for outreach assistance on Johns, James and Wadmalaw Islands and began their work just before the arrival of Hurricane Hugo. After dealing with immediate concerns of disaster relief, and in consultation with area residents, OLMCOS began to dedicate itself to providing services urgently needed in the Sea Islands area. Services have grown each year since.
With the support of 364 volunteers, a staff of 24 and generous donors, OLMCOS currently extends a helping hand to over 6,000 residents yearly through educational programs, health services and basic and emergency needs. The staff effectively delivers a variety of services, including emergency food and financial assistance, dental, prenatal and women’s healthcare, money management, job assistance, English as a Second Language and GED instruction, after-school tutoring and much more.
“Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach believes in community first,” says executive director Ericka Plater. “We assist our neighbors in need, regardless of faith or creed and help them achieve their desired path to self-sufficiency. Our mission is to provide the resources, training and encouragement needed to break the cycle of poverty.”
The three primary umbrellas OLMCOS operates under are educational programs, health and wellness Programs and outreach services and their laundry list of accomplishments is nothing less than amazing.
To many educated people, the services and life-skills training provided by OLMCOS are fundamental — some might say “common sense.” But consider this: If your parents and schools didn’t teach you the basics of personal finance, how would you know them? Magically?
Consider how a person untrained in the basics would view a bank. You and I walk into a bank as confident consumers, but imagine you’d never been in a bank. Would you not be intimidated and confused? What if you’d been taught your entire life that banks can’t be trusted? Or you didn’t have enough money to pay for all of your bills?
Prenatal is another appropriate example. What if your parents and grandparents had a deep mistrust of the medical profession and you never had an educated authority figure explain the importance of proper health services? What if you were afraid you would not receive quality healthcare because of your race? Or not cared for properly because of your lack of insurance or inability to pay?
Add to this the reality of living in poverty; with no transportation, no insurance and no available cash … well, have you ever tried to catch the bus from Wadmalaw to an OB/GYN clinic?
These services that seem so routine do, in fact, change lives radically—and do so because the team at OLMCOS has committed themselves to act locally.
The team at Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach didn’t have to walk far into the vineyard to begin their work. In fact, after a single step they encountered the group God so yearns to help: The poor, the sick and the needy.
For more information and to learn the history of this amazing organization, visit: olmoutreach.org. Their need for funding is great and your gifts will bless your neighbors down the street.