Editorial | South Carolina has new nonprofit to support expected ‘gray tsunami’

South Carolina has a unique nonprofit formed to coordinate food, transportation and housing assistance for a growing population of senior citizens, a segment that may double to 2 million seniors in 15 years.

Sustaining Our Seniors of South Carolina is a nonprofit, nonpartisan “organization aimed at promoting independence, wellness and a better quality of life for seniors," according to the nonprofit. Corette Bedsole, president of the board of directors, says SOS is unique to South Carolina and was formed in the fall of 2013 with the encouragement of Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell.

The idea for SOS came from the Leadership South Carolina project, says Bedsole, who is also an associate state director of AARP SC in Columbia. The young business and professional people in the leadership program chose a service project for seniors and McConnell became interested.

McConnell served in the S.C. Senate until he resigned as its president pro tem to take the lieutenant governorship in 2012. He soon realized the state was not prepared for the “gray tsunami" and in two years has advanced the Office on Aging, a responsibility of the lieutenant governor. In an address to the General Assembly two months ago, McConnell said: “by being proactive and funding preventative programs meant to keep seniors independent in their own homes, we can avoid some of the budget busters heading our way."

The group is seeking volunteers to help with priorities in four areas: food and hunger; transportation; housing; and adopting a senior, either for one-time help or ongoing assistance.

"We are not a direct service provider," Bedsole says. “We’re trying to maximize public funds through public-private financial partnerships.”

One of the SOS partners is the Humanities Foundation, which has developed affordable senior apartments in Charleston County. A needs assessment helped the Humanities Foundation acquire a passenger van for seniors in that area.

Rich McLawhorn of Myrtle Beach is one of the seven SOS board members. “I saw what McConnell was doing [in Office on Aging efforts] and wrote him a note. Eventually, McConnell convinced McLawhorn to volunteer for SOS. “I’m totally sold on it," he says. “It has a lot of potential for significant impact in our area. A retired Baptist pastor, McLawhorn was president of the S.C. Baptist Ministries for the Aging before he was senior pastor of the Garden City Baptist Church. Before going into the ministry, McLawhorn was an attorney and served as head of the S.C. Department of Juvenile Justice.

Another SOS board member is Mike Couick, chief executive of the S.C. association of electric cooperatives, which serve consumers in every S.C. county.

"As utilities we’re not equipped to help all of our senior citizens’ needs. SOS is a top-notch idea from the lieutenant governor. Instead of trying to do it all, SOS can be a source of direction to those who want to help."

Other SOS partners are Home Works, which helps low-income homeowners, and the S.C. Association of Heating and Air Conditioning Contractors.

McLawhorn notes that the Waccamaw region has a high number (25 percent) of residents over age 60. He noted that seniors, using recycled computers, could improve the reading and learning skills of youngsters. He hopes the SOS approach will "stimulate different thoughts" in serving a growing gray population.

The SOS website www.SustainingOurSeniors.org is set up for volunteering, making donations, or offering goods and services.