In 2007, the Coastal Samaritan Counseling Center helped 403 clients with a variety of mental health and emotional problems, and the following year the number increased to 509. In 2009, as more people struggled in the recessionary economy, the number rose to 760. The Rev. Kathy Heustess, executive director of Coastal Samaritan and a counselor, says the center's clients find themselves in a familiar Catch-22 for social services across the Grand Strand: As the sour economy drives up the demand for help, the folks who need it have less income to pay.
There's no doubt, Heustess says, that economic factors such as unemployment, or breadwinners working fewer hours, "definitely increase the demand for services. Families are struggling financially" and are under greater stress. "We don't want money to be the reason people don't seek help," she says. So like its counterparts in cities across the United States, Coastal Samaritan has an adjusted fee scale. Clients pay something, and the center accepts insurance; uninsured or underinsured clients' fees are subsidized through financial support from the United Way of Horry County, 16 area churches, fundraisers and gifts from individuals.
Coastal Samaritan is headquartered at First United Methodist Church in Myrtle Beach and has eight satellite centers in United Methodist and Presbyterian churches in Carolina Forest, Conway, Georgetown, Little River, Loris, Murrells Inlet, North Myrtle Beach and Pawleys Island. Other "covenant congregations" include Baptist, Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian churches in Myrtle Beach, Murrells Inlet, North Myrtle Beach and Socastee.
Clients include men and women with depression, single mothers struggling with parenting and seniors overwhelmed by grief, according to the Coastal Samaritan website. "We help clients walk a path of healing and transformation," Heustess says. There is a reason for the connection to churches. Coastal Samaritan is a member of, and accredited by, the Samaritan Institute of Denver. The institute was started in Elkhart, Ind., by a physician, two pastors and a seminary professor.
The Samaritan approach combines "mind, body, spirit, community," Heustess says. Counselors "are attuned to spiritual issues" and "understand the importance of faith," but do not impose their personal beliefs on clients. Coastal Samaritan has six counselors, all with master's degrees and licensed, one of the standards of the Samaritan Institute. Her master's is from the University of South Carolina. A native of Ohio, Heustess is a graduate of Ohio Northern University and met her husband, Bill, at Asbury Seminary in Kentucky. He pastors three small churches in Marion County, and they live in Conway.
Samaritan Coastal has a total budget of about $240,000 and receives a United Way allocation of $14,000. Fundraisers include a golf outing and a new soup cookoff that will be repeated in January 2011. "It was a huge success," Heustess says, particularly in making friends and raising awareness. A recent "Spirit Night" at Chick-fil-A at Gator Hole, North Myrtle Beach, raised money for the client assistance fund.