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From Hilton Head to Beaufort, the President of Alpha Janitorial Services shares her passion for keeping the Lowcountry clean

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Photo above: Debra with her two rescued Greyhounds.

Debra Dabney puts only one thing before her love of Beaufort and that’s her husband, Tom. Although she was born in Washington, DC, her affection for the area knows no bounds.

“I love, love, love the Lowcountry,” she exclaims. “The smell of the marsh grasses and watching the marsh grasses change color through the seasons and the calming effect of being on the water is heaven on earth!”

Debra is the owner and president of Alpha Janitorial Services, Inc., which she opened in 1986. What started as a Fripp and Harbor Island condo cleaning company expanded to include commercial cleaning. Today she employs over 50 staff and concentrates on commercial businesses like schools, professional offices and other multi-office businesses. Her business services include floor stripping and waxing and carpet cleaning in addition to general cleaning.

Before opening Alpha, Debra was the business manager of a Hilton Head electrical supply company. She credits her mother as the catalyst that led her to start her own business.

“She was constantly coaxing me to open a business of my own,” Debra says. “I’ve been told I’m somewhat of a neat freak.”

One of Debra’s most interesting work-related stories has a happy ending, but probably ranks in the top five of “Guess what happened at work today” anecdotes.

“While performing a move out clean at Parris Island, an employee accidentally vacuumed up a pet hamster. To our delight, the hamster was unharmed and was kept at our office as a pet until it could be retrieved by the previous tenant.”

After meeting on a blind date, Debra and Tom married in 1992. The couple has two grandchildren and two rescued greyhounds.

“Prior to our wedding, Tom was diagnosed with stage IV renal cell carcinoma with a life expectancy of 4-6 months,” Debra explains. “As my luck, or as I sometimes jokingly say, no luck would have it, he came home as the only survivor from an experimental treatment at Duke. He has been cancer free ever since. We are truly blessed!”

An avid boater and self-identified river rat, Debra also plays tennis at least twice a week and has served in several different capacities with the Beaufort Tennis Association.

She does plan to retire some day, but Debra currently enjoys working with her Alpha team.

“When I started my business I felt there was a need for more professionalism in the local cleaning business and I decided to act on that need. Our hard working employees put their hearts into what they do. I have been fortunate to work with a dedicated team and it is a pleasure to work with several schools and businesses in Beaufort County that appreciate the importance of a clean, sterile environment.”

Meet Beaufort Academy’s in-house dynamo

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Photo above: BA Headmaster, Stephen Schools, looks to the future.

By Molly Ingram

When you meet Stephen Schools, Headmaster of Beaufort Academy, you realize right away that he is a man with a vision. He has worked this past two years with the Board of Trustees and the parents groups to re-focus the 5 Year Strategic Plan towards big changes.

Unlike many strategic plans, BA’s has yearly benchmarks and evaluations. This allows you to know where you are relative to your ultimate goals at any point in time. And those goals are lofty at BA. Their biggest goal is to move from a student body of approximately 245 students to a much larger body of 300-325 students. That means more teachers and better and bigger facilities, all being accounted for in a new capital campaign about to be announced.

Stephen brings an interesting history to the job of headmaster at BA. He began his career as a math teacher at Porter-Gaud in Charleston. He loves math and technology related topics. He is currently keeping his hand in by teaching 9th grade computer coding.

The classroom experience brings an insightful twist to the various administrative jobs Stephen has held since Porter-Gaud. Education, morals, and character development are the platform on which everything they do at BA is situated. “Our students are known by most of the teachers and administrators, cared for, and are safe to be themselves. Plus, 100% of our graduating seniors are admitted into 4-year colleges.”

The “safe to be themselves” concept is new to this generation of current students. Safety in school has become both a physical issue with the number of school shootings that have taken place recently, but also a personal issue. “If a child doesn’t feel safe, it becomes very hard for them to learn.” Safety has also become a big issue with parents. “Parents want a strong environment for their child that is both enriching and welcoming and above all safe.”

Stephen’s two children, Caroline (9) and Sam (8) who both attend BA were quick to point out the difference in acceptance when they moved here two years ago from Baltimore. Both children agreed that Beaufort Academy was much more welcoming than other schools they had attended. Students and teachers were “friendlier” and “easier to get along with here than where we were before.”

So how do you raise your student population by about 30% over the next couple of years? According to Stephen, it is not an easy task. “It’s certainly going to be a challenge. BA is open to every student in Beaufort County regardless of their income or socio-economic status. We have a very generous and healthy financial aid program and we are more than happy to give it out to students who want to learn and who are willing to work hard. BA is for those students that want to experience the range of extracurricular activities we offer and to those who will benefit from the individual attention they can and will get from teachers.” He continues,”We need parents and students to visit the school, see what we do in person and how we do it. They should talk to current students and teachers. If the child is right for BA, then somehow we will make everything else work out.”

Stephen is up for the challenge of these next couple of years. The capital campaign will add funds to expand the gym, add classrooms, upgrade the dining facilities and re-do the gym. That will hopefully convince parents of students not currently enrolled in BA to go see what all the excitement is about. Those parents with student athletes will find a successful competitive atmosphere where their child will be able to play varsity sports while learning about fine arts, history, English, technological topics and much, much more.

Then there is the BA’s boys’ soccer team who will be trying to make it a three-peat this year if they can win the state championships for a third consecutive time. Whether they win or lose this year, you will find a team that is totally dedicated to their sport and to their studies and most importantly, to their school.

I believe BA is positioned in the right spot to achieve their 5-year plan. If you have students that need a nurturing environment to excel or smaller classrooms where they can ask questions without fear of repercussions or bullying, then Beaufort Academy is a school to consider. Take the time to schedule a visit. If nothing else you will meet some of the great team that makes BA unique in the Beaufort education market. Their mascot is an eagle, similar to Beaufort High School, but that is where the similarities end. These eagles are in a class by themselves.

NOC project manager dedicated to improving young lives

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Photo above: John Leadem, NOC project manager, impacts so many in Beaufort.

The Neighborhood Outreach Connection’s mission is “to help all individuals in the community achieve…economic independence and personal fulfillment.” At the same time, John Leadem, project manager of the Beaufort NOC, is finding his own personal fulfillment helping the local branch of the program grow and become sustainable.

While working with AT&T, John was responsible for community outreach and it soon became the favorite part of his job. When he moved to Beaufort, he was eager to do his part to enrich the community and focused his efforts on getting an NOC started.

“I really want to see the NOC become an integral part of the community,” says John. “My goal is to see the NOC kids make it to college and be successful in life.”

NOC connects with community members through a strong presence in low-income neighborhoods. They establish program centers that provide educational, health service and workforce development support by bringing resources, services and technology into the neighborhood.

John is enthusiastic about the work that’s being done in Beaufort. “The team at Beaufort Elementary School is especially supportive and very engaged,” he says. “My NOC teachers are exceptional; they are the lifeblood of the program. They come every day with passion and a true love for the kids. The kids themselves are full of energy.”

With funding from the state of South Carolina, NOC opened two new learning centers – one at Marsh Pointe Community Center and a second at Parkview Apartments – in May of this year. The initiatives also received support from the Beaufort County School District, teachers and administrators from Beaufort Elementary School and the Beaufort community.

“Children from low-income families face a significant achievement gap in school and receive limited learning support outside the school,” John says. “More than 1,000 learning activities were completed in NOC’s Summer Virtual Learning Program and nearly 300 hours were spent on lessons. Almost across the board, students saw an improvement in their aptitude scores for all subjects.”

Johns says that each day at NOC brings a new adventure. He enjoys building support for the programs and seeing the impact they have on the children. NOC will soon introduce an after school learning program for middle school students in the community and they also plan to expand their preschool program.

The father of four adult children – Timothy, Caitlin, Evan and Charlotte – John enjoys speed walking five miles per day, rain or shine. If you’re ever in a conversation with him, be sure to ask him how he defended himself against an irate, but romantic, Parisian mime.

As he looks to the future, John is eager to continue his work with NOC and “make a difference in the lives of these kids and contribute to the quality of life in Beaufort.”

A fitness and nutritional trainer for all ages

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Photo above: LifeFit Wellness Coach motivates others to keep trying.

By Molly Ingram

As many of you know, I decided to try the Body Makeover program that is provided by LifeFit and Beaufort Memorial in an attempt to begin to live a healthier lifestyle. And so far, so good. The program participants are divided into groups that have a set three days where they meet at the same time. My group is led by a stellar trainer and team captain named Amy Mulnix who is just an amazing young woman and mother of two youngsters.

Amy with her pup, Toby.
Amy with her pup, Toby.

Amy is originally from Wilkesboro, NC and graduated with a degree in Exercise Science from UNC Wilmington. Her formative years were very sports centric with a family who supported her involvement in basketball (Division I), swimming, soccer and track. By now you have figured out Amy is an excellent athlete.

Tall and lanky, she has the physique of a swimmer but her long red hair gives you a hint about the competitiveness that simmers just below her surface. So how do you take all that competitiveness and channel it into encouraging, mentoring, coaching and pushing a bunch of little old ladies, of which I am one, to become better and healthier individuals? That, my friends, is where the real talent lies.

As I look back on all of the failed times I have attempted to make the transition to “healthier” I can finally see why those times didn’t work and this time I think it will. It is simply a matter of getting the right person in the right job at the right time.

“I have always had a passion for the health and wellness world and enjoy sharing that passion with others through coaching, mentoring and training. Once I moved to Beaufort, an opportunity to work at LifeFit came up and I was greatly blessed to get the job. I’ve always been geared more towards working with children in a sport related sense, so this opportunity was a huge challenge for me but one I was very excited to accept. I grew up with coaches and personal trainers all my life, went to school to learn the science of it all, and really wanted to give back to others in the same way I had been rewarded. The game of sports taught me incredible life lessons; the value of a hard work ethic, team work, time management, loyalty, integrity, commitment, perseverance and compassion. With the Body Makeover Program, these were areas in which I could use my strengths and passion to share with and motivate others in hopes to impress upon them the importance and advantages of leading a healthy lifestyle.”

Amy created a “team” of us old ladies that provided multiple benefits for each of us. We became friends besides teammates. We shared each other’s successes and when we fell off of the “healthy eating” wagon (which was more often than Amy probably hoped for) we encouraged each other to “get back on track”, and we all got bitten by the fitness bug.

Amy’s ability to encourage each of us in different ways is amazing to watch. It shows her ability to lead, and we all followed with a smile on our faces except between 12-1 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday’s when we might have been seen calling her every name we could think of until our hour of class was over.

Amy was selected to participate in Leadership Beaufort which she is enjoying immensely. “I decided to take the ultimate step and apply for the program when I realized I wanted more from living in Beaufort. I have always had a passion for serving and volunteering, but how was I going to do this when all I did was work all day and then come home to take care of my little ones? I’m not the most out-going individual in new environments, so seeking these opportunities and getting involved wasn’t going to be easy for me. So I took the leap and was accepted into the program.”

“Growing up a mountain girl, I never really saw myself living on the coast. Even though I graduated college from a coastal community, it was always my dream to live in a cabin in the mountains and have true winters every year. Coming to Beaufort, I think everyone’s first reaction is to see how beautiful the community truly is from an aesthetic sense. Water, everywhere! Boats, sailboats, sunsets and sunrises as vivid as the eye could imagine, a natural, commercial-less coast line, the best local seafood around, beautiful plantations, and a diverse ecosystem unlike any other. But what I love most about Beaufort is not just the visual presentation. It’s the diversity in the people who live here. The ancient cultures that still thrive here and the influence they bring to the community. The history of Beaufort and how it came to be. And lastly, how we truly seek to be one united community that provides a framework to make Beaufort like no other place in the world. There is love here amongst individuals and a shared respect for our beautiful surroundings. We are truly in God’s country here and you can feel everyone embrace that responsibility.”

Amy has an old nursery rhyme that she grew up by and it certainly provides the mantra that she lives by:

Good. Better. Best.
Never let it Rest.
Until your Good is your Better
And your Better is your Best!

This little ditty now lives on my refrigerator as a reminder that life really is a journey and not a competition. It’s not something you win or lose, but how much you enjoyed life as you move through it. Amy has become a friend, coach, tormentor, slave driver, therapist, and sometimes masseuse. She has pointed me in the right direction and continues to nudge me forward. Thanks Amy for all you do for me and for all of us lucky enough to know and work with you.

A military life makes a big “Flash”

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Photo above: Paying tribute to a longtime Army Veteran, “Flash.”

By Molly Ingram

Meet Howard Born, known as “Flash” to his friends and cohorts. And Flash seems to be the best single word to describe him. Soon to be 76, Flash has spent almost his entire career in the military or in military related private industry. Born into a military family that seemed split between the army and the navy with an occasional flyer thrown in for good measure, Flash could salute and sing “Anchors Aweigh” — his Father’s college fight song — long before he could do most other things.

Flash was born in the Naval Hospital on the US Navy Submarine Base, in Coco Solo, Canal Zone, Panama where his Dad was stationed. Anne, his lovely wife, reminds him that he was shipped stateside on a “banana boat” to settle at a Florida base where his Father had been transferred. As a youngster, Flash remembers “getting a ride to school in 1st grade in the Navy mail truck” which was going into town to pick up the days delivery of packages etc. So more than once, Flash seemed to be involved with alternative methods of delivery at the hands of the military in his formative years.

Flash attended Penn State and there was a member of the army ROTC and a Marine reservist at the same time. He accepted a regular Army commission after graduation and began a stellar and challenging career in the Army for the next 26 years. Flash began as an Artillery Officer but moved to flight school becoming both a fixed wing and rotary wing (helicopter) aviator. After two tours in Vietnam, Flash served his country in various capacities in both the US and overseas. His last Army position was at the Pentagon as the Director for US Army International Development Programs, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Research and Development. Phew. It’s a good thing he wrote that down for me because there is no way I would have gotten it right otherwise.

When his 1st wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Flash made the decision to retire as a Colonel from the Army and move to the private sector. Spending time working at General Dynamics on business development in the area of “unmanned aerial vehicle systems,” Flash kept his hand in the military world. I think “unmanned aerial vehicle systems” is what we now call drones and for me it harkened back to his early days of alternative delivery methods, like Banana Boats and the mail truck. And as I sit here writing this, I’m wondering if Flash is currently working in secret with Amazon on their new drone delivery system? Wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

Flash is the proud Dad of three great boys — Allen 48, John 46, and Robert 41 — all successful in their own right. His eldest son is an investment banker in Pennsylvania, the next is an Armored Calvary Commander based in Nevada and the youngest one is an entrepreneur in alternative energy sources in Hawaii. And then there is one very important granddaughter.

What struck me the most when talking with Flash was that he is a living, breathing, example of what I expect to see when someone says that “there is nothing more important than service to one’s country.” It is very much in his blood and his beliefs are strong and intransigent. Living in Beaufort, we are lucky to see this type of dedication and commitment around us with the new Marines graduating on Parris Island, fighter pilots based at MCAS, and so many military retirees who have decided to stay in our little part of paradise.

On November 14th, we owe all of these men and women more than just a heartfelt “thank you.” We owe them for all that we hold dear and that we value — our freedoms, the safety of our family and loved ones, and our opportunity for prosperity. Howard Born is a huge credit to his family, his friends (of which I now include myself), his community, the soldiers he has served proudly with, and to the United States of America. Flash, you make me damn proud to be an American!

A General Manager’s devotion to Beaufort’s waters

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Photo above: From boating to managing BJWSA, Ed Saxon knows his water (pictured with his wife Melanie).

True to his engineering education (he completed both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of South Carolina), Ed was thorough and articulate as he answered questions thrown at him from The Island News. The folks who are served by Beaufort Jasper Water and Sewer Authority can rest assured they are in good hands with Ed as General Manager.

Born and raised in Columbia, Ed joined BJWSA in 1989 as Chief Engineer. Prior to the move back to his home state, Ed worked all over the United States in both the petrochemical and nuclear fields. He eventually moved into sales, which kept him on the road 60 percent of the time. South Carolina was calling him home and Beaufort was the city that won him over. After serving as BJWSA Chief Engineer for 24 years, Ed was named GM in 2013.

According to Ed, “I was always interested in math and science and knew I wanted to be an engineer. I chose mechanical engineering because it touched most engineering disciplines. I was involved in plant operations and management during my time with DuPont and had the opportunity to get back into that field when I took the Chief Engineer job at BJWSA.”

BJWSA is a two-county special purpose district that provides water and sewer services to residents of Beaufort and Jasper counties with annual revenues of $50.6 million.

“At BJWSA, we consider ourselves public health professionals and we provide a critical life sustaining element—safe drinking water,” says Ed. “My personal philosophy mirrors BJWSA’s philosophy: always get it right the first time.”

Even though he’s a native South Carolinian, Ed says he loves Beaufort so much that when he sees his mother he fusses at her for not giving birth to him in Beaufort. “I love to hear the stories the native Beaufortonians tell (don’t know which ones are true) about growing up here,” he says.

Currently serving as the President of the South Carolina Water Quality Association, Ed is also a member of the Sea Island Rotary and serves as a Lector and Building Committee member at St. Peter’s Church, in addition to other clubs and organizations. His previous community service includes serving as the 2001 Water Festival Commodore (“The greatest festival ever,” he says), with which he still remains involved and lots of volunteer hours at the United Way.

He and his wife, Melanie, are the parents of three grown children and the proud grandparents of granddaughter Bailey. Ed and Melanie met in 1973 when he was in the U.S. Air Force and she was attending nursing school at the Mississippi State College for Women. They’ve been married 41 years.

Ed enjoys golfing, fishing and boating and says he recently celebrated the second happiest day in a boat owner’s life. “I sold the boat,” he laughs. “I’m looking for something a little smaller to put on the lift at my dock.”

He and Melanie will spend Christmas in Hawaii to visit their granddaughter (and their son and daughter-in-law, too, of course). He plans to work for three more years with “170 of the best employees in the world,” and then retire. He looks forward to volunteering and enjoying the city he loves – and maybe playing a bit with his two adorable dogs. Beaufort was indeed lucky to get the perfect engineer to look after BJWSA.

Big ideas equal a big mess!

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Photo above: Local yoga instructor believes that laughter is the best medicine. Photo by John Arthur Photography.

By Molly Ingram

I came away from an afternoon chat with an amazing young woman which was part “get to know you” and part “doggie play date” with an incredible sense of wellbeing. Being with Brittney Hiller is simply exhilarating. Brittney owns Brittney Hiller Yoga and she is an accomplished yoga instructor, published author, outstanding massage therapist, and a breath of fresh air all rolled into one. “Anyone who is willing to change their life will change their life and I am elated to help them get started. I am a catalyst for their overall health change for those who want it.”

Photo by John Arthur Photography.
Photo by John Arthur Photography.

Have you ever heard of Laughter Yoga? I hadn’t either. It is a real thing and Brittney teaches it on a regular basis. The idea is that clients get more oxygen, and a way to relieve stress and reduce anxiety all while laughing. We have all heard the expression, “Laughter is the best medicine.” Well, Laughter Yoga incorporates two known benefits for our bodies into one experience. What a great idea. “I laugh through all of my classes, I say the most random things and it wasn’t until I was told by a cohort that I was ‘the only yoga teacher that I know that will say OM with a rap at the end.’ I didn’t realize my singing came out often, but clearly it does and above and beyond all things I truly am still just a kid and LOVE to have fun with those that choose to spend their time with me. One will never know what may come out of my mouth during a yoga class!” I don’t doubt it for one minute.

At the wise old age of 32, and with a background in customer service, Brittney understands the challenges of today’s world for many of us. Between massage and yoga, she works to make all of our lives better. “I work with people who are missing that extra boost of happiness and energy in their life; through yoga and massage therapy I help them create a foundation of happiness and wellbeing by empowering their healthiest and happiest way of living.”

Brittney is a true renaissance woman. Her mind is always going and exploring new arenas where just about anything can be created. Enter The Little Laughing Yogini, a children’s book Brittney launched last spring which is the basis for teaching yoga to youngsters. “Play is a terrific method of getting little ones on the right path early in life by instilling the benefits of breathing correctly. Plus it allows their imagination to develop and present itself in a safe, encouraging, and supportive environment.” Coming soon will be Mommy & Me Playshops and Story Times incorporating The Little Laughing Yogini, the ancillary coloring book, and yoga techniques all wrapped in a package to deliver new ways for parents to play with their children.

Photo by John Arthur Photography
Photo by John Arthur Photography

Brittney enjoys all that she does. “Let me tell you a story about an 83 year old gentleman who had limited strength in his left quadriceps when we started working together six months ago. Today, he can stand freely on his own without the help of the chair in most balancing positions during yoga class. These are the experiences are what light me up inside—seeing the ‘ah ha!’ moments in clients are what I live for!! I simply LOVE helping people become their most amazing self! I know it is there—they know it is there—yet sometimes they just need that gentle reminder and that is what I feel I am good at – giving that gentle push without being too pushy.”

I asked Brittney what the future held for her and her answer describes her better than I ever could. “FUN! I am planning on yoga teaching at festivals, laughter yoga therapy sessions for big corporations that want to better the wellbeing and community feel for their workers, taking the little yogini childrens book and adding new modules to it – I have written comes out and replaced by adding new modules to it and making more micro-courses available on my website for people who would love to practice with me, but haven’t the time or ability to get to a class. Basically, Just more all-out-FUN. I live with the constant intention of discovering how today can unfold better than I could ever imagine? Then, it often does!”

With her husband Andrew, and Armani and Abby, two rescue pups, by her side, the world is looking pretty good for Brittney and those who get the chance to meet her, or even better, work with her. She is a breath of fresh air in a world that can use more of it, literally and figuratively. Where was a yoga playshop when I grew up? You can read more about Brittney at BrittneyHillerYoga.com or purchase The Little Laughing Yogi at Amazon.com or at several local retailers.

Southern transplant brings new flavor to local hospital

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Photo above: BMH Executive Chef changes the stigma of “hospital food.”

By Molly Ingram

My, how times have changed. Last time I was in a hospital, you got Jell-O served three ways. Today, at Beaufort Memorial, you simply pick up the phone and order whatever you like, however you want it, whenever you want it. Finally feeling better and craving an omelet at 3:30 p.m. in the afternoon? No problem. Just call and request one with cheese and mushrooms. Seems more like room service in a nice hotel than standard patient food at our local hospital. Such are the changes Executive Chef Eric Sayers has instituted in his tenure at Beaufort Memorial. Try and name another hospital which has an award winning, internationally trained chef leading their food preparation and delivery? Nope, I couldn’t think of one either.

Chef Eric is from Southbury, CT just outside of Hartford. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, Chef Eric worked in several restaurants in CT and NY. But then came an opportunity to teach in Switzerland. “There, as an assistant teacher at the Swiss Hospitality Institute, I was immersed in Swiss culture, and living only minutes from the French border, I got to experience a second culture first hand as well. I learned a lot about European training, life and cooking.” It also opened his eyes to the bigger role food can play in our lives.

After several years, Chef Eric headed back to the states and into a more traditional role as the Executive Chef at a restaurant near his home in Connecticut. But the winters finally got to him like they have with many of us southern transplants. So a road trip was planned that would traverse the east coast from Virginia to Florida. Two things happened while on the trip. The first was a simple stop at a gas station on Rt. 95 before he headed to Hilton Head to explore that area. Chef Eric walked into the gas station and was greeted with a heartfelt, “Hello” from the workers. This was such a different greeting than he was used to “up north” that the memory stuck with him. And secondly, while in Hilton Head, Chef Eric picked up a local paper to read about the community and came upon an ad for CQ’s restaurant that was looking for a new Executive Chef. Was it kismet? Who knows, but together it was enough to get Chef Eric to move to Hilton Head and work with CQ’s for the next 12 years.

But there was a challenge lurking out there that called to Chef Eric. How can you change the image of hospital food to reflect the trend toward tasty, healthy fare? “Food is such an important part of so much of what we do. In celebration or sorrow, we as humans come together around food. It binds us; it is a common denominator between every race. I am honored to work with such a powerful substance and create dishes that not only nourish our bodies but also comfort us and bring us joy.” I have to admit that I never thought of hospital food quite that way.

Chef Eric has been at Beaufort Memorial for a little over 3 years now and in the cafeteria you come across multiple grains you can add to your salad, a ton of fresh fruit that really looks fresh, and kale and other legumes (a technical word I learned) as part of their regular meal selection. When asked what his biggest surprise was moving from a high end restaurant to a hospital kitchen, Chef Eric reflected, “There are so many more specialized diets I needed to understand – way beyond the typical gluten intolerant or a need to avoid all milk products. I really enjoy working with the Dietitians as I am very interested in the nutritional aspect of food and how it helps restore the body.”

So his typical day starts at 6 a.m. and many times will last until 6 or 7 in the evening, what does Chef Eric do for fun? He cooks. He looks after his orchids which have become a small obsession with him, and he plays with his two dogs Derby and Hannah. When go goes out to eat, what kind of food is he looking for? With wife, Leslie, they head out for sushi or pizza. “Are you kidding? I LOVE pizza. I think I could eat it every day.” Why do I think a kale pizza might be in my future?

Chef Eric is definitely leading the charge of changing that perception of bland and boring hospital food which is such a good thing. Plus, he is teaching in conjunction with the hospital’s LifeFit Wellness teams about how to make meals more enjoyable and healthy without sacrificing time and energy.

So I will allow that you will still get Jell-O on occasion in the hospital. “It is just so easy for people to digest and there are ways to make it taste good. I promise!” I’m going to hold you to that Chef Eric if I ever end up staying overnight at Beaufort Memorial. And I am definitely ordering that omelet with lots of cheese, some mushrooms and kale if I must. But I am confident, I will still come away singing the praises of the kale and feeling better for it. Thanks Chef Eric for making a hospital stay less onerous. Now, about that omelet…

Periwinkle? No, Hollyhocks is the place to shop!

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Photo above: Hollyhock’s shop owner defines success.

By Molly Ingram

What does it take to be a successful shop owner in Beaufort? Well, let’s see. You need business acumen, creativity, tenacity, stubbornness, and maybe luck in the form of good timing and an owner who can do it all. Hollyhocks has been a Beaufort staple for over 16 years and is continually touted as one of our best local successes. Perri Chapman Flaherty, the driving force behind Hollyhocks’ success, embodies all those adjectives and a few more to boot.

Perri graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in marketing and began her business career at the Ritz Carleton in Atlanta where she worked her way through many areas of hotel management. The key training she received while at the Ritz was their approach to customer service. And nobody does it better than the Ritz. “Their goal is to anticipate a guests every need before the guest even knows they want it. And you need to do it with a genuine smile on your face.” But, much as she enjoyed her job at the Ritz, it never created that “spark” that most entrepreneurs look for. There was no passion until she saw her future in Olive Branch, Mississippi when visiting her grandmother. There she found a store called the Checkerberry Shoppe which, after multiple visits, coalesced into a very specific vision for “her store”.

So, deciding the money for grad school would be better invested in her own establishment, she took a giant leap of faith and said, “Beaufort, here I come.” Perri’s parents were already here living out at Coffin Point so home she went to get herself organized and set up. Both of her parents have been more than helpful in putting Hollyhocks on the downtown map. Her dad spent his career in sales and her mother is a “master merchandiser” who is still a help today. But, as much as they were a safety net and sometimes extra hands and feet, it was Perri who could see what Hollyhocks was going to become.

With the help of a local business wiz, Martin Goodman, Perri put together a solid business plan and went to work finding a location in downtown. And it took ages. And ages. And then a few more ages. There was one space that she was interested in right below the Beaufort Yacht Club which put a small sign in the window that said it would be available soon. No dates, no names, no phone numbers. But Perri managed to track down the property manager and began a campaign to move from the bottom of the potential renters list to the winner. Nothing would deter Perri from ultimately getting this store front. A cheery phone call each day to the leasing manager finally worked its magic when he said, “Anybody as tenacious as you will definitely be a success. You can have it.” And so Hollyhocks was born.

Perri started as the owner, buyer, accountant, marketing guru, cleaner, and only sales person. This was the scenario for about six years until two things happened simultaneously – the waterfront started its two year renovation project and a store became available on Bay Street.

Hollyhocks is an unusual store. Perri is in the store every day working with her sales team. The merchandise runs the gamut from lovely women’s clothes that come in very small to very large sizes, great and unusual mementos for the visitors to take home to remind them of Beaufort, beautiful jewelry made by local artisans, and tons of gifts under $20 for just about anybody. It is unusual because the sales team “will tell you the truth about whether something looks nice on you or not. We’d rather be known for our honesty than for getting a quick sale.” But it goes beyond that. Customers at Hollyhocks are never taken for granted. Similar to the Ritz, the Hollyhocks shopper will get a warm welcome when they come in the store, and have help nearby should they need it. The store is warm and friendly with a splash of traditional Southern Charm coming from all corners. Perri believes that much of their success comes from her ability to listen to customers, what they want, what is important to them, what they are reading about in magazines, etc. But you can listen all you want, but a store owner needs to be willing to take a risk and change with the times. Change is very scary to most anyone but in retail it can mean the difference between success and failure. Perri is inherently a listener. Her ability to synthesize what she hears and reads into a workable plan for the store is Hollyhocks secret of success.

If you haven’t stopped into the store recently which is located at 909 Bay Street, you owe it to yourself to go. Besides being a nice place to shop, I guarantee you will find something for someone among her shelves, racks and displays. And you will come out with a smile on your face. Thanks Perri for listening all these years and we are confident that you will keep on listening and stay ahead of the trends as you have done for the last 16 years.

Meet a retired marine who’s retirement lasted four weeks

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Pictured above: LowCountry Habitat Executive Director discusses his career path.

By Molly Ingram

Sometimes you run across someone and something that just seem meant-to-be together. Meet Chet Houston, the Executive Director of LowCountry Habitat for Humanity.

Chet, and his lovely wife of 24 years, Marcy, were high school sweethearts back in Kansas where they are from. Chet headed to college on a track scholarship but soon learned college just wasn’t the place for him. But the Marines might be.

So began a career that spanned 26 years and only ended last April when Chet retired. “I couldn’t stay a Marine forever. The time had come for the next phase, the next chapter, the next adventure,” he chuckled. His Marine tenure was filled with duty postings on both coasts of the US, a few in the middle, as well as in multiple areas of Asia. His jobs included being a drill instructor, teaching motorcycle safety, and three combat deployments.

Mixed into the various jobs, Chet got his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Maryland and holds a Master’s in Business Administration from Norwich University. But how do you go from the military to LowCountry Habitat? It started with a simple phone call.

“I had only been retired for less than a month when I received a call about the LowCountry Habitat job. I wasn’t ready to start to look for a job just yet. I had a whole, long list of projects to do around the house that I wanted to complete plus, summer was coming. I hadn’t had a summer to enjoy in a really LONG time.” But Chet was convinced to send in his resume. Within days, he got a call from the head of LowCountry’s search committee that they wanted to interview him. They understood that he wasn’t ready to take a new position just yet but he could use that time to start to hone his interview skills for when he was ready.

The bottom line was that the search committee loved him and he fell in love with LowCountry Habitat. So ended his summer vacation.

Chet has found that making the transition from the Marines to working in a non-profit has not been as difficult as he was led to believe it would be. “I am completely impressed with the level of dedication I have witnessed from the staff of LowCountry Habitat. I credit the professionalism of the staff and board of directors for making the transition from military to civilian employee so easy for me.”

The first big challenge for the new Executive Director was to celebrate LowCountry Habitats 25th Anniversary and raise the necessary $60,000 to build an additional house this year. “Typically, we build one house a year. This year we will be building 3+ houses. For us, this is very exciting as the need is far greater than our capacity to build. Two families will have a new home for Thanksgiving.” Pretty cool.

LowCountry Habitat had its anniversary celebration last week at a low key event at the Shed in Port Royal. Supported by fine food and wine establishments, patrons enjoyed a myriad of excellent heavy hors d’oeuvres and drink surrounded by great silent auction items and live bidding on “honey do” service providers. It seems there are quite a lot of households that have an extensive “honey do” list and this was a way to cross some of those chores off the list while supporting a favorite non-profit.

“I don’t have the final numbers yet, but preliminary reports indicate that we are close to raising the goal of $60,000. I don’t think we made it completely, but I think we are going to be close. And we’ll do whatever we have to do to get the balance of the money we need for our anniversary house. Of that, I’m sure.”

LowCountry Habitat had the hiring gods on their side when they convinced Chet to interview. His easy, team building style fits with the mission of this non-profit. His “rock solid” work ethic and his belief that “If it’s a job worth doing, it’s worth doing well” is going to serve both LowCountry Habitat and Beaufort well on all fronts.

Welcome to a great new job, a place where you can use all you have learned from the military to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives, where you can raise your three daughters in a caring and giving community and where motorcycle riding is considered almost mandatory. However, you might be on your own rooting for the Kansas City Chiefs. Just sayin’…

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