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Caring for the community

HILTON HEAD RESIDENTS RECOGNIZED WITH MAYOR’S ISLANDER AWARD

Sun, ocean beaches, golf courses and terrific weather make Hilton Head a much-celebrated island. But it’s the caring and sharing of civic-minded residents that make it a community. To recognize that spirit of volunteerism, four Hilton Head residents received the Mayor’s Islander Award. “One of my favorites things to do is recognize our local citizens for all they do to make our island community great,” said Mayor John McCann. “This is well-deserved recognition for each honoree.”

The recipients for 2021 are the Rev. Louis Johnson, Dean Roberts, Kathleen Harper, and Ronald Farsetti.

REV. LOUIS JOHNSON: ‘BUILD BRIDGES AND TAKE DOWN WALLS’

community2The Rev. Louis Johnson commuted to his Hilton Head church from his native Savannah for 15 years before making the move to the Lowcountry.

It turned out to be a win-win decision: His affection for the island was strengthened, and Hilton Head gained a committed, community-minded force.

“I made the move to be closer to the church,” said Johnson, pastor of the historic Central Oak Grove Missionary Baptist Church on Mathews Drive.

Under Johnson’s leadership and engagement, the church and the community also grew closer in the past eight years.

In honoring Johnson with an Islander Award, the town of Hilton Head pointed to his work as a co-founder of the One Island, One Community celebration.

Johnson said the annual event held on July 4 was the idea of a member of his church and a member of the Grace Community Church on Spanish Wells. Separately, the members brought the suggestion for a community coming-together to Johnson and Matthew Palmer, lead pastor at Grace.

The concept, Johnson said, is for “this beloved community to build bridges and take down walls. Everybody comes together for a celebration and a great day of fellowship.”

After several years of success, One Island, One Community was squelched in 2020 and this year to accommodate pandemic-related health and safety concerns. Johnson said he is hopeful the event will return in 2022.

For Johnson, the pandemic meant developing another way for the church to serve the community. Central Oak Grove volunteers partnered with grocery stores and others to collect and — when necessary — deliver food to more than 60 needy families.

Recipients included single, working mothers, according to Johnson. To better meet their needs, volunteers arranged for dinners and breakfasts so children’s nutritional needs were met at different key times.

In another initiative, Johnson helped organize vaccinations for COVID-19 immunization.

“The church is a refuge that reaches out to make a difference,” Johnson said. 

DEAN ROBERTS: ‘WE CAN GIVE OF OUR TIME’

community3Around the Roberts household, volunteerism is a way of life.

Flashback to 2018, when Susan Roberts was among recipients of Hilton Head’s Islander Awards, in part for her work in education, literacy, history and as a tireless program coordinator with the Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park.

“There is always something that needs attention, and Susan is the one to jump in and help with whatever is needed,” said then-Mayor David Bennett.

Fast forward to 2021. As it turns out, Susan is not the only Roberts family member ready to “jump in and help.”

Among this year’s Islander award honorees is Susan’s husband, Dean, a familiar figure as a volunteer for the Boys & Girls Club and the Juneteenth Celebration hosted by the Mitchelville Preservation Project.

A faithful member of the Hilton Head Rotary Club, his commitment was put to the test when he ascended to the organization’s presidency during the COVID-19 pandemic. His challenge: To keep the ever-active organization on task despite health restrictions and concerns. Success, Roberts says, meant summoning the flexibility and stick-to-itiveness of Rotary’s community-minded members.

Time and again, he said, fellow Rotarians put service above self and came through.

“Change is inevitable,” said Roberts, who deployed Rotarians for bell-ringing and other fund-raising activities to raise money for projects such as college scholarships and shoes for needy schoolchildren.

“Volunteerism is important,” said Roberts. “We don’t all have a lot of money to give, but we can give of our time.”

Roberts retired to Hilton Head from Massachusetts after a career as a quality management consultant. He spent some 15 years as a full-time or part-time office manager at the Bargain Box, the popular thrift shop that has returned more than $15 million to the community.

An Ohio native, Roberts said he has found it necessary this football season to set aside a few hours of personal time to savor televised games of the University of Cincinnati, whose Bearcats rank among the nation’s best. 

KATHLEEN HARPER: ‘THE KIDS INSPIRE ME’

community4As a frequent visitor to Hilton Head — as a vacationer — Kathleen Harper focused on the surf, sand and sunshine.

But her focus shifted five years ago when she made the island her year-round home. With that, the native of upstate South Carolina began soaking up the island’s history, art and culture.

“I had been familiar with the island, but not the history,” she said. “It is just fascinating.”

Harper’s curiosity and appreciation for the island’s evolution has fortified her work as coordinator of the Middle Year Program at Hilton Head Island Middle School.

Front and center is her current mission to combine island art and history to produce a visual timeline in the school hallway. The ambitious effort martialed the efforts of students, island artists and a collection of local historians, leaders and residents.

The result taking shape inside the school is testament to the power of visual learning, featuring paintings and writings that trace the textured background that shapes modern-day Hilton Head. The effort includes training student docents to explain and guide visitors through the exhibit.

The effort is the most recent example of Harper’s community-oriented commitment. Previous initiatives have included an anthology of students’ poems, photography and writings about life in the age of a pandemic. The works were published and are available for sale, with proceeds benefiting Volunteers in Medicine, a charitable organization created almost three decades ago to serve the health and wellness needs of the medically underserved on Hilton Head and Daufuskie islands.

For Harper it all adds up to pride in her school and her community.

Among the goals, she said, is to inspire “pride and buy-in” among “our amazing” students.

“The kids inspire me,” she said. “They have serious concerns and serious dreams. They are capable of changing the world and we hope they feel that responsibility.”

RONALD FARSETTI: ‘THE NEED IS SO GREAT’

community5Caring for a loved one can be stressful and wearying.

Ronald Farsetti sees it differently. As the caregiver for his wheelchair-bound wife, Farsetti has been energized and motivated.

“What inspires me has always been my dear wife, Dr. Sharon B. Webster,” said Farsetti, an Army veteran and a retired construction superintendent. “In one way or another, being a caregiver for the past seven years has enhanced my sense of responsibility to help others, when I am able.”

Farsetti’s commitment to community service has included a leadership role with the Rotary Club of Hilton Head, building and designing reading chairs for The Children’s Center and organizing an auction that raised $30,000 for the Deep Well Project and its program to help Hilton Head’s neighbors in need.

In the nerve-wracking, early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Farsetti systematized and organized an initiative to help residents sign up for vaccines at multiple locations. With Sharon’s encouragement and engagement, he also helped with recovery tasks in the wake of Hurricane Matthew in 2016. This year, Farsetti was at the heart of a convoy that delivered tens of thousands of dollars of supplies — from mini-refrigerators and children’s books to cleaning supplies and Pampers — to hurricane-ravaged Louisiana.

“The need is so great there,” said Farsetti. “You could see and feel the excitement in the air for the people that we would be helping.”

Sharon — who holds three undergraduate degrees and a Ph.D. in international relations — often joins with Farsetti in planning and executing community work. But when they break free for time together, the couple enjoys a night out on the dance floor, with Farsetti navigating the wheelchair.

“Her knowledge, patience, kindness and empathy are infectious,” said Farsetti. “Her love inspires me to be a better person today than I was yesterday.”