The Island Packet, “A Beaufort organization serving area families will reopen after flooding. You can help,” October 22, 2018
BY STEPHEN FASTENAU
Rosalyn Browne keeps a handful of sandbags ready and an eye on the weather.
A few are the familiar white bags tied tight at the top and others sealed in clear plastic labeled as play sand. The bags are piled this week on the front porch of a small, vinyl-sided building on Hamar Street in downtown Beaufort, the headquarters of Thumbs Up.
The nonprofit after-school program headed by Browne was forced to close in July after heavy rain overwhelmed the street and inches of water poured into the building.
The 20 or so elementary students who lean on the tutoring, family support and hot meals daily will finally be able to return Oct. 29 when Thumbs Up reopens after extensive repairs from flood damage.
“We’re going to get back on our feet,” Browne said.
More than 2 inches of water filled the modest building, with two classrooms, an office, kitchen and two bathrooms in the open layout. Storm drains on either side of Hamar Street back up during a heavy rain, Browne says, and water flows toward the Thumbs Up building from Boundary Street a block above it and from the direction of Ribaut Road behind the house.
Two similar buildings that are private homes next door also flooded.
Flood insurance covered much of the damage at Thumbs Up, which operates on private donations. But Browne, the organization’s only employee, and the board of directors dipped into operational money to pay for the rest.
They are hoping to eventually raise about $20,000 in addition to a regular year-end drive to get back to normal, Browne said.
Waterproof laminate replaced the hardwood floors throughout the building. The bathrooms were ripped out and replaced, and the kitchen received new floor-level cabinets and a refrigerator. Damaged walls were removed, and the entire interior repainted.
Furniture will soon be moved back in from climate-controlled storage.
Students from Mossy Oaks Elementary School and Beaufort Elementary School rides buses to Thumbs Up each afternoon, where they receive help from Browne and volunteers on schoolwork and can eat a hot meal each day. A Thumbs Up bus drops each at home in the evening.
The children come from low-income homes, many with single parents or parents who otherwise don’t have the skills, resources or time they need, Browne said. Thumbs Up volunteers help students develop social skills and work one-on-one with parents, said longtime volunteer and board member Linda Jones.
The organization tracks students after they leave the program after elementary school and has a high success rate of students graduating high school and moving on to higher education, Jones said.
Healthy relationships and improved school performance are some indicators of how well the program has worked.
“I’d like to see a Thumbs Up on every street corner, including in the wealthy neighborhoods,” Jones said.
In addition to help with schoolwork, students have access to school supplies and help with renting computers. After Hurricane Matthew and Tropical Storm Irma, Thumbs Up helped families affected by evacuating the storm.
Volunteers donate gift baskets children take home during the holidays.
Browne is a St. Helena Island native and former middle school principal in Boston. She returned to St. Helena to take care of her parents and has directed Thumbs Up the past five years.
She monitors weather reports and drives downtown when necessary to lift the sandbags into place. The rainstorm in July was a surprise, she said.
Children come for a full day during the summer, and the damage cut short the summer program. Insurance does not cover an alternate building, Browne said.
She said the nonprofit has eyed a larger space, such as the Charles Lind Brown Center across the street, but can’t afford the cost. She feels the organization fills a need and that the city could use more like it.
“We try to give them a well-rounded experience,” Browne said. “They want to improve their own situations.”
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A firefighter wades through flood water on Hamar Street in Beaufort on Thursday, July 19, 2018. Photo credit: Eric Smith Submitted
Photo caption: Rosalyn Browne, executive director of Thumbs Up, stands in front of the building Monday on Hamar Street in Beaufort. The organization offering afterschool programs to disadvantaged elementary school children will reopen next week after flooding in July damaged the building and required extensive renovations.