From the Beacon: St. Helena library dream finally realized

Imagine stepping into history and strolling through the unique story that is St. Helena Island and the Sea Island Communities of Beaufort County.

Imagine taking a journey of learning and opportunity, where everyone can work together to protect a proud past and prepare for a positive future.

Imagine building a learning environment that can harness the power of knowledge and the tools of technology -- a place with open doors and opportunities for everyone.

Imagine the voices of that renewed story, with new generations of seniors, families, children and teens.

Today, we don't have to imagine. A new chapter is being written in the story of the St. Helena branch library, and it's time to finally turn the page.

More than 12 years ago, the Beaufort County Public Library System started to plan for a branch library that would serve the long-underserved Sea Island Communities. More than three years ago, the library system looked to the newly formed Public Library Foundation of Beaufort County to help raise an additional $3 million to $5 million dollars to build the approximately 30,000-square-foot library.

Working closely with the library system, Councilman Bill McBride and all the members of Beaufort County's Legislative Delegation, the foundation launched the silent phase of its Turn the Page Capital Campaign and began the journey of sharing this story throughout Beaufort County and across the state.

Led by Campaign co-chairwomen Patsy Hand and Gloria Cartwright, and supported by approximately 10 acres identified and donated by the Penn Center Board of Directors for Beaufort County to build the proposed new branch library, the foundation set out to raise awareness of the important community project. Volunteers opened up their homes for informational meetings to raise support funds for the campaign; simultaneously, the Beaufort County Library developed relationships with state and federal funding agencies and submitted several grant proposals in hopes of gaining large-scale grant support for the project.

In late 2009, the first grant award from the S.C. Department of Commerce came in through a Community Development Block Grant in the unprecedented amount of $1.5 million. Grants are pending for an additional $8.5 million dollars. If this award is finalized, the St. Helena Branch Library, built to current state library standards, will no longer be a dream.

There are so many people that had a hand in writing this new chapter in the story that is St. Helena and the Sea Island Communities -- members of our legislative delegation such as Clementa Pickney, Tom Davis, Shannon Erickson, Kenneth Hodges, Curtis Brantley, Richard Chalk and Bill Herbkersman, who listened to us and who, in turn, told our story at the state level; members of Beaufort County Council who fought to keep the project alive; leaders at the Penn Center such as Walter Mack and Rosalyn Browne, who became our partners and our friends; administrators of the Beaufort County Public Library System who fought for this branch library for more years that they care to admit; our County Administrator Gary Kubic who is so passionate about improving the lives of children and their families; and last, but not least, the volunteers and donors who have been with us every step of the way to offer support and dedication to bring this effort to a positive conclusion.

This may not be the greatest story ever told, but it is our story -- today. Please join us on this exciting journey; participate in a Community Forum at the Frissell Community House on the historic Penn Center Campus on St. Helena from 7 to 9 p.m. Monday through Wednesday. You can find out more at www.beaufortcountylibrary.org or by calling 843-470-6526.

Be a part of our story. Come helps us "turn the page" in this exciting new chapter of the St. Helena branch library.