Insight from a Volunteer

Michael Connelly, communications coordinator for Sea Pines Plantation CSA serves on the United Way of the Lowcountry’s marketing committee and gives of his time in writing columns on the agencies served by the organization. His latest installment features the Neighborhood Outreach Connection (NOC).

It’s a small inexpensive apartment in Bluffton filled with the bare necessities to teach and grow the future workforce of Beaufort County. Collapsible tables, rickety chairs and the unmistakable humming noise from old computers permeating the room as students study math, science and reading comprehension.

Every seat is filled; students sit elbow to elbow switching their attention from computer based studies to trusty and worn notebooks and back to homework assignments again.

Touted by education gurus for decades, virtual learning is now available in Beaufort County for students of low-income families courtesy of the Neighborhood Outreach Connection (NOC). Entrance into this room is difficult said Chairman of NOC, PhD. Narendra Sharma. “The need for what we offer is far greater than what we can support. There are many students who apply to be a part of this, but are unfortunately turned away – we just don’t have enough computers.”

In the summer of 2011, 220 students applied for the extra help, but only 43 were admitted due to lack of resources. For those grade school students who do receive extra help, they can expect to see their reading and math test scores rise 45 percent by the end of the semester.

There is an enormous desire for this program to continue in Beaufort County said Principal of Hilton Head Island Elementary School, Jill Mcaden. “The NOC has been an integral partner with our school as we work diligently to ensure that each child meets academic success. NOC has an afterschool tutoring program to include the equipped computer lab, providing a safe and comfortable place for children to blossom academically … I applaud Dr. Sharma and his dedicated volunteers for their commitment to student achievement.”

Teamwork with the schools is very important said Sharma. “We can track the progress of the students through their tests at school and learn of the areas in their studies that need attention. By better targeting the need, the end result is better for the students, family and community.”

Although great strides have been made by the nonprofit organization, the NOC is currently facing three main obstacles preventing them from serving more of the Lowcountry; limited facilities, lack of resources and shortage of computers. The United Way of the Lowcountry is raising money for numerous nonprofits including the NOC.

“I am sure you have heard the saying about teaching man to fish versus giving him a fish”, said Sharma. “That’s what we are trying to do here.” Improving education will correlate to an overall improved economic development in the area, he notes.

“Companies are going to go where the best workforce is; they are not going to come here for the beach. If you want to make a real impact on the community and make an impact on peoples lives, you do that through education.”

The United Way of the Lowcountry is proud to work with the NOC. Ninety percent of the NOCs funds are spent on the projects to better the community. Each year they have their financial books audited. They do not employ an executive director nor has there been one since the birth of the organization four years ago. Only one part-employee is paid.

All images are copyright of United Way of the Lowcountry, Inc.