Sandlapper Society

A Round of Golf

…Can Make a World of Difference

by Chris Worthy

Imme is a fur-covered lifesaver on four legs, ready to respond to any change in her environment. Imme, pronounced "Emmy," is a German Shepherd specially trained by Greenville-based Dogs for Autism to assist and protect 8-year-old Bryant, who is severely autistic. While she is his constant companion, that isn't her primary role. Imme is a lifeline for Bryant and his mother, Cindy Council.

"She has been a miraculous addition to our family," Council said. "An autistic child has all of the agility of a normal child their age but they aren't aware of the dangers to themselves. You don't take your eyes off of these children. (Having a DFA dog) allows the parent to go into the next room and start a load of laundry or start dinner or go to the bathroom."

Dogs for Autism is one of 98 North and South Carolina charities that will benefit from the 2010 BMW Charity Pro-Am presented by SYNNEX Corporation. The four-day upstate event pairs amateurs and celebrities with golf professionals from the PGA Tour's Nationwide Tour. While the glamour is unmistakable – celebrity golfers have included Kevin Costner, Dennis Quaid, Darius Rucker, and Alice Cooper – the purpose is serious. In its first nine years, the Pro-Am has raised more than $7.3 million for a diverse array of beneficiaries selected by South Carolina Charities, Inc.

Julie Nye, program director for Dogs for Autism, said without that funding, she simply would have to turn away even more families. "There is many, many more times demand than we can serve," she said.

The dogs are "four-footed tattle tales," Nye said, often physically blocking autistic children from harm. "These are vulnerable children, often nonverbal. These dogs are, for lack of a better word, control freaks."

For Council, Imme's presence has been life-changing. "She is truly miraculous. That is not an exaggeration."

Half a world away, clean water flows from an unadorned concrete and metal well. Hope courses freely from its spout, mending the lives and hearts of Liberian villagers. Water of Life founder Roland Bergeron said the turn of a tap so often taken for granted is but a dream in many parts of the world. "It is estimated that about a billion people in the world don't have access to clean water. Some people don't have easy access to any water. They are walking miles every day to bring clean water to their family."

It's estimated that 4,000 people die each day because of reasons related to unfit water, Bergeron said. He is working hard to reduce that number, one village at a time. "We've provided clean water to about 150,000 people in Liberia." 

Liberia is Water of Life's primary focus, with plans to expand to Gambia and possibly Sierra Leone. During four trips per year, teams drill new wells or rehabilitate useless ones, and provide medical care or vacation Bible schools, reflecting the organization's ultimate purpose to bring both drinking water and living water.

"Water of Life is spreading the gospel by providing clean water to people. Every place we go in this country, we can get clean water. We can get it out of a tap. It costs money to solve the problem. We are hoping to raise funds to continue our work."

Money received from the BMW Charity Pro-Am literally will go into the ground, bringing forth a basic means for survival. "I can't solve one billion people's problems, but I can go into a village of 400 or 500 people and drill a well," Bergeron said. "That's all we concentrate on is one village at a time. It matters to that village. It saves lives."
Just across from the Greenville Hospital System's Children's Hospital, a home known as "the house that love built" provides shelter for families of children facing a medical crisis. Greenville's Ronald McDonald House has space for 12 families. Their children are treated at hospitals throughout the area.

Families have access to a full kitchen, three meals a day, a 24-hour hospital shuttle and a family room at Greenville Hospital System where they can take a break from the four walls of a hospital room.

The cost to families who receive these services is a budget- and sanity-saving $8 per night. If that is still more than families can afford, their bill is covered.
"All of a sudden, families find themselves in a very unpredictable circumstance," observed Marti Spencer, Chief Development Officer of Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Carolinas. "We offer not only a place to stay, but hope and encouragement."

Doctors, hospitals or social workers must refer families and children, who have come from as far away as Iraq, to the house. The need for resources is often overwhelming. Rooms are always full and an extensive waiting list has Spencer longing for when the house can expand to two adjacent properties owned by the charity. "We want to avoid families sleeping in cars in the parking lot. And we do indeed have that."

The house is funded by local McDonald's restaurant owners and operators and the generosity of the community. A beneficiary of the BMW Pro-Am for several years, the home's open doors provide refuge. "When their life is surrounded by uncertainty, the hope we give families is something a doctor can't prescribe or guarantee," Spencer said. "BMW is helping us do that."  

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Chris Worthy is a lawyer and writer in Simpsonville.

This article is sponsored by Garrett's Discount Golf Cars, LLC and BMW. Photos courtesy of Dogs for Autism, Water for Life and Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Carolinas.

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