From its beginnings, the City of Sumter has enjoyed a diverse community. The racial makeup of the community has contributed to a cooperative spirit that has persisted through some of the nation’s most challenging times, resulting in a progressive city that is open to ideas of inclusivity, diversity and equitability. This is reflected in representation in local government, and many city services being offered in multiple languages. Sumter proudly cultivates a culture of engagement, with active efforts to encourage participation in community matters through community-based events, meetings and forums. Civic awareness and inclusiveness have served Sumter’s citizenry well in the current turbulent era of civil unrest. The success of Sumter’s community-based initiatives is largely due to the input from its diverse community.
Full STEAM Ahead
Despite losing 5,000 manufacturing jobs in the first decade of the 21st century, Sumter’s manufacturing sector has made an astonishing comeback thanks to community investment in infrastructure and workforce development. However, a new problem arose as Sumter’s most talented young people were leaving the community due to a perceived lack of opportunities. At the same time, as manufacturing jobs have become increasingly technology-oriented, the demand for skilled talent has increased.
The community has risen to the challenge by providing all students in Sumter free tuition options for post-secondary STEM education. With the establishment of the Sumter Career and Technology Center, local education leaders recognized that there was a demand for mechanical, technical and medical training. The program includes cybersecurity, mechatronics, aerospace engineering, and more, equipping high school graduates to fill positions in these fields or build their continuing education on a solid knowledge base.
Sumter’s schools were early adopters of the STEM philosophy, with several schools being nationally accredited STEM schools, offering electives including digital multimedia, robotics, financial literacy, biomedicine, fine arts, technology and more. The Liberty STEAM Charter School, a tuition-free K-12 STEAM curriculum school, will welcome its first students in fall of 2021.
The annual eSTEAM Sumter event boasts over 70 partners and 6,000 attendees, including public and private students and their families, teachers, and potential future employers who participate in a variety of booths, performances, and hands-on STEAM-related activities for all ages.
Sumter’s Dual Enrollment program allows any area high school student to graduate with certificates in mechatronics and machine tools. The program gives participants a chance to earn money and gain experience during their high school years.
Sumter’s innovative educational programs have already begun paying dividends. Between 2010 and 2020, the number of Sumter residents with at least a high school diploma has risen 8% and nearly 60% of residents have gone on to post-secondary education.
After the death of George Floyd during the summer of 2020, protests against systemic racism and police brutality were held across the world, including in Sumter.
On June 14, 2020, a group of several hundred individuals, organized by more than 70 local church leaders, conducted a peaceful solidarity march in downtown Sumter. The momentum from this march led to the formation of the Sumter Leaders of Faith social justice task force among the clergy for the purpose of addressing racial equality issues. The task force meets quarterly and has included the Chief of Police and the Sumter County Sheriff in ongoing discussions. Additionally, the business community in Sumter has started a monthly open discussion series, starting with a segment on diversity and inclusion.
The foundation for a positive approach to law enforcement in Sumter has been in the making for the past decade. The forefront of the Sumter Police Department’s strategy is a community-oriented approach that facilitates positive relationships between law enforcement and residents.
Sumter is routinely ranked as one of South Carolina’s most livable cities, and this is a point of pride for community leaders. However, there is one segment of the population who do not have a secure place to call home. Several local community and organizations work hard every day to see that all citizens have a secure place to call home.
Sumter United Ministries
Sumter United Ministries operates a 26-bed emergency shelter with meals, showers, and laundry facilities provided. A separate winter shelter located in downtown Sumter provides 30 additional “no questions asked” beds when temperatures are forecast below 40 degrees, serving solely as a safe and warm place to sleep for anyone who asks.
By Name Project
This nonprofit provides food, clothing, and hygiene items to those who remain underserved. Their policy is that they don’t ask questions, they serve anyone. The organization serves 50-60 people from a mobile trailer at each of its twice-monthly events, offering friendship and support to those who are often overlooked, ignored or who have slipped through the cracks.
The Croswell Home
The Crosswell Home provides full-time housing to children of all ages, while they actively participate in school and numerous community events and activities. As of 2020, the Crosswell Home has provided housing for more than 1,000 children from various circumstances and backgrounds. Some stay a few days, while others live at the home for years, but no matter how long they stay, they are encouraged to learn, play, and develop to their fullest potential.
The Restore program through Sumter United Ministries makes homes safe, dry, secure, and accessible. Through the program, homeowner income and budget are reviewed to determine an applicant’s priority, and a Construction Director coordinates and trains adult and youth volunteers to help complete the work, while materials costs are covered by Sumter United Ministries and their community partners.
Whether providing a hot meal and friendly conversation or constructing a ramp that enables a homebound person to visit relatives and friends, Sumter’s outreach programs are a source of gratification for a community that prides itself on caring.