The art of sweetgrass basket making is a Gullah tradition that has been passed on from generation to generation in Mount Pleasant. Local sweetgrass pulled from the marshes and creeks is used by basket makers who spend endless hours weaving the grasses together. Just like basketmaking takes patience and creativity, so too does building an engaged and resilient community.
When double-digit growth rates led to challenges and discontent, Mount Pleasant implemented growth management tools and adopted new methods for engaging the public. Like the sweetgrass baskets patiently sewn, through collaboration, innovation, and engagement, Mount Pleasant created an intricate pattern of diversity and bonded the community in new ways that have ensured quality of life, equity, and safety.
Weaving Diversity into the Workforce and Business Community
Two local mothers with distinct neurodivergent children have galvanized and inspired a new Intellectual Disability Inclusion Movement in Mount Pleasant.
Layla Luna, the mother of a young autistic son, created Just Bee, a non-profit company connecting neurodivergent people with sensory-friendly places. Frustrated by her experience trying to find places that did not cause her son sensory overload, Layla worked with the chamber of commerce and town officials to help businesses create sensory-friendly environments.
The business community is encouraged to become a ‘Beeliever’ in three easy steps: complete a training workshop, commit to a pledge, and become a certified Bee Spot. Businesses are learning that dimmed lights, lower volumes, and specific hours of operations for sensory-affected customers can allow them to access an untapped market and create an equitable and inclusive business environment.
Intellectual Disabilities and the Workplace
Similarly, Debbie Antonelli, a long-standing advocate of people living with Down Syndrome and mother of a young adult living with Down Syndrome worked to educate local businesses to promote the hiring of young adults living with Down Syndrome or other disabilities. Several businesses, with the support of the chamber and strong advocates in the community, are creating safe and accessible workplaces where employees with disabilities can thrive.
With today’s employment challenges, businesses benefit by accessing an untapped source of capable and motived workers. In turn, teens living with Down Syndrome and looking to enter the workforce are finding opportunities for income and independence.
Weaving Light into Dark
The dual epidemic of suicide and substance misuse has impacted the youth of Mount Pleasant and therefore the fabric of the community.
Mental health amongst teenagers is a priority of Mount Pleasant’s Youth Council. Their efforts have included appearing before the mayor and council to advocate for better mental health services in school and asking elected officials to cosign a letter addressed to the state legislative delegation requesting funding for certified mental health counselors in schools.
In addition to the work of the youth council, WakeUp Carolina works to empower young people, individuals, and families battling substance misuse. WakeUp Carolina was created by Nancy Steadman Shipman in the memory of her beloved 19-year-old son Creighton who died of a substance misuse disorder. WakeUp Carolina offers support groups for those coping with opioid substance misuse disorder and their families, as well as recovery coaching programs.
The Mount Pleasant Police Department has also been able to launch several programs to address the opioid crisis. A prescription take back program allows individuals to walk in and anonymously drop off unused or expired prescription medications. Additionally, all police officers are equipped with Narcan kits and trained in their use.
While all impressive individual efforts, it is through working in partnership that Mount Pleasant became more successful in the battle against opioids and mental health issues. The Our Community, Our Children symposium—hosted by WakeUp Carolina in partnership with the police department, mayor, and youth council—kicked off a very uncomfortable but necessary discussion on improving mental health and trauma systems for local youth. The symposium was the catalyst for several cooperative initiatives, including efforts to create a multi-disciplined response team for both mental health and drug misuse.
Weaving Bonds of Trust
Mount Pleasant has been successful in maintaining strong police and citizen relationships because of their extensive community-police programs, two of which have grown exponentially – the School Resource Officer (SRO) Program and the Explorer Program.
The epidemic of school shootings in America prompted Mount Pleasant Mayor and Town Council to invest in school resource officers and post them in every school. Right away, officers began building relationships with teen students, particularly those who often were in trouble at school. Officers have engaged and built relationships with children as young as four or five years old, allowing children and teens to interact with officers in a positive way every day.
The Explorer Program is an important transition from young children’s programs to more mature teenagers’ initiatives. The program promotes respect for the rule of law, physical fitness, good citizenship, and patriotism. The Explorer Program can be a positive experience for those interested in serving in their community and can in fact become a recruiting tool for the police department. As part of their training, the Explorers seek out worthwhile community service projects. They have assisted with traffic control for national events such as the Cooper River Bridge Run, and the Fourth of July celebrations at Patriots Point, and for other local events such as the Christmas Parade.
Mount Pleasant has invested heavily in community programs that are designed to foster bonds between police officers and young people.