by Judith Lawrenson
Photography by Bill Lawrenson
A beach girl from New York, young woman with a heart for the elderly and a beauty who is nothing but humble? Meet Renee Smith. Contradictions make a lovely package. And, she has a bucket list that will surely touch your heart.
Meet Renee Smith:
Renee’s parents, Coleman and Vera Smith, had a condo on Hilton Head Island since 1990 and she came here on vacations. She has always been close to her parents and also very proud of them. Renee grew up observing her dad’s participation in service organizations and a variety of community activities. He was part of a group called “The Charitable Six” that cared for children and widows and helped needy children with scholarships. From the early ‘60s, her mother worked tirelessly for voter registration. Renee says her giving nature stems from the examples set by her parents, coupled with her strong faith. She was raised Baptist in a church founded by her great grandparents.
A New Yorker at heart, Renee has always felt a sense of peace and belonging in the Lowcountry, which made it seem like home. Moving here permanently in 2010 was very natural to her and soon she found her true calling. One day, she and her dad attended a function at Jarvis Creek Park where she met a woman associated with Hilton Head Island Safe Harbour. The woman asked Renee if she could give some volunteer time to the group and Renee accepted whole-heartedly. Hilton Head Island Safe Harbour is a non-profit organization for people residing on Hilton Head Island who want to stay in their homes as they age. It helps people still enjoy a quality of life with a degree of independence.
PINK: Talk a bit about Safe Harbour and what they do.
Renee: Safe Harbour provides transportation, arts and crafts workshops, relaxation activities, and health and wellness education. They also provide discussion groups on topics such as Parkinson’s disease and loneliness. When I heard all of this about Safe Harbour, I was hooked. I started as a volunteer and soon became a part-time office worker. I felt that we were not only helping to enrich the lives of our seniors, but also creating a community within a community. It was wonderful and I would have loved to stay forever.
PINK: What came into your life that prevented that?
Renee: In April of 2012, my dad was diagnosed with stage-4 lung cancer, with a prognosis of less than a year to live. I had to return to New York to help with his care. When he passed away it left a huge void in my life. I never thought to return to Hilton Head because my dad loved this place; it did not feel right without him. My mom and I traveled to Ireland and St. Martin, and we grieved together. However, I kept in touch with my Lowcountry friends. I was approached about coming back to the organization, and after much soul searching and talks with my mother, I decided to return. Last month, I became Executive Director of Hilton Head Island Safe Harbour.
PINK: It sounds like this was all meant to be.
Renee: I feel that is so true. Safe Harbour is an amazing organization and I am so proud to be a part of all they do. You know I am a transplanted New Yorker, but I now live in a villa that is an easy walk to the beach. I am following my heart!
PINK: I know, Renee, that you have quite a unique bucket list. Do tell!
Renee: I have two items on my bucket list: First, of course, has to do with my job. I would love to succeed in the Safe Harbour Mission, which is to enrich the lives of our members. That is a goal I always keep in my heart. Secondly, I would like to attend every church, house of worship, and synagogue on Hilton Head. My dad and I started before he passed and I would love to complete that dream.
You never know what’s on people’s bucket list. For Renee it is a feat that she can take her father’s love and memory with her. That is beautiful. Renee asked me to close with two quotes that she has adopted as her own. The first is from John 20:15: “As my Father hath sent me, even so I send you.” And the second is from 1 Peter: "God has instilled a gift in every single person, including you."
What’s on YOUR bucket list?