How the Women’s Association of Hilton Head Island Thrived During Covid-19
January 2022 Issue
By Robyn Zimmerman
Photography Courtesy of WAHHI
To say the last two years have been tough is an understatement. The COVID-19 pandemic has turned our lives upside down. The world literally stopped in March, 2020. Everything came to a screeching halt, schools and businesses went virtual overnight, restaurants and theaters closed, and travel shut down indefinitely. Yet, in the midst of this crazy “new normal”, we all desperately sought ways to stay connected with friends, colleagues and, especially, our families.
Here in the Lowcountry, for the Women’s Association of Hilton Head Island (WAHHI), a social and philanthropic organization that thrives on connecting women to women, it meant a complete 180. WAHHI’s leadership was challenged to rethink how the Association could remain relevant to members and provide opportunities for women to stay involved. Drawing on tech-savvy members, the organization was able to quickly pivot live events to the Zoom platform, converting many meetings, quarterly luncheons and other events to virtual or outside venues.
“Last year we had a clear course of action. In order to stay relevant, we had to go virtual,” said President Betty Hambleton, a member of WAHHI for 22 years. “This year has been entirely different and much more challenging as we began to emerge from the pandemic and open up. We have had to be prepared, adapt and be fluid, and that is why I chose ‘resilience’ to be our 2021-2022 theme. We are living in an undulating curve, not a straight line, constantly re-evaluating our next move, always making decisions based first and foremost on the health and safety of our members.”
Betty references a recent article on resilience by Amit Sood, MD, of the Mayo Clinic that has given her inspiration. Dr. Sood said, “Resilience isn’t something you’re born with; it’s something we all need to work on continuously throughout our lives.”
This pandemic has certainly tested WAHHI’s resolve to stay focused and strong. Dr. Sood goes on to offer nine skills to become more resilient: 1) composure; 2) patience; 3) optimism; 4) gratitude; 5) acceptance; 6) kindness; 7) sense of purpose; 8) forgiveness; 9) connection.
Over the past 60 years, WAHHI’s sense of purpose has not wavered—to promote the area’s natural and cultural beauty, to encourage projects which benefit the community, and to facilitate communication among women. It is interesting to note, in spite of the pandemic, the WAHHI membership grew from just over 600 members in early 2020 to now nearly 850 women, which says that in this “new normal” WAHHI women have shown their determination to stay connected, make new friends, be involved and continue the decades long tradition of giving back to the community.
During this pandemic, WAHHI members continued their charitable giving to local nonprofits, such as funds for Volunteers in Medicine to provide vaccines and Uber drivers for Sandalwood and a food drive for Second Helpings. Women painted houses for Habitat for Humanity, made care packages for college students and the military and supported local restaurants through its popular chef series.
“Our women have been amazingly creative and innovative in finding ways to gather together safely, predominantly outside, meeting on driveways, on porches, in parks, on the beach and on the water!” said Claudia Aller, President-Elect. There are 50 interest groups and new ones are popping up every day—investment, card and nature groups, meditation circles, a Gullah history club and golf and pickleball clinics. The popular bestselling Author Series continued virtually during 2021, as well as many outdoor special events, such as shrimp trawling and a Savannah boat cruise.
Last fall, WAHHI held its first indoor luncheon in two years to celebrate “resilience in the arts” with a thought-provoking panel representing theatre, film and the music industry. Over 160 women, gathered for holiday fun and fellowship and in the WAHHI custom of giving back, brought gifts to donate to The Children’s Center and Bluffton Self Help.
“Our WAHHI women have not only survived these two years, but have thrived! I would be kidding to say it has been easy, but we have demonstrated resilience in so many ways, because at the end of the day, we are women, and we are strong!” concluded Betty.
WAHHI is always looking for new members. If you would like to join this Association of amazing women, visit the WAHHI website at www.wahhi.org.