Lowcountry agency struggling to deal with COVID-19 crisis


BLUFFTON, SC (WSAV) – It’s a place where “exceptional” adults can go to learn life skills, job skills, and just have fun too.

But the COVID-19 crisis has shut “pep” down twice so far.

That has put this vital Lowcountry agency in a financial bind.

Vocational training, literacy programs, arts and crafts and maybe most importantly friendship all under one roof at PEP in Bluffton.

“I love this place and being here. I love it.”

That sentiment is shared by members and staff alike at PEP.

Programs for Exceptional People has been a Lowcountry instutition for 25 years.

“Our mission is to provide social interaction. employment opportunities and independence with our members here” said Nancy Sulek, PEP Sr. Director of Development.

Usually, there are 70 or more members inside or working at one time. The shutdown took away those members and the state funding that goes with it.

70 percent of the members are under the South Carolina Medicaid program for continuing care.

“Over half of our budget is from the state. And we did not have that for at least 14 weeks,” said Nancy Sulek. “Now that we are open we are not at full capacity by any means. Until we can build that back up with our numbers we won’t receive that money from the state.”

For the members, like many of us, dealing with the virus and new rules, has been difficult to understand.

“COVID-19 hit them really hard,” said Sulek. “To not let them come and not let them understand really whats going on. It is hard for everyone to understand what’s going on. But to be quarantined, to have to wear a mask,”

For members, its an outlet, an escape, a way to meet friends, and for some even get a paycheck from their pottery or lawn care business.

For the staff this isn’t about money. It is about teaching, friendship and love.

“They teach us how to love more. When I first started here I had no patience,” said Stephanie Ginn, PEP Teacher. “I learned how to be patient, to love more. because of them. They are just loveable people.”

“It’s a place where they can come and feel good about who they are and what they are capable of,” said Jenny French, PEP teacher. “They know that they are loved when they walk in the door. Whether they are having a good day or a bad day they know we are here for them.”

Here to boost their self-esteem, self-worth, and in a world that can tough sometimes to make them smile a little bit more.

PEP isn’t just about bringing members into the building but helping them get out into the world and work on their independence.

One way they do that is through the PEP lawn care program. Members go out into the community and do the yard work, and don’t just get to feel good, but get paid for a job well done.

“It’s like when you and I received our very first paycheck,” explains Sulek. “We didn’t care what was on that paycheck but it was our paycheck and we were proud. And that’s what it is to our members every time they get a check. It is very special. it’s the first step to gaining independence.”

While the doors won’t close immediately, PEP is ramping up its grant writing and donor programs as well as relying on people during their 25th anniversary year to help pay salaries and for the members’ daily activities.

“We need people to know we are here,” said Sulek. “We exist for the community.”

If you would like to find out more about PEP or make a donation just go to:

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