Community Foundation of the Lowcountry named 2017 Winner of HUD Secretary’s Award

Council on Foundations and HUD recognize Community Foundation of the Lowcountry for outstanding work in building stronger communities through government partnerships

WASHINGTON The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Council on Foundations (COF) today announced that Community Foundation of the Lowcountry is one of 10 winners of the 2017 HUD Secretary’s Award for Public-Philanthropic Partnerships.

The award was presented to Denise Spencer, president and CEO of the Community Foundation, at the Council on Foundations Annual Conference in Dallas, Texas, earlier this morning. It honors innovative and impactful cross-sector initiatives that have increased the quality of life for low- and moderate-income Americans living in urban, suburban, and rural communities. The Community Foundation received the award for its Project SAFE (Sewer Access For Everyone) initiative, a partnership between Community Foundation of the Lowcountry, the Town of Hilton Head Island and the Hilton Head Public Service District (PSD) utility. Project SAFE’S objective is to connect low-income households to public sewer, eliminating septic systems that can create public health issues for residents and visitors and wreak havoc on the region’s fragile ecosystem.

“The Community Foundation’s mission is to improve and strengthen our communities,” said Community Foundation president and CEO Denise Spencer. “And we believe Project SAFE is a critical component in making our community a better place. Project SAFE does not just improve the lives of the families directly impacted by connecting to the public sewer system. It affects all of us – residents and visitors – who understand the importance of keeping our waterways free from waste produced by failing septic systems, who understand the public health threat created by septic systems made inefficient by our high water table and dense tree root systems, and who believe that everyone on our island should have access to something as basic as a connection to the public sewer system.”

Project SAFE already has helped scores of families connect to the public sewer system and is preparing to provide even more assistance as the Town and PSD carry out the installation of sewer mains on 60 different streets as part of a five-year Master Sewer Plan initiative. The Town is preparing to fund approximately $10 million in sewer projects, while the PSD is building two regional sewer lift stations needed for the mains at a cost of approximately $1 million.

The first projects of the Town-funded Master Sewer Plan are kicking off this spring, bringing sewer service to more than 200 properties.

“Without a doubt, Project SAFE will fundamentally impact and improve the health and lives of all Hilton Head Islanders, most especially those who have directly endured the daily effects of failing septic systems,” according to Hilton Head Island Mayor David Bennett. “Project SAFE is the philanthropic and financial key for those households that otherwise lack the necessary resources to connect to newly installed sewer lines. This extraordinary effort is tangible evidence of the true heart and commitment to community of the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry.”

“Project SAFE and the Community Foundation are essential to this effort,” said PSD general manager Pete Nardi. “After we install the sewer mains in the streets, Project SAFE steps in to help make sure qualified, low-income customers get connected. It’s a crucial partnership aimed at improving the long-term quality of life for all islanders. The Community Foundation’s success with Project SAFE shows the tremendous community spirit and support for public health and environmental protection on Hilton Head Island.”

HUD Secretary Ben Carson stresses the importance of these kinds of partnerships. “I want to congratulate each of our winners for their extraordinary efforts to bridge the gap between philanthropy, government, and nonprofits,” he said. “Today’s awards celebrate the power of partnership, and honor exceptional organizations that are laying a strong foundation for more Americans to succeed and to thrive.”

“The 10 initiatives being honored are an inspiring reminder that when philanthropy and government work together and lead together in cross-sector partnerships, their collaborations can achieve incredible results for the communities we collectively serve,” said Council President and CEO Vikki Spruill. “On behalf of the Council, I congratulate each of the outstanding foundations being awarded today.”

Ten awards were given to place-based funders for completed or ongoing projects that are executed in partnership with a local, regional, or federal government agency. The winners are:

Foundation Location Project Name
The Anne and Henry Zarrow FoundationTulsa, OKAlleviating and Preventing Homelessness/Building Tulsa, Building Lives
Bill and Melinda Gates FoundationKing and Pierce Counties, WAPublic Housing Authority-School District Partnerships Initiative
Capital One FoundationNew York, NYY-PLAN (Youth – Plan, Learn, Act, Now)
Community Foundation of the LowcountryHilton Head Island, SCProject SAFE (Sewer Access for Everyone)
The JP Morgan Chase FoundationOhio, Florida, Colorado, CaliforniaPRO Neighborhoods: ReFresh Initiative
The Kresge FoundationDetroit, MIDetroit Home Mortgage
Mayor’s Fund for Los AngelesLos Angeles, CASummer Night Lights (SNL)
The New Hampshire Charitable FoundationNew HampshireCollective Action, Collective Impact
Nusenda FoundationAlbuquerque, NMAlbuquerque Living Cities Integration Initiative
The Skillman FoundationDetroit, MIGrow Detroit’s Young Talent (GDYT)

HUD’s Office for International and Philanthropic Innovation and the COF have co-hosted the Secretary’s Award for Public-Philanthropic Partnerships since 2012. The winners were selected by a panel of 12 judges — six from HUD and six from the Council on Foundations — based on materials submitted following an open call for nominations issued this past February. Further information on each of today’s winners can be found at HUD’s website.

Since 1994, Community Foundation of the Lowcountry has been connecting people, resources and needs by helping build stronger communities and assisting donors in making a difference through charitable giving. With over 325 charitable funds, combined assets totaling $65 million and grantmaking and scholarships reaching $60 million, Community Foundation of the Lowcountry is the largest source of unrestricted philanthropic resources dedicated to Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties.

For more information contact us at (843) 681-9100 or visit our website at

Leave a Reply