Giving Back

Meet two Blufftonians who are making a positive impact this holiday season—and throughout the year.

They say it’s better to give than to receive, and every day in the Lowcountry countless volunteers donate their time, talent, food, clothing, money and more to help neighbors in need. These unsung heroes are individuals serving in local churches, non-profit organizations, food pantries, schools, libraries and restaurants. In the last issue of The Bluffton Breeze, we focused on why people are thankful to live here.  For December, we shift the spotlight to a few people who generously give back to the Bluffton community.

Paying It Forward

Joe DePatty

Joe DePatty never had a problem with giving, but swallowing his pride and accepting help when he needed it proved to be much more painful.

The California native grew up in the projects and vividly recalls his joy when people he didn’t know showed up at the door one Christmas bearing toys and gifts for his family. Although only 7-years-old at the time, “I told my sister I was going to do that when I could.”

Joe kept that youthful promise and helped the United Way after moving to L.A. as an adult. Later, he and his wife moved to Connecticut and continued their support of nonprofit organizations and helped those less fortunate in the community by providing food and Christmas presents. The couple raised their children to help those in need.

After his wife passed away, the chef and father of two young sons moved to the Lowcountry. Denied health insurance due to a pre-existing condition, Joe suffered a debilitating stroke in 2013.

“I had no money, no food and they were threatening to take my kids away,” he recalled. “I finally gave up my Italian male pride and called Bluffton Self Help. The first person I spoke to was Julie, and she was amazing. They helped me get food in the house and put me in touch with a church to pay the mortgage.”

That year, his sons also selected gifts from the Christmas Toy Shop. Just getting back on his feet a year later, Joe received a check from his sister and used the money to buy 14 turkeys, which he then donated to Bluffton Self Help for Thanksgiving.

“I felt I had to give something back for all they did,” he said. “Paying it forward. Paying it back.”

Meanwhile, his boys were thrilled to receive a thank you letter from the nonprofit organization, and the family continues their annual turkey donation tradition. Joe now has health insurance, and his blood pressure is stabilized. His sons are happy and healthy and, although he has always shied away from public acknowledgement of his charitable contributions in the past, he felt it was time to speak up.

“I want to encourage people to make donations [to Bluffton Self Help], if they can,” he said. “It kills me to see women and children in need.” Joe understands the importance of Bluffton residents helping one another, during the holiday season and throughout the year.

“I didn’t think I would ever need help, and my pride got in the way. Now I’m going to help them,” he added. “They were there for me and it was amazing. I would love for another man who is as hard-headed as I am to ask for help.”

Founded in 1987, Bluffton Self Help provides free food, clothing and emergency financial assistance to Bluffton neighbors in need, serving more than 5,000 residents annually. To volunteer, make a donation or ask for help, call (843) 757-8000 or visit blufftonselfhelp.org.

Standing Strong

Latrese Bush

Growing up on Goethe Road, Latrese Bush played basketball with her cousins on a dirt court in the backyard, sang in the choir at First Zion Missionary Baptist Church, attended Michael C. Riley Elementary School when it was located right down the street from her house and graduated from Hilton Head Island High School.

Heading to Athens, Georgia, after graduation, the Bluffton native was unnerved by the sheer size of the University of Georgia campus, which was larger than her hometown. However, she remained unfazed traveling around the country playing basketball in front of thousands of spectators and millions of TV viewers. By the time the Lady Bulldog graduated from UGA, she set a school record playing in 16 NCAA Tournament games, including two Final Fours and a National Championship game.

Latrese went on to use her communications degree before moving to Atlanta to pursue a music career. “The ‘90s was a time for music in Atlanta. I wanted to be the next Anita Baker,” recalled the mezzo-soprano. “I came to Atlanta to sing R&B and soul music.”

Fast forward a few years, and Latrese was singing in Atlanta church choirs and gospel groups while working with “Dreamgirls” singer Jennifer Holliday, jazz icon Phil Perry, R&B star Bobby W. and pop sensation Justin Bieber. She also toured the world with Grammy Award-winner Gloria Gaynor, providing backup vocals on “I Will Survive.” 

She recently released “The Collection,” an album of her own R&B and soul music, including the single “Love I Can Sing About” which reached #1 on both the U.K. and Indie Soul Charts. “Because of You,” featuring Noel Gourdin, continues to climb the Billboard Smooth Jazz chart, with parts of the accompanying video shot locally on Calhoun Street and Burkes Beach. Latrese returned home once again over Thanksgiving to headline the Oh, Give Thanks Gospel Concert at First Zion, which benefits Laura Bush’s It’s Better to Give Back Fund. 

The connection is personal, as Laura Bush is Latrese’s mother.

“Talk about giving back,” said Latrese. “She used to take me and my sister around to different conferences where she would speak and we would meet people from all over the world. Growing up with someone who has given her life to giving back, I was exposed to different people, and I have never been nervous around different cultures or different people.”

Latrese credits her mother—and her hometown of Bluffton—with giving her the confidence to perform in front of large crowds.

“Traveling now and being in front of thousands or tens of thousands of people singing—I’m comfortable in all those settings,” she added. “It’s because of my upbringing in Bluffton, which would probably blow people’s minds. I was surrounded by love and a lot of family and I was protected, so it was amazing. I feel like Bluffton has given me so much, so to come back to perform for my mom’s It’s Better to Give Back Fund is definitely a pleasure. I come back whenever I get the chance.”

One of her all-time favorite gospel songs is “Stand” by Donnie McClurkin.

“No matter what you go through—the storm, the rain, heartache and pain—just stand and God will bless,” advised this talented songstress. “Atlanta is a big city, and the pace is so fast, but Bluffton, in essence, is the personification of ‘standing’ because it’s so slow. I’ll always have a place to call home and, remembering that, you can just be yourself. I’m from a beautiful place, I have a great family and I’m proud of just being who I am. Regardless of what’s going on around me, my name is Latrese Bush and I’m from Bluffton, South Carolina.”

Listen to Latrese Bush’s latest album or check out her tour schedule and discography at latresebush.com.

By Allyson Jones