When Buck Edwards retired after a long career at IBM, over two decades ago, he and his wife, Karen, elected to move to Hilton Head because there isn’t an IBM corporate office in the vicinity. Buck said he was trying his best to distance himself from other IBM people. It didn’t work.
“Thinking that was a big mistake,” he chuckled. Another error in judgement was thinking that he would be fulfilled in his retirement playing golf every day. He said the routine got tired pretty quickly,
“I knew it wasn’t going to be sustainable,” Buck noted. “I knew I needed to find something to do. That wound up being volunteer work.”
Interestingly enough, that did not lead him to the Volunteers in Medicine Clinic on Hilton Head Island. At least not directly. Buck said he answered an ad for a volunteer opportunity that was published in the Island Packet. He didn’t realize it at the time, but he was getting in on the ground floor of what would be the enormously successful IMPACT Mentoring program.
The program connects volunteers and at-risk children in local schools in an attempt to steer them in the right direction. At the early meetings, he learned that this was a dire and pressing community need.
“At the time, 50 percent of the students that were enrolling in high school here weren’t graduating in four years,” he exclaimed. “I asked myself, ‘How is this possible?’”
Taking a look around the Island, he wound up seeing and noticing the hidden poverty and the working poor who were the staff and backbone of many of the resort and hospitality businesses.
“The people who work at the restaurants and hotels and clean your pools have children,” he said. “Those kids are going to school with the kids from the gated communities:
He saw the root problem. It was the same root problem observed by VIM”s late founder, Dr. Jack B. McConnell, which spurred him to build the clinic on Hilton Head Island that now stands as the model for nearly 90 clinics nationally.
Buck began mentoring at-risk youth, and helped many children over the years. He would talk to the children, and most importantly, listen to what they had to say.
“I would tell mentors to use the back of their chairs because you’re going to hear things that are going to blow you away,” he said.
Over time, when he would hear about children or their family members who were underserved and experiencing health problems, he would suggest they visit the VIM Clinic for treatment.
It happened specifically with a young man named, Arthur who was mentored by Buck. And here is where the story dovetails with Volunteers in Medicine nicely. Buck told Arthur about VIM and Arthur told his mother about the clinic and she went—and got better. The episode had a lingering impact on both Arthur and Buck.
“One of the exercises we did with the mentorees was to write down plans and goals for the future,” Buck said. “They could change at any time. I had Arthur do that and asked him what he wrote. He told me, ‘Mr. Buck, I want to be a volunteer, but not with the mentoring program. I want to be a volunteer at Volunteers in Medicine!’”
According to Buck, the doctors and volunteers at the clinic treated Arthur and his mother with courtesy, kindness and respect, “They didn’t make them feel badly or feel judged for needing to seek care at the free clinic.”
Hopefully this story will have a happy ending but the outcome is far from certain because Buck and Arthur are no longer in contact. One winter break, Buck went to visit family in Connecticut for the holidays. He came back and attempted to meet with Arthur, but learned to his dismay that the boy had moved out of state to live with relatives because his mother had passed away suddenly.
Buck said it was not surprising in retrospect because something he had suspected to be true was, in fact, the reality of the situation.
“The woman he called his mother was actually his grandmother,” he said. “I suspected it when he told me that his mother was my age. His mother gave birth to him when she was 14 years old. His grandmother saw that she was not going to be able to raise the baby, and raised Arthur herself. After she passed, Arthur went to Florida to live with who he thought was his sister, but was actually his mother.”
Buck said he tried in vain to get permission to contact Arthur, but was denied access by the family in Florida. Still, he hopes that the positive changes Arthur had experienced will carry forward and someday, as a grown man, Arthur will walk into the door of our clinic to volunteer and share the story of the mentor who pointed him in the clinic’s direction.