Meet local nonprofit executive directors

Stumped for Christmas gifts? Worried about the kinks in the supply chain causing items not to arrive on time? Of course, you’ll still shop plenty at local brick-and-mortar stores, but this may be a grand year for alternative gifts – memberships, merchandise and contributions to nonprofit organizations are always the right size and color, and there’s never a hassle with returns.

It’s an especially appropriate topic, since #GivingTuesday is Nov. 30 this year. In the U.S. #GivingTuesday is observed five days after Thanksgiving, and was founded in 2012 by Henry Timms at the 92nd Street Y in New York City. It simply encourages people to “do good” each year on the designated day. #GivingTuesday has evolved into a global movement in which people contribute to the nonprofit organizations of their choosing.

Nonprofits strengthen the communities in which they are located and give community members ample opportunities to give of their time, talent and treasure to make their little corners of the world a better place for everyone.

We reached out to some local organizations that enrich the Golden Isles through their respective missions. We chose five nonprofits on which to focus – one each from the sectors of social services, environmental preservation, culture and history, ministry and the arts.

Like the Good Book says, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Safe Harbor Children’s Center

SOCIAL SERVICES: Leslie Hartman is the executive director of Safe Harbor Children’s Center, in Brunswick. She’s been with the organization for nearly 20 years. Hartman joined the staff as a part-time therapist in 2002.

“When the executive director position became available in 2010, the board asked me to take over as interim director,” she said. “Soon after, I was officially tapped to lead Safe Harbor into their third decade.”

Safe Harbor was founded in 1991 by Susan and Bob Hamer, who wanted to create a warm and nurturing environment for children who had been abused, neglected or abandoned, were homeless or had run away from home, or who otherwise were at-risk or felt threatened.

“Since 1991, Safe Harbor has grown from a single house in downtown Brunswick, into seven programs that serve five counties in the Brunswick Judicial Circuit,” said Hartman. “For 30 years, Safe Harbor has provided an array of life-changing services to include residential facilities, drop-in centers, outreach programs, children’s advocacy, family preservation and parenting education. Each of the seven programs is vital to achieving Safe Harbor’s vision everyone deserves a safe place.”

The program serves children from birth to 18. Safe Harbor Children’s Center serves children and youth who have experienced complex, compounded trauma throughout their lives. While the children are there, the center provides nurturing care, said Hartman, as well as medical and dental services, academic tutoring, vocational guidance, recreational opportunities, and counseling and therapeutic services in a loving home-like environment.

There are many ways people can help the children being served by Safe Harbor.

“Often times, when children arrive at Safe Harbor, they bring with them the clothes on their back and the burden of years of traumatic experiences,” Hartman explained.

Most have never experienced the joy of a holiday season. As a result, the organization works to help the children create their own Christmas wish lists and Safe Harbor supporters help fill Santa’s sleigh with messages of hope and presents from the individual wish lists.

“We encourage individuals, businesses, families, schools, and church groups to help brighten the holidays for the children and youth of Safe Harbor because every child deserves a Christmas,” she said. Financial donations – Hartman calls them investments – are also welcome. Those gifts, she said, are a sound investment which multiplies repeatedly as it brings benefits to the Safe Harbor community to continue to provide life-changing services for families and children, in Brunswick and the Golden Isles. Those interested in giving may call 912-267-6000 or visit to make a tax-deductible contribution.

St. Simons African American Heritage Coalition

Culture + history: Amy Lotson Roberts has been at the helm of the St. Simons African American Heritage Coalition, which manages the restored Historical Harrington School, for nearly 20 years, after inheriting the mantle from the first executive director, Shirley Roberts. This is the culmination of a lifelong dream – making people aware of the rich African American history of St. Simons Island, which is much richer than a paragraph about slavery in a history book. The descendants of these enslaved people, once had three thriving communities on St. Simons Island – South End, Harrington and Jew Town – filled with churches, farms, small businesses, juke joints, boarding houses and other ventures. The coalition was formed to respond to the threat of encroachment by development in those neighborhoods. It seeks to preserve the African-American land, heritage and culture on St. Simons Island.

The SSAAHC maintains a small but interesting museum at the school on South Harrington Road, filled with artifacts, photographs and documents that tell the history of African-Americans on St. Simons Island. They also have a small gift shop, and making a purchase is an easy way to make a contribution to the group.

“People can help us by buying our book (Gullah Geechee Heritage in the Golden Isles, by Amy Lotson Roberts & Patrick J. Holladay, Ph.D.), which is a nice coffee-table book, or simply by making a donation,” she said. “Memberships are also great Christmas presents.”

Those contributions will help the organization continue its programming, which includes special events and guests speakers, and allow the school to remain open for the community. To that end, volunteers are also needed.

Roberts is anxious to begin her African American history tours of St. Simons Island once again, but the organization needs a van in order to do so.

For more information or to make a contribution to the organization, visit

Glynn Visual Arts

THE ARTS: Terri Evans became executive director of Glynn Visual Arts in June 2020, but had been on staff since January of that year.

The arts are an essential part of the community, and Evans explains the mission of GVA as multi-pronged.

“As a community arts center, our mission is to enrich our community by stimulating interest and participation in the visual arts,” she said. “While GVA continues to evolve, we have been a cultural cornerstone of the community since 1953, and see our purpose to be to inspire, nourish, educate, liberate and entertain through the visual arts.”

In addition to the classes held there, GVA also hosts numerous exhibits, receptions and programs that entertain, engage and educate members of the community, and also provide a place for art aficionados – whether new or seasoned – to gather and share experiences. There are dozens of ways for people to contribute to GVA and accomplish their holiday shopping as well.

“Through GVA, one can give the gift of beauty,” Evans said, adding that gift certificates are available for memberships, classes in painting, drawing or pottery … (and) handmade jewelry, paintings, pottery or scarves from The Art Market at GVA. Giving a gift certificate can also be experiential for the receiver and last throughout the year.”

Year-end gifts to GVA are also a good way to honor or remember loved ones. Evans said there is a bright red “donate” button on the Glynn Visual Arts homepage ( One can give monthly as well, and can also make donations by calling GVA at 912-638-8770 and discussing with Evans how to direct the contribution.

She also explained some of the advantages to contributing to a nonprofit organization.

“There are, of course, tax advantages for year-end giving, especially if one is age 70-1/2 or older,” Evans explained. “A donation can be made directly from an IRA account and will be tax-free.”

The process is simple, she said, requiring just an email or telephone call to your broker.

“We love donations from younger folks too, especially smaller donations during Giving Tuesday,” she said. “Becoming a member is also a way to give with direct benefits to you. GVA is a wonderful and enduring investment for anyone who appreciates the joy created by the arts.”

The Gathering Place

MINISTRY: For 40 years, The Gathering Place has been ministering to the youth – middle school through high school and now college-age students as well – of Glynn County. Jimmy Gunderman has been the executive director of the Glynn County branch of the ministry since 2018.

“My family and I moved here by way of India, where we were missionaries and worked with a fair trade business as mission to help train and employee marginalized and at-risk women in the city where we lived,” Gunderman said. “Our home is originally in the northwest Atlanta area, where I served on a church staff and helped to run a nonprofit that continues to feed 2,500 schoolchildren a month in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya.”

Gunderman views his work as a calling rather than a job.

“We don’t view the work we do as a ‘have to,’ but rather as a ‘get to,’” he said. “I am excited to continue to bring a deep and genuine passion for God and our community as the GP team works to see the rising generation of students impacted as we reach, equip and send students with the gospel.”

The Gathering Place, Gunderman explained, is a Christian leadership organization the mission of which is “next-generation mentorship.”

“We exist to reach students with the gospel, equip them as strong leaders and send them to impact their community and world,” he said.

The Gathering Place is in the final phase of a major capital campaign, and financial gifts will be gratefully accepted. And, in the first part of the upcoming year, another expansion will take place.

“In the spring of 2022, we will launch Gather, a new thrift and café outreach center to serve the community,” Gunderman said. Gather is currently under construction across from College of Coastal Georgia and next-door to Brunswick High School, on the site of the former Bowl-A-Rena, which burned to the ground several years ago. “Individuals could make gifts in honor of a loved one to support this exciting project.”

End of year financial contributions are also an option. To learn more about The Gathering Place and contribute online, visit, or text “Partner Now” to 888-364-4483.

St. Simons Land Trust

Environmental preservation: Emily Ellison has been at the helm of the St. Simons Land Trust since October 2019.

The organization has an environmental focus, but its overall mission is to improve the quality of life for residents of and visitors to St. Simons Island, as well as to preserve and protect the natural and scenic qualities of the island.

That mission is fulfilled in three ways – land acquisition or conservation easements; land management and education and outreach regarding land conservation.

Currently, the SSLT oversees 11 active and passive parks, trails and greenspaces, many of which the land trust owns and maintains, for the public to enjoy. A wide range of activities is available, including hiking, walking, running, cycling, birding, picnicking, playing and simply recharging. Most of these spaces are kid-friendly, and several welcome dogs too. Visit for more information.

Of course, acquiring and maintaining large (and small) parcels of land requires money, and Ellison said there are a number of ways people can help.

“Memberships to the land trust for family and friends are fantastic gifts,” she said. “Many people also make ‘tribute gifts’ during the holidays to honor a loved one; this can be either a financial contribution or purchasing a bench or other tangible item.”

The popular St. Simons Land Trust Oyster Roast will be Jan. 22, 2022, and tickets go on sale Dec. 1. Tickets to this event make ideal gifts, Ellison added.

“We take care of sending holiday cards to all recipients so that the gift-giver doesn’t have to do anything,” she said, before adding one more suggestion. “For stocking stuffers, people love giving the land trust’s caps …”

End-of-year contributions are also a popular option, and may have financial advantages for the donor. Ellison said gifts – both large and small – are being sought.

“We are in the middle of a $5.5 million capital campaign that includes a $3 million challenge, where every contribution made is matched dollar-for-dollar,” she said. It’s the perfect time to take advantage of the challenge and know that your gift is being doubled.”

For more information on any of the giving opportunities provided, call 912-638-9109, or visit