Hot dogs, hamburgers, handshakes and hugs were a part of Saturday’s scenery at Helping Hands, as the youth facility celebrated its 50th anniversary and played host to a variety of residents, employees and other well-wishers from at least a couple of decades of work to help abandoned, abused and neglected kids.

A tour was among the offerings, as was a video offering an update on the past few years at the facility now guided by Monica Jeffcoat, who was named in 2022 as Helping Hands’ CEO, succeeding Carmen Landy, who moved on to become a consultant and executive coach.

Both were on hand for Saturday’s event, along with dozens of other participants, endorsing the mission to enrich “the quality of life and well-being of children, youth and families in need through a continuum of residential and community-based services in order to improve their health, independent living skills, educational outcomes, and/or resilience,” as stated on Helping Hands’ website.

“It was really good to see so many of them,” Landy said, recalling that some of the former residents came with children of their own.

Current initiatives at Helping Hands include a ”$50 for 50″ campaign, encouraging boosters to provide a gift in observance of the anniversary.

Among the prior clients at Saturday’s event was Leesville resident Brooke Jeffcoat, who lived at Helping Hands in 2012. She shared a few thoughts on her time in Aiken, en route to her current situation, with a husband of nine years, two children and a house that the family owns.

“I was not used to eating breakfast, lunch and dinner every day,” she recalled. “I actually put on a little bit of weight, so I immediately needed clothes within a couple of months, because I was … not used to getting three meals a day, and that was the biggest thing for me.”

Getting adequate nutrition and being able to focus on school, she said, made a tremendous difference as she rebounded from consistently failing her high school classes to getting straight A’s.

“I ended up graduating on time … I was always the first one to bed and the first one awake.” She acknowledged the positive impact of tutors and a volunteer-led Bible study for teen girls, as well as the fact that she was eventually able to have a freshly stocked bedroom of her own, due to consistently good behavior.

“I got pretty lucky, the way life set up,” she said, noting that the Helping Hands arrangement also led to her picking up such skills as cleaning, cooking and taking care of laundry. “My husband cooks better than me, still, but that’s all right,” she said, adding that she is helping him with his laundry skills.

Read the article on Aiken Standard