The Leaders Of These Organizations Make Life Better For The Rest Of Us

Written by Mark E. Lett I Photographed by Ruthe Ritterbeck

The Leaders Of These Organizations Make Life Better For The Rest Of Us

The best of us make life better for the rest of us.

In Bluffton and across the Lowcountry, difference makers are out in force, determined to leave local life better than they found it.

Among them: David Nelems of The Don Ryan Center for Innovation and Jody Hayward from the Port Royal Sound Foundation — two leaders of organizations committed to improving the economy, the environment, and the quality of life in the Lowcountry.


It’s all around us.

It’s what defines where we live.

It is described by the Lowcountry Institute as “a marriage of ocean and land” to produce “a marine environment that is one of North America’s overlooked ecological jewels.”

“It” is the Port Royal Sound, covering some 1,600 square miles of marsh, land and river defining much of Beaufort, Hampton and Jasper counties.

It is, says Jody Hayward, Executive Director of the Port Royal Sound Foundation, “the reason we love the Lowcountry so much.”

And it is the focus of Hayward and her team at the Foundation. With roots extending a quarter century, the foundation is committed to preserving the Sound for the “environmental, cultural and economic well-being of our area,” according to its mission statement.

“Through education and hands-on engagement, it’s our job to preserve and protect the amazing Port Royal Sound,” said Hayward.

From offices and an exhibit-packed maritime center and museum on Okatie Highway — roughly midway between Bluffton and Beaufort – the Foundation offers an abundant list of programs and initiatives to connect the Sound to Lowcountry life.

The Maritime Center, opened in November 2014, offers a stunning aquarium and more than 50 exhibits “that speak to the ecology” of the sound, said Hayward. Frequent visitors include schoolchildren, often captivated by the sight of snakes, alligators, turtles and saltwater fish.

Foundation-backed opportunities include summer camps, lectures and trail hiking, naturalist-led kayak tours, access and events for artists and photographers and a citizen-screening program for residents to test and monitor water quality.

And there is more in store.

The Foundation is putting finishing touches on an open-air, 10,000-square-foot pavilion to meet demand for field trips, research symposiums and teaching programs consistent with school STEAM programs (science, technology, engineering art and math).

At A Glance


From creature feedings to nature hikes, we’ve got exciting events for the whole family to enjoy.


We are centrally located in Beaufort County, where S.C. 170 crosses the Chechessee River. Just take the right exit from either direction at the bridge.

Field Trips

Fun for all ages, field trips enhance students’ classroom curriculum and gives them a unique understanding of our coastal environment.


Truly the heart of our Foundation, volunteering is the perfect way to learn more about what makes the Sound so important to us.

Ways to Give

Help us make a more profound impact for generations to come, not only for the Sound but for our community too!

Text "Happy" to 243725 to donate $7.00 in honor of the Maritime Center turning 7!
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