Seneca honors retiring First Steps director

posted Dec 12, 2017, 7:39 AM by Ocdp Web

Posted on December 12, 2017 - By Greg Oliver - The Journal

Marie Dunnam, who is retiring at the end of this month after serving as executive director of First Steps of Oconee County, was honored last week at Seneca City Hall. Rex Brown | The Journal
Marie Dunnam, who is retiring at the end of this month after serving as executive director of First Steps of Oconee County, was honored last week at Seneca City Hall. Rex Brown | The Journal

SENECA —Marie Dunnam was honored Thursday at Seneca City Hall with a reception and an opportunity for friends and colleagues to express their gratitude for more than a quarter century of service to the community through First Steps of Oconee County.

Dunnam is retiring at the end of the year after serving as executive director of First Steps for 26 years.

South Carolina First Steps to School Readiness was initially signed into law by then-Gov. Jim Hodges in June 1999, and Oconee County First Steps began in September of that year. Dunnam was first elected as board chair and became executive director two years later.

Seneca Mayor Dan Alexander recalled a 2002 meeting with Dunnam about the need for public transportation. As a result of that meeting, the groundwork was laid for Seneca to seek and eventually receive money for public transportation, realized four years later through Clemson Area Transit. Seneca has since implemented the first all-electric bus fleet in the nation.

“(CAT) is about giving people hope, about giving people a chance to make a difference in life, and Marie has done that her whole life,” Alexander said. “For me, what she’s done to make public transportation take place in this county has not only changed my life, but the lives of others as well. I’ve always respected you, not only for myself, but my girls — both of whom are now in education — because of the impact she’s had on their lives and what they do.”

Sandra Pruitt, director of Family Friends, has served on the First Steps board since the beginning. Pruitt said Dunnam is a close friend with whom she has laughed and cried. Pruitt said she admires the job Dunnam has done at First Steps, including the Countdown to Kindergarten and Principles of Parenting Successfully programs.

“Nobody in the state knows more about First Steps — its strengths, weaknesses, potential and impact,” Pruitt said, adding that Dunnam’s work will “be felt for decades and powerfully impact Oconee County’s children.”

Board member Misty Lee unveiled a special gift to Dunnam, a  painting of a tree whose branches depicted the many programs offered through the program to help children enter first grade equipped and ready to learn. The actual fingerprints of some of the children who have benefited from her work are featured on the leaves of the tree.

Contained at the bottom of the painting is a quote from the late Fred Rogers — “Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero to me.”

“We hope you hang this on the wall of your home and when you look at it, think about the impact you had on all the children of Oconee County,” Lee said.

Dunnam told the audience that she will always appreciate how the Oconee County legislative delegation ensured the First Steps program was established correctly.

“Our major accomplishment has been to fulfill the intent of the First Steps legislation,” Dunnam said. Dunnam also took time to recognize Monica Alles White, who will be the new Oconee County First Steps executive director.

“The search committee did a wonderful job and found the right person at the right time,” Dunnam said. “I think she’ll be able to carry on the work we’ve done the last 18 years and take it to another level.” | (864) 973-6687

Breakfast Meeting - Dec 16

posted Dec 6, 2017, 7:02 PM by Ocdp Web

Saturday, December 16,
9:00 a.m., 121 N Townville St, Seneca, SC (OCDP HQ). Please join OCDP at our December Breakfast Meeting to enjoy good friends, celebrate the season, and support a local charity.

As a special project, OCDP is again collecting blankets for the "First Steps" program of Family and Friends at the United Way of Oconee County this holiday season. We are asking everyone to bring at least one NEW blanket to be distributed to families in need as the winter season begins. Please drop your donation by our office.

And don't forget we are still collecting diapers (sizes 4, 5 and 6 are requested). Just drop them by our office when you are in Seneca. We make a delivery once a week. Thanks for your support!

Friends Remember ex-Democratic Party Chairman

posted Nov 19, 2017, 1:50 PM by Ocdp Web   [ updated Nov 19, 2017, 1:51 PM ]

(Pictured): Former Oconee County Democratic Party chair Mike Evatt, second from left, poses for a photo with current OCDP chair Paulette Keffas-Chassin, left, S.C. Democratic Party chair Trav Robertson and former OCDP chair Maxie Duke. Keffas-Chassin called Evatt’s death this week “a great loss.” Special to The Journal

Posted on November 16, 2017

By Greg Oliver

The Journal

SENECA — Former Oconee County Democratic Party chairman Mike Evatt died Wednesday, and those who knew and loved him say they will always remember the impact he made — not only politically but, more importantly, on their lives.

“It’s a great loss — he was a great mentor to me and a friend,” current Oconee County Democratic Party chair Paulette Keffas-Chassin said.

Evatt was a two-term chairman of the party, and Keffas-Chassin said they didn’t exactly hit it off when they were first introduced.

“Mike re-engaged with the Oconee County Democratic Party two years ago when I was interim chair,” she said. “He was a bit cool to me at first — a newcomer to the area from the north. But we soon became fast friends, and he even nominated me to be chair at our county convention in 2016. It was a moment I will never forget.”

Keffas-Chassin said Evatt “made me laugh, think and wonder.”

“Mike recently said, ‘Being chair is a thankless job, so I just want to thank you, Madam Chair, for all your hard work,’” Keffas-Chassin said. “He was a brilliant, passionate, caring man who was relentless in his desire to improve the lives of residents in Oconee — in education, health care and in their standard of living. Mike Evatt never gave up trying to fight for people in need in Oconee County.”

Walhalla resident Maxie Duke, who also served as chair of the Oconee County Democratic Party in the late 1980s, said she depended a lot on Evatt.

“He could remember statistics about elections you wouldn’t believe and stories about people that were amazing to me,” Duke said.

But, more importantly, Duke said, Evatt was a good friend who loved people.

“He took care of people,” Duke said. “You wouldn’t believe how he took care of people. Anybody he could help, he would. He always had a positive attitude, always smiling and joking about something.”

South Carolina Democratic Party chairman Trav Robertson called Evatt “the epitome of what a Democrat should be.”

“Mike Evatt taught me the virtue of chasing a greased pig in the mountains of Oconee County and that the best apple cider in the entire world was from Mountain Rest,” Robertson said in a prepared statement. “You wanted Mike on your team in a fight.”

Although Evatt supported Robertson’s opponent in last April’s race for state party chair, Robertson said Evatt called after he won the race.

“He was the first person to call and offer his support to make my term as chair successful,” Robertson said. “I will miss him terribly. Our thoughts are with him and his family during this time.”

Sam Martin, of Newberry, who was a close friend for the past 30 years, said Evatt was a brilliant strategist. Martin recalled a petition seeking to make video poker legal in the state again in order to abolish property taxes.

“I told him I was having a hard time (collecting signatures) and he said I could get all the signatures I could get soon,” Martin said. “I asked how and he said for me to stand in front of the treasurer’s and auditor’s office, because they would be collecting taxes pretty soon. He could come up with things that seemed so obvious later.”

Martin also recalled how Evatt, running against incumbent S.C. Rep. Bill Sandifer in the 1998 election, was told he would get few, if any, votes running as a Democrat in Oconee County.

“Mike ended up getting nearly 45 percent of the votes, and it was because of his likeability,” Martin said. “He was the kindest, most gentle person I ever knew. He would give you the shirt off his back, and I don’t know anyone who didn’t love him.”

Nearly 10 years ago, just before Thanksgiving, Martin said Evatt saw a man on the side of the road who “was really bad off.” Evatt, his friend said, stopped and gave the man $50.

“He did stuff like that for people — you didn’t hear a lot about it, but he did,” Martin said.

But Martin said Evatt should also be remembered for the love he had for his wife, Kelly, who died several years ago, and his children — his son, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Andrew Michael Evatt of Missouri, and daughter, Molly Evatt Quinn of Westminster.

“No one raised two children who ever turned out better than his two children, and it’s because of what he put into their lives,” he said.

Keffas-Chassin said Evatt often spoke of his children, as well as his grandchildren, Maddy and Zachary Quinn and Jackson and Brody Evatt, and his parents, James “Dink” and Ruth McGee Evatt of Seneca.

“There is not now, and never will be, a replacement for Mike Evatt,” she said.

A funeral service for Evatt will take place at 2 p.m. Sunday at St. Luke United Methodist Church in Walhalla. The family will receive friends from 6-8 p.m. today at Sandifer Funeral Home in Westminster. | (864) 973-6687

John Spratt Issues Conference & Dinner

posted Nov 13, 2017, 6:13 PM by Ocdp Web   [ updated Nov 13, 2017, 6:14 PM ]

The South Carolina Democratic Party is hosting the Spratt conference on December 8 and 9 in Columbia.  

When: Friday- Saturday, December 8-9, 2017

Who: Big Keynote Announcements Coming this Week!

An important date to remember: EARLY BIRD SALE ENDS NOVEMBER 19TH

Friday - The dinner this year is going to be a pig pickin' down at the Coop in Columbia. We'll celebrate our wins from Tuesday and look toward more in 2018 with oysters, a few pigs, and plenty of Beaufort stew. And, of course, there'll be a cash bar.

Saturday - The Conference will cap off the weekend and be at downtown Columbia's Marriott Hotel. As Democrats, there could not be a more important moment to gather, discuss, plan, and organize around the issues that will guide our elections in the Trump era. We are poised for success in South Carolina, but it will take hard work, a focus on the fundamentals and a persistent dedication to our values to capitalize on the opportunities in front of us - that starts at this year's Spratt Issues Conference. 

The Early Bird specials end November 19, 2017.

Breakfast Meeting

posted Nov 13, 2017, 6:10 PM by Ocdp Web

Join OCDP for our November Breakfast Meeting on Saturday, November 18, at 9 a.m., at headquarters, 121 N Townville St, Seneca, SC.  After breakfast we will have a brief seminar on registering voters.

Monthly Business Meeting

posted Nov 1, 2017, 5:59 PM by Ocdp Web

Join us at our next business meeting on Monday, November 6, at 7 p.m. at our headquarters, 121 N Townville St, Seneca.  Bring your ideas and help us make a difference in Oconee County and the Upstate. 

Healthcare Open Enrollment

posted Oct 31, 2017, 3:42 PM by Ocdp Web

We had an informative, fascinating speaker at our breakfast meeting, Sue Berkowitz, dedicated officer of Appleseed Legal Justice center, explained their work to fight for low income South Carolinians. Healthcare is focus now: open enrollment Nov 1 -Dec 15. Call 888-998-4646 for help signing up or examining new choices. Or go to Please share and spread the word!

Oconee Democrats set to host health care advocate Saturday

posted Oct 26, 2017, 6:24 AM by Ocdp Web   [ updated Oct 26, 2017, 6:27 AM ]

Sue Berkowitz is the director of South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center. Appleseed advocates on immigration, housing, education, hunger and domestic violence, according to the news release. Berkowitz will focus on health care and the Affordable Care Act, more popularly known as “Obamacare,” at the breakfast.

“While (Obamacare) is the law of the U.S. and has helped more than 20 million Americans to be insured, the current Republican administration has reduced the upcoming enrollment period to only six weeks,” the news release said.

Consumers may sign up for 2018 plans from Nov. 1-Dec. 15, according to the U.S. Health and Human Services Department. The sign-up period is half the length it was under President Barack Obama’s administration.

President Donald Trump’s administration has cut the advertising budget and grants for advising by 50 percent, according to the news release.

“Organizations like Appleseed have stepped up to fill the gap created by those moves,” the news release said.

Appleseed advocates for low-income South Carolinians to overcome social, economic and legal injustices, the release said.

The center’s attorneys, outreach workers and community organizers lobby policymakers to ensure the law is far, educate the public and advocates about the law and help attorneys bring litigation “where the law is unfair,” the news release said.

OCDP chairwoman Paulette Keffas-Chassin said county Democrats are “honored that such a knowledgeable and notable advocate” for the state is coming to Seneca.

“The Democratic Party, always an advocate for working families to ensure quality health, education and a fair living wage, has invited Ms. Berkowitz to update us on how we can get the word out that health care is available, affordable and should be a right of every citizen — not just the privileged wealthy class,” Keffas-Chassin said.

County Democrats invite the public to the breakfast regardless of political affiliation, according to the news release. The breakfast will be at 121 N. Townville St. in Seneca at 9 a.m. Attendees may ask Berkowitz questions about health care.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

JOIN OCDP at the Bertha Strickland Museum

posted Oct 23, 2017, 2:20 PM by Ocdp Web

When:  OCTOBER 28 - Following breakfast, we will visit the Bertha Strickland Museum (208 West South 2nd Street, Seneca, SC 29678MAP  for a tour of the Segregation - Integration - Assimilation exhibit.  
In order to get an education, African American children in Oconee County sometimes walked more than two hours one-way down lonely dirt roads or along deserted railroad tracks, rode buses up to 35 miles one-way to get to school. They studied from used books discarded from all-white schools. But their determination to make a better life for themselves and their families drove them forward to become an educated community of doctors, lawyers, teachers, and business owners.

SEGREGATION - INTEGRATION - ASSIMILATION explores the questions and outcomes of the first 100-years of formal education for African Americans during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in Oconee County through the lens of the local history-makers...

For more information on the Bertha Strickland Museum, click here

October Breakfast Meeting

posted Oct 23, 2017, 2:17 PM by Ocdp Web

What is the status of healthcare in South Carolina?  Attend our October 28 breakfast and find out!

The Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act remains the law of the land.  Nevertheless, the Republicans in Congress are doing everything in their power to sabotage the provisions of the act that are within the discretion of the Administration.  To make it more difficult for the millions who got insurance through the exchanges, they have reduced the annual renewal period to just 6 weeks, from November 1 to December 15.  They also have cut the budget for advertising and advising by 50%.

One of the organizations that has stepped up to fill the gap created by those moves is the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center.  The Center maintains a website, South Carolina Healthcare Voices, that "provides information and support to SC citizens who want to address healthcare issues and solve problems."

We are delighted that Sue Berkowitz, the director of the center, will be the speaker at our monthly breakfast on October 28.  She will discuss some of the efforts of the Appleseed Center to inform the thousands of South Carolinians who receive subsidized insurance under the Affordable Care Act about their options and how to ensure that their coverage continues uninterrupted for at least another year and other services offered to the neediest and most endangered of our fellow citizens.  
Don't miss this special speaker coming all the way from Columbia to Seneca!  
Come with healthcare questions. Sue has answers. 

For more information on the center, click here.

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