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Heather Price

Aug 3, 2021

Heather Price: The Community Connector

Tim Wood

Photography By

M.KAT Photography
Heather Price isn’t running a typical business. For most of her life, she has been in the business of helping people and connecting folks both with each other and with resources to make their lives better.

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The founder of a popular Facebook group has made it her business to make new neighbors daily.

As the Lowcountry slowly emerged from the late-2000s housing crash and recession, the Hilton Head Island High School graduate and USCB human services degree holder began to see that her neighbors didn’t talk as much as they used to. Her friends were so focused on stabilizing their lives, in-person connections took a back seat. The more she used Facebook, she saw an opening to create a new community online.

Thus, the Bluffton/Hilton Head Ask and Answer group was born in 2014. Today, it is the largest locally focused Facebook discussion group in the Lowcountry, a source for recommendations, for connecting with others and arguably the most important and influential news source in the area.

“I had this idea of a small-town coffee shop, where people go in, get the latest news, see an online bulletin board item, read about a lost dog, help wanted, ask about where I can get this or that,” Price said. “At first, it was a lot of folks asking about the best dry cleaner or the best spot for sushi. I asked all my friends to join, and for a while, we hovered around 2,500 members—and that was incredible.”

That all changed when Hurricane Matthew hit the area in 2016. The group became a lifeline for so many in the area—a way to connect, to find out how to evacuate and find a shred of normalcy in a world turned inside out.

The trained paramedic and current sentencing and mitigation specialist for the 14th Circuit Court has always had a knack for assessing needs and creating order and systems to fill the need. Matthew became a life-altering moment to utilize those skills, and Ask and Answer was her platform.

“I stayed behind, so I was connecting folks with official information from the county or the most current media stories, giving them real-time information on the best evacuation routes,” Price said. “When we knew the bulk of people had evacuated, it became about helping those left behind. We did live video streaming on Facebook, showing folks their houses, hitting up houses where relatives had stayed behind or where pets were stranded.”

As folks returned after Matthew, Price started Hurricane Buddies, a program to connect evacuees and displaced residents with inland homeowners wanting to provide shelter and help and also providing a full array of Christmas gifts and cheers to 50 kids heavily impacted by the hurricane.

“We found we could fill voids where those who needed help were smothered in bureaucratic red tape just by leaning on the kindness of others,” Price said. “It was a very special level of goodness and hope to try to distract and minimize the tragedy of it all.”

The platform grew from a couple of thousand to closer to 10,000 members in months, as word spread of the resource that Price had created. The sprawl brought the sad norm of social media negativity, sparking the need to bring on help to moderate the comments and posts. Price turned to her friend, Toni Ellison, as one of the initial moderators.

“Toni was a godsend and so needed to keep folks in line and, honestly, to keep me sane and keep me from lashing out at the hateful folks,” Price said.

Price much prefers the role of angel to enforcer, but she knows it’s necessary so members know that, even as membership has bulged to over 25,000, it is still a safe haven for civil community interaction. Ask and Answer is a private group with a screening process to ensure members are not trolls and truly have a connection to the area. Potential members must agree to a set of strict rules like no bullying, no advertising, and no political harassment. Price and Ellison have recruited a team of moderators that includes long-time group members Michael Weiss, Lyndsey Densmore, Christy Smith, Brant Huegel and Kelly Housaman—a crew essential to manage the group’s growth.

“Sometimes the trash needs to be taken out, but we’re focused on making this a positive oasis and a force for good for Bluffton and Hilton Head,” Price said. “I have had an incredible team that has been focused on keeping that coffee shop feeling, that community-building vibe.”

Discussions get heated at times when local issues are discussed, but Price is committed to maintaining a level of civil discourse often not seen in today’s online landscape.

“We can talk to each other like humans with respect, it’s still possible. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise,” Price said of the mission. That can get especially tricky when creating conversation between two communities known for not crossing the bridge much. “It’s fun to find the topics we all share interest in. We all have a love for this region in common. When debates get unruly and nasty, we cut commenting off and some folks are kicked from the group.”

Price is not a trained journalist and mostly leans on official announcements and links to media stories when important news breaks. “With a hurricane, for example, we publish the statements from the county about what’s happening, what’s expected. I have a relationship with Bob Bromage and the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office, so when things happen, we lean on fact to set the tone. We never approve posts speculating on what happened or that might be disrespectful to victims.”

Price tries to publish media reports first, but with local coverage resources waning dramatically, she has found herself often being the first to publish official news—such as the recent fatal shooting of Bluffton teenager D.J. Fields.

“We are extremely careful to only put out facts, but in situations like that, connecting folks and sharing information folks may know can provide the immediate solace and comfort the community needs,” Price said. “The media too often focuses on what might happen, sensationalizes stories. We try to cut through that noise and focus on being a resource immediately.”

The group founder has two kids—a grown son and a six-year-old daughter—a thriving career, and a deep support system of family and friends. She sees Ask and Answer as providing the support for those struggling to build a Lowcountry life and that support system of their own.

Price has become known as a clearinghouse of help. If there is a family hurting trying to find a dog or a beloved electrician in need of a community boost, Price is quick to mobilize the giving.

“So many folks want to give things, and sometimes, things are needed. I helped during 9/11 in New York. The city was overrun with all the water donations, piles sitting outside of churches,” she said. “We try to keep it simple. An Amazon or Visa gift card, giving folks flexibility to get what they truly need, that’s often the best thing that potential donors can give in times of need.”

Many of her most ardent fans contacted us, telling of how they had talked to Price privately for help with a divorce attorney, where to send a kid for rehab or domestic violence issues. Through her public service career and her full adult lifetime spent in the Lowcountry, she has the means to connect needs to solutions.

“This is my honor; it’s my purpose,” she said. “Sometimes, it’s heavier things we help with. But sometimes, it’s still that trusted recommendation for dry cleaners or sushi. Help is help, big or small. That’s the beauty of the community we’ve built.”

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