WHITMIRE — On Sept. 16, Maria McMurtury of Whitmire was awarded the Community Leader Volunteer Award at the annual South Carolina Governor’s Volunteer Awards.
McMurtury was born in Queens, N.Y. Her father was also from Whitmire but left to join the Navy during World War II. He later met Maria’s mother in New York.
From 1977-1979, McMurtury became pursuing community involvement by becoming a Big Sister through Big Brothers and Sisters of New York to a girl named Quilla whose grandmother was not able to get around. McMurtury would take Quilla to do things like go to the movies, do arts and crafts, go to the library and read together.
“My experience with her let me see that everyone needs a friend just to spend a little time with them and show them how special they are,” she said. “I knew helping her learn to read was going to let her open any doors she chose to. It was one of the most rewarding acts of kindness ever.”
From 1980-1997 she was a nurses aid helping hospital patients when needed. In 2003, she decided to move back to her hometown of Whitmire to raise her son. She opened a restaurant and gift shop called Maria’s On Main and started the First Community Outreach Program, which donated food and assistance to people in need.
The program started in 2003 and has continued to expand over the years. She has been the site director for Harvest Hope Food Bank since 2013.
She also works through RSVP, the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program of the Midlands. Her role is to distribute over 400 meals a quarter to the needy and shut-ins.
She also developed Whitmire’s Economic Development Committee where she serves as director.
Along with her other accomplishments, she is also a board member of Keep Newberry County Beautiful, where she works with local schools teaching about promoting a healthy environment by cleaning up streets and raising money to plant green spaces.
Once a year, a community clean-up day is held where football players and teachers from Whitmire Community School and residents of Whitmire break up into teams and clean the streets of Whitmire. She has also been on the board for the S.C. Bottle & Whitmire Museum since 2014, where her husband is an avid bottle collector.
In 2011, she was diagnosed with Charcot Marie Tooth Disease, a form of Muscular Dystrophy that deteriorates the muscles. But McMurtury is not letting her limitations stop her.
“I will not give in to it. I will fight to live and serve my community with my head held high. I have learned to live with my limitations,”she said.
Even though McMurtury has to depend on a walker to get around, she is not going to let that stop her from volunteering.
“I volunteer because I feel it is my duty as a human being,” she said. “We are all here fighting some kind of situation, large or small. If I can ease the burden then I will do what I can with the resources I’m provided with. Everyone can make a difference. Come join me and I will show you.”
Reach Kelly Duncan at 803-276-0625, ext. 1868, or on Twitter @TheNBOnews.