AT&T donates $5k to Jr. Leadership Florence

Thank you AT&T for your support!

Junior Leadership Florence County is modeled after the Florence Chamber’s Leadership Florence program, and is designed for public and private high school sophomores and juniors. It enables students to be able to develop leadership skills while also increasing their awareness of the community. Junior Leadership Florence County consists of an opening retreat, followed by eight monthly sessions, and seeks to provide an investment in the community’s future leadership by fostering interest in the county and inspiring students to become the leaders of tomorrow. The program is made possible through a joint partnership with Florence County 4-H, The greater Florence Chamber and Francis Marion University with grants and funding from various community organizations.

Parade makes Christmas in Florence official


FLORENCE, S.C. – Hundreds of people lined Evans Street from Edisto Drive into downtown Florence for the annual Christmas parade on Saturday.

Fifty-two float entries made up the parade, under the theme “Love and Peace.”

One of those entries was The Little Gym of Florence. Soha Patel said the gym is geared toward teaching gymnastics to children 4 months to 12 years old, and it entered the parade as a way to reach out to the community.

“We just want to increase awareness about what’s out there,” she said. “I think all these businesses that’s our intention to let our community know we’re here.”

The group from The Little Gym consisted of around 20 students and parents.

“The little ones are super excited,” said Patel. “Some of them will probably do cartwheels and handstands.”

Another group hoping to get its name out to the community in Florence was the city of Florence Junior Allstars, part of the Florence Junior Football League. The team was coming off a state championship win last weekend in Beaufort.

“I want everybody to let them get their recognition,” said coach Darryl Mitchell, “They’re the best team in the state so they should be recognized.”

The team, made up of 7- and 8-year-olds, filled up two truck beds and a limousine for the parade.

“Everybody’s excited because they want to get in the limo,” said Mitchell. “They’re a good group, out of the six years they’re the best group I’ve had.”

First doctoral class at Francis Marion University set to begin matriculation


FLORENCE, S.C. – Francis Marion University’s first class of doctoral students is nearly complete and will begin their studies in January when FMU’s spring semester begins.

Dr. Ruth Wittmann-Price, dean of the university’s School of Health Science, said in a news release the initial class in the new Doctor of Nursing Practice program will include 15 students, slightly more than originally forecast.

She said the new degree meets a significant need in this region and beyond, and follows a national trend in advanced practice nursing education.

“Recently, it’s become the recommendation that family nurse practitioners should be educated at a doctoral level,” Wittmann-Price said. “This is where we need to go with our nursing program.”

The program recently received its final regulatory approval from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

The launch of the Doctor of Nursing Practice program is a landmark in the 47-year history of Francis Marion and an addition to the University’s fast-growing offerings in health care education.

This doctoral degree will allow graduates to attain the highest possible standing within the field of nursing practice. The program requires 27 credit hours of classroom work for candidates who enter the program with a Masters-level degree already in hand.

Francis Marion has operated its own undergraduate nursing program for more than a decade. It added the Masters level degree for Nurse Educators and Family Nurse Practitioner in 2012, and graduated its first FNP class in 2014.

More information on the Doctor of Nursing Practice program is available at

Elmcroft Senior Living Center Festival of Wreaths


FLORENCE, S.C. — Elmcroft Senior Living Center celebrated the arrival of the Christmas season, hosting the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce’s Business After Hours event on Thursday evening, which featured the musical stylings of SidesWiped.

Bailey Dabney welcomed as new Morning News publisher

By: Don Kaulser, Morning News

FLORENCE, S.C. – South Carolina native Bailey Dabney is the new regional publisher of the Morning News and its affiliated publications.

Dabney, 52, has served for the past 1½ years in Warrenton, Virginia, as the publisher of the Fauquier Times and two affiliated newspapers.

The Fort Mill native was introduced Thursday to the Morning News staff.

Dabney replaces Joe Craig, who has served two-plus years as regional publisher of the Morning News.

“I’m a product of South Carolina. This is to a degree a homecoming for me,” said Dabney, who has some family in the Pee Dee area. An uncle once served as the superintendent of Florence schools.

“I’ve been in, around and through Florence at least once a year for almost all of my life,” Dabney said. “We would go through there on our way to or from Myrtle Beach or on our way to Florida on I-95. I’ve always loved Florence.

“I love the idea of living in Florence. I love the idea of working for the Morning News and the affiliated papers. The Morning News is one of the historically significant papers in the South. It’s an incredible opportunity to be in that building every day.”

After spending two years at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, Dabney graduated from Erskine College in Due West, where he attended on a tennis scholarship. He returns to his home state with nearly 30 years of experience as a newspaper executive. He started in 1988 as a district manager at the News and Courier in Charleston, where he met his future wife, Kim.

“I intended to be a sportswriter,” Dabney said. “I wrote sports at Erskine. I just couldn’t find anybody who would hire me as a sportswriter when I graduated from college, so I took a job in circulation just to get in the building. I got a promotion and a raise, and after a certain point when the first job came open in Sports, it would have been a backward step pay wise. I didn’t look back.”

Dabney has worked for big newspapers, such as the Miami Herald and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and smaller ones, such as the Claremore (Oklahoma) Daily Progress. That was his first experience as a publisher. During his seven years there, the Daily Progress was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in two categories in 2013. He also spent four years as vice president of a technology company in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Dabney has a long history of community involvement. He has served on numerous nonprofit boards and has chaired a number of them. Most recently he has served as the board chair for the Main Street USA affiliate in Warrenton.

“I can’t wait to see downtown Florence after reading all about the renaissance,” he said. “I’m quite the fan of old downtowns.”

Dabney enjoys tennis and golf but says he hasn’t had time for either sport in recent years.

“My wife says the other woman in our house is a newspaper,” he said.

He describes himself as a technophile.

“I’m kind of addicted to gadgets,” he said.

 He also loves to read.

“I read fiction only,” Dabney said. “I can’t stay awake for nonfiction. Most of the fiction I read involves people get shot, stabbed or blown up.”

Dabney has been married for 25 years. He and Kim have three daughters and a son.

Craig will remain at the Morning News through the end of the year.

“I have really enjoyed working with the Florence community and all of our Morning News employees,” he said. “As of today I’ve really not made any decision on what I’m going to do in the next chapter of my life. I’m going to take some time off in the next few months and give that plenty of thought before making a decision. Let’s think semi-retired as opposed to retired. I’d like to ease into the fully retired status.”

Craig said he and his wife, Kathy, have really enjoyed Florence and the wonderful people they have met.

“I expect that we will seriously consider settling here permanently, so you might still see me around but just wearing another hat. We’ll see,” he said.

Craig is grateful to BH Media for bringing him to Florence.

“I want to reiterate what I have said several times to local community leaders,” he said. “BH is a great company, and the Morning News is lucky to be a BH newspaper. I encourage everyone to support the Morning News. It is your newspaper!”

Ribbon Cutting: Goodwill


FLORENCE, S.C. — A rain-soaked Thursday morning was unable to dampen the excitement of Palmetto Goodwill employees and shoppers as they celebrated the grand opening of the store’s second location in Florence, at 260 N. Beltline Drive.

Goodwill officials and employees joined ambassadors from the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce to hold a ribbon cutting at 9:45 a.m. before officially opening the store to customers.

Rick Shelley, director for workforce development for Goodwill in the Pee Dee and Grand Strand regions, said the goal of constructing the new store is to help with missions and services in the community.

“We’re very excited to be opening our second location,” Shelley said. “This is going to help us expand our footprint in the Pee Dee and give folks another opportunity to promote the mission of Goodwill in the Florence area.”

Shopper Katrienne Ham was one of the first to enter the new store on Thursday and came away impressed with the selection and price.

“I love the Goodwill and the mission they have,” Ham said. “I think it’s a wonderful thing. Nowadays, people don’t have a lot of money and they have things in the Goodwill store that are just as nice for a reasonable price.”

The mission of Goodwill is “to help people achieve their full potential through the dignity and power of work.”

Palmetto Goodwill CEO Robert Smith said the organization assists people in finding jobs, trains them in resume building and helps adults who haven’t received a high school diploma get their education and obtain certifications to get back out in the workforce.

Over 90 cents of every dollar made through retail is given back to the community through those education, training and employment programs.

“We bring them in, train them and help them become successful in the workplace,” Smith said. “This store not only serves as an opportunity to employ people, but also an opportunity to train them and place them back out in the community.”

In addition to store manager Ruth Cain and assistant manager Lamar Meyers, 15 store associates were hired in conjunction with the new store opening, according to Palmetto Goodwill.

“We’re really excited to have the Florence community and their support,” Smith said.

People can register all weekend long for a free 60-second Goodwill shopping spree by visiting the store location.

Last year, Palmetto Goodwill placed more than 1,596 people into new jobs and provided services for more than 57,981 in South Carolina.

For more information about its programs and services or to donate, visit

Florence Chamber wins South Carolina Chamber of Commerce Diversity Award.

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce was given The Excellence in Workplace Diversity Award this week at a South Carolina Chamber meeting.

The recognition is for companies making significant contributions to the advancement of South Carolina through diversity initiatives and inclusion efforts.

Criteria considered in selecting the winners include diversity initiatives, effectiveness and applicability/replicability.

The award was given at the South Carolina Chamber’s annual Summit meeting at the Sanctuary in Kiawah Island. On Tuesday night, the Business Leader of the Year was awarded at the Summit dinner. At a luncheon on Wednesday, the Diversity Awards, Business Week scholarships, the Sgt. William Jasper Freedom Award and the Public Servant of the Year Award were presented.

Les Echols, the Director of Community and Minority Enterprise for the Florence Chamber, accepted the Diversity Award for the Chamber.

“Diversity and inclusion is not just about programs or initiatives,” Echols said. “It’s about helping make an effective way of life for community and businesses to thrive.”

Mike Miller, the president of the Florence chamber, said Echols and the Chamber staff, have been focused heavily on helping to build diversity elements into all of business and community efforts.

“This focus will continue as we move forward,” Miller said. “I’m delighted Les was able to attend and accept the award.”

Florence Chamber’s Chairman Holiday Drop-In


More than 120 people joined the Chamber’s Chairman Holiday Drop-in event last evening at the Chambers Community Room. Everyone enjoyed delightful music and great food. Chamber Chairman, Rev. Merritt Graves and Florence Mayor, Stephen Wukela provided key remarks on the Chamber’s progress in regional business and community support efforts.

Looking ahead to the future of the Florence Center

Fellows in Education attendees visit Williams Middle School

The Fellows in Education attendees had the opportunity to visit with educators and students at Williams Middle School yesterday. The program is designed to give local leaders a unique, behind-the-scenes look at several schools within Florence School District One. It is a joint education effort between The Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce, Florence School District One and the Florence School Foundation.

Williams Middle School sits on the north edge of downtown Florence and serves approximately 630 students in grades 7 and 8. Since 2002, Williams has been home to the Middle Years Program, which allows students the opportunity to pursue an IB diploma at Wilson High School. Mrs. Pamela Johnson is the principal at Williams Middle School.