March 03, 2016
The morning of Sunday October 4, 2015, is one Mac Bennett (BSBA ’80), United Way of the Midlands president and CEO, will never forget. Amid the historic 1,000-year flooding of South Carolina, Bennett’s phone rang. On the other end was Columbia City Manager Teresa Wilson, who asked Bennett to open up the Inclement Weather Center of Columbia, making room for hundreds of displaced citizens.
“I thought it would be easy for me to get to Columbia to help with the relief efforts, but boy was I wrong,” says Bennett. “I wasn’t tuned into the severity of the floods. I ended up riding in the car the city sent for Mayor Benjamin and stayed downtown for days following the flood to help.”
The morning marked the start of a tedious but rewarding week effort for Bennett and the United Way. The United Way helped with evacuations and relocations, as well as bringing resources together to respond to the growing community needs. To this day, Bennett and his team continue to work toward long-term solutions such as renovations and restorations of homes damaged by the flood.
“The floods brought about heroic efforts by people across our community,” says Bennett. “I tend to be inspired most by extraordinary things that ordinary people do. I love seeing neighbors helping neighbors, and people not from Columbia giving time and energy to ease the pain of the devastation that occurred in October.”
Bennett is the recipient of the 2016 Distinguished Alumnus Award, awarded at the 32nd Annual Leadership Dinner and Awards Ceremony. The Distinguished Alumni award is presented to alumni of the Moore School with outstanding achievements in business, academia, government, or not-for-profit organizations, and/or outstanding service to the business school.
Devastation is a call to action for the Carolina community according to Bennett. Both the United Way and local flood victims are fortunate to have the help of various organizations across the Midlands. Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD’s) have gathered from across the country to help serve flood survivors and the community. Many of the VOADs serving the Columbia area have been faith based. Local young and energetic volunteers have been brought in to help the victims as well. Students have swapped out their bathing suits for work boots, dedicating their spring break to flood relief efforts.
For Bennett, giving back is second nature. Bennett is passionate about developing, supporting and improving programs at various nonprofits. He currently serves on the boards of directors of SCANPO, the Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority (CMRTA), Transitions, United Way Association of South Carolina and Richland School District Two Foundation. Bennett also serves as an elder at his church, and on the boards of trustees at the Nord Family Foundation and the Central Carolina Community Foundation.
“My future hope for the Midlands is to continue growing as a caring community,” says Bennett. “The October floods are a good example. We didn’t have looting or rioting. We had people going into each others' homes to help neighbors restore their homes. I know that’s the kind of place I want to live and I think others do, too.”
By Jessica Markland