For the 20th year running, the delicious smell of thousands of pounds of cooking oysters permeated the air as the East Cooper chapter of Ducks Unlimited hosted another unforgettable evening of wetlands conservation fundraising in February. More than 2,000 guests from across the continent filled the Charleston Visitor Center Bus Shed as the chapter kicked off the 2017 Southeastern Wildlife Exposition (SEWE) with its annual oyster roast and Lowcountry cookout.
SEWE is the largest event of its kind on the East Coast. With the rich history and charm of Charleston, South Carolina, as its backdrop, the event draws more than 80,000 attendees each year. To help celebrate its long partnership with SEWE and mark the expo's 35th anniversary this year, DU stepped up as a title sponsor of the event.
"It has been our pleasure and privilege to have Ducks Unlimited as part of SEWE for so many years," said Jimmy Huggins, SEWE's president and CEO. "DU's conservation efforts are unsurpassed and we are proud to be part of that."
The East Cooper chapter oyster roast kicked off a weekend-long celebration featuring one-of-a-kind artwork and unique hunting and fishing excursions to destinations all over the globe. Driven by boundless energy and passion for DU's conservation mission, committee members raised a record-breaking $250,000 for the ducks at the 2017 event.
"The oyster roast at SEWE is one of DU's most stalwart gatherings and should be on every supporter's bucket list of events to attend," said David Schuessler, DU national director of event fundraising. "It's a phenomenal undertaking and it's truly amazing to think that this event has been so large for so long. It's a testimonial to the dedication of the East Cooper committee and their regional director."
The volunteers' momentum continued throughout the weekend at an on-site Ducks Unlimited store stocked from floor to ceiling with DU merchandise. "Countless hours go into the planning of this event," said DU Regional Director James Meadows. "We would not be able to make it happen without the dedication of our volunteers and our event chairman, Dr. Mark Hartley."
Hartley, a business professor at the College of Charleston, has been involved with the event since its inception. Each year he uses it as an opportunity to educate his students about the importance of philanthropic involvement. "I have always tried to provide my students with chances to volunteer during the semester," Hartley said. "It helps them build their résumé, and our committee is fortunate to have the help of these enthusiastic students."
Rebecca Shirer, a former student of Hartley's, chose DU as her business school volunteering opportunity 10 years ago and has been supporting the organization ever since. At this year's expo, Shirer was the lucky winner of a 19-foot center console Scout boat. Like DU, Scout is a SEWE title sponsor, and this is the company's fourth year of donating a boat for the event.
Mark your calendars now for the 2018 Southeastern Wildlife Exposition, February 15–18, 2018. To learn more about the event, visit sewe.com.