After closing on their Foxbank Plantation home in July of 2013, Melissa Bennett and her family haven’t looked back. Instead, they have chosen to look toward the future and focus on the potential of their growing community and what it can possibly become.
Originally when the Bennett family moved in, there were only 500 homes in the neighborhood. Today, there are more than 1,000 homes with even more on the way.
“We’ve seen [Foxbank Plantation] grow considerably since we’ve been here,” said Melissa. But as much as it has changed, the main aspects that drew her and her family to this area remain the same.
“We love it here,” explained Melissa. “It is more affordable than other areas in Charleston, with better schools for our daughters.”
A mother of two young girls, Hartley and Abby, Melissa has her hands full. Especially ever since her youngest daughter, Abby, was diagnosed with autism when she was only two years old.
In 2014, Melissa and her husband decided to co-host with other neighbors a meeting as a way to meet their new neighbors. It wasn’t until after that initial meeting that the Bennetts started hosting regular block parties at their house, because their daughter Abby hated large crowds, loud noises, and was uncomfortable around strangers and other children.
Since introducing Abby to the Foxbank Plantation community, Melissa has been overwhelmed with the support and understanding that her neighbors have shown her and her family.
“My neighbors are more like family — we take care of each other,” explained Melissa. “When issues arise, we do meal trains, we get together for holidays. There’s just a real sense of community here. My girls can ride their bikes down the street and I know they are safe.”
What began as a way for the Bennetts to keep Abby comfortable and still be able to interact with their neighbors, became something much bigger. Over time, Abby became more comfortable with people in the neighborhood and the meetings served as a way to help inform the neighbors about Abby’s issues and help them better understand what her autism entails.
“Now we host block parties every spring and fall,” said Melissa.
In fact, the block parties have become so popular that between 50 and 80 people showed up last year, and the Bennetts even had a water slide — for children and adults — set up in their backyard.
More than serving as the go-to host for block parties and social events, Melissa is also an active advocate in the autism community. Her latest project? Helping to spearhead the Foxbank Plantation playground committee.
“Foxbank has a wonderful playground,” explained Melissa. “The only problem is it’s not accessible for children like Abby, whose unable to climb and fully enjoy all the playground has to offer.”
Along with fellow Foxbank Plantation mothers, Jenny Wilke and Chantil Holland Delay, Melissa created the playground committee as a way to raise funds for new, safe playground equipment in the neighborhood that is accessible to children of all ages and all abilities.
The committee started their fundraising efforts in August 2015 and have since hosted the “pennies for playground” door-to-door fundraiser, held a photo calendar contest, hosted a Christmas party and sold raffle tickets. To-date, the committee has raised approximately $4,100. They still have a little ways to go to meet their goal, but luckily, they’ve gotten some help.
“The developers of Foxbank have agreed to match whatever we raise,” said Melissa. “With their contribution, along with hopefully some donations from the builders, we’re hoping to have a new playground by this summer.”
Think that’s all Melissa has her hands full with? Think again.
In addition to caring for her two daughters, serving as an active autism advocate, hosting regular neighborhood get-togethers and heading the playground committee, Melissa is also a member of the Foxbank Plantation Advisory Board. And there’s still more she wants to do.
“There are quite a few children in our community who have autism,” said Melissa. “I’m working on getting street signs that indicate that an autistic child lives here and I’ve been working with other parents from the neighborhood and the community to get the school district to put cameras in the special needs classrooms as a way to protect both the teachers and the children.”