The Omar Shrine Auditorium hosts 100 or more events every year, from wedding and bar mitzvah receptions to home shows, community expos and even gatherings for Civil War buffs and reptile lovers. The 18,000-square-foot facility, the third largest venue in the Lowcountry, is located on Patriots Point Road near the Ravenel Bridge and therefore easily accessible from Mount Pleasant, Charleston and beyond.
With all the activity going on in the building, it’s sometimes easy to forget that the main purpose of the Shrine Temple is not to host holiday parties, celebrate happy occasions or teach people about snakes and alligators. The building exists for one major reason: to raise funds to help make life better for kids suffering from a variety of debilitating diseases and conditions.
Omar Shrine Potentate Ralph A. Calhoun II pointed out that the profits the building generates are just one of many revenue streams that fund 22 Shriners Hospitals in the United States, Mexico and the Philippines. The Shriners also raise money to support the cause of helping kids through parades, raffles and gridiron contests such as the annual East-West Shrine Game, which gives the nation’s best college players the chance to show off their talents.
And, for those who just want to help a child lead a normal life, you also can donate online at https://donate.lovetotherescue.org.
“We want to educate the community about who we are,” Calhoun said. “And we want the community to support the events we hold at the Shrine Temple.”
The Shriners were a charitable organization even before they started building children’s hospitals, striving to help the sick during a yellow fever epidemic in Jacksonville, Florida, and providing aid for the victims of the Johnstown, Pennsylvania, flood in 1889. Members of the organization felt the need to do more, however. Today, their 22 hospitals provide care for children at no charge, regardless of their race, religion, skin color or family income.
In 1962, the Shriners set aside $10 million to build three hospitals specializing in the treatment and rehabilitation of children with burns. They chose to build their first pediatric burn hospital on the campus of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. Today, Calhoun said, Shriners hospitals also focus on orthopedics, cleft palates and spinal cord injuries.
He added that Kenny Craven, the first South Carolinian to earn a spot on the Imperial Board, is currently negotiating with the Medical University of South Carolina to establish a pediatric burn unit at the soon-to-be-completed MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital. “It would be the only pediatric burn unit on the East Coast,” Calhoun said. “Currently, these kids have to go to Cincinnati for treatment.”
Calhoun said there are three shrines in South Carolina – in Greenville, Columbia and the Omar Shrine in the Charleston area, which was established in 1907 in a building on the Charleston peninsula and served around 10,000 members. The parking situation was so bad that people had to be bused in from remote lots for large events. The facility was wiped out by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, so the Shriners purchased and then renovated the current building in Mount Pleasant.
For more than a century, the Omar Shrine Temple has served as a venue for various events and a way to help children in need of life-changing medical care.