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Dividends are spiritual for CofC grad running East Side's laundromat

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Blind faith is the only way to begin to describe Samantha Sammis' story. She's a College of Charleston graduate guided by something intangible in her mission to change a community most would rather drive around than focus on.

From the roof tops, it's not what you would expect to see, overlooking a street named America. There's peeling paint, beaten up bars protecting what they can, boarded windows, and light fixtures feebly supported by wires.

But when you slow down, and take a closer look you'll see a part of the East Side emerging from the shadows one quarter at a time.

"I think that people who don't live in the East Side see it that way. Overlooked things aren't well taken care of; it's not well managed, but those aren't the assets. That's why we are here," Sammis said.

Sammis' journey began her senior year at the College of Charleston with a run through the East Side and a quiet conversation.

"Lord, what does it look like to just love people, to serve people, to help my neighbors," she said.

It led her to Mall Park where a pick-up game of basketball with the neighborhood kids became her Friday fun day.

"I started walking kids home and getting to know parents and where they are from," Sammis said.

Two years later in 2012, she moved to the East Side and opened her home on Thursdays for cookouts and Bible studies.

"People are people -- they are not projects. That is the motivating factor living in the East Side," she said.

Looking past the brokeness of the community, Sammis' faith was tested like never before but it gave her an opportunity to take over the community's rundown laundromat.

"This place was full of asbestos, it was moldy, it was dirty; none of the machines worked. I dont want this dirty piece of laundromat," she said. "My judngmental self went home and for a solid five minutes I went, 'Wait a minute. What's wrong with me? And I was like, 'No, no, no, we have to keep it a laundromat.'"

In may of 2015, Laundry Matters was born out of Sammis' nonprofit Loving America Street and people took notice. Donations poured in and she quickly raised $50,000 -- enough for new machines, fresh paint, and a fresh outlook.

Ramsey Hamilton was born, raised, and lived on the East Side for 44 years.

"The word Laundry Matters means we in the East Side matter. It means a lot to us as minorities, low income people," he said. "It gives us pride and self-esteem."

Sammis' new space is helping people break a cycle of despair.

"Postive people like Samantha who I've come into contact with has been very helpful getting us, and especially me and a neighbor, to understand that God really matters to them as well as they do in this community and gives them encouragement," Hamilton said.

Inside the revamped laundromat, Bible verses decorate the walls. Mark's message, said to be the most important commandment, is printed on the business card and sums up Sammis' mission: love thy neighbor.

"We focus on asset-based community development. We take the strengths of the neigbhorhood to empower people out of poverty, out of addiction, out of homelessness, whatever it is, and ideally towards the gospel," Sammis said.

Those Bible studies now take place at the laundromat on Thursday nights. They start promptly at 7 p.m.

Sammis is unpaid. She supports herself through donations and a trust that her faith will take care of her.

Her next goal is to buy the building and hire two people from the East Side to run it.

What started as an idea in 2010 and became a brick-and-mortar helping hand for many in the East Side community, Laundry Matters turned its first profit two months ago. It was a glorious $51.

For her years of effort in an important and still underserved community on Charleston's peninsula, ABC News 4 recognizes Sammis and her nonprofit with January's Jefferson Award.

The Jefferson Awards Foundation honors public and community volunteerism, and spotlights the people going above and beyond in their efforts to serve others.

ABC News 4 has committed to profile people in the Lowcountry who go above and beyond by giving their time and talents to help the people around them. It's all part of our partnership with the Jefferson Awards, a national organization dedicated to recognizing and celebrating those who serve and lead.

To nominate someone in your community, click here.

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