NEWBERRY — The cliche that love grows best in little houses holds true for Jeremy and Maggie Senn, thanks to a chance meeting 16 years ago at a Salkehatchie job site off Odell Road in Newberry.
This year, the ministry of the Methodist Church where teens and college age youth pay to spend a week at camp making needy people’s homes warm, dry and safe has come full circle. The team is back at that same home with Jeremy working as a roving electrician for the camp.
Maggie, now a nurse, is not working the camp anymore. She gave that up when she became a mother five years ago but she still contributes as she is able.
She said Jeremy has not missed a camp in 14 years and even though matchmaking is far from the primary purpose of the week of youth service, they are not the only couple to have met at Salkehatchie. From there, they dated and eventually attended Clemson University together.
As their relationship grew, they had a strong foundation of shared faith to draw from, something camp co-director Joyce Barrow said is the reason she and her husband, Steve, continue to work the camp year after year.
“There is just something about the bonds formed at Salkehatchie that is life changing and long lasting,” she said.
The Barrows rely on volunteers to keep the camp strong including long-time helpers Chris Wells, Renee Routon and Gary Graham. Local churches continue to feed the volunteers and local merchants help provide supplies either at reduced rates or as donations.
This year, 86 youth and adults are working the camp. Volunteers come from all over South Carolina, including many from Newberry County.
Barrow said the camp had a lot of new 14- and 15-year-olds. They receive safety orientation and a lot of guidance and supervision from adult site leaders. At the end of the week, youth who did not know how to work power tools, do roofing or paint will emerge with new skills.
But the camp is about more than home improvement.
Salkehatchie is about changing hearts and the campers said a mission started with the idea of helping others winds up helping them as they gain perspective and learn empathy and compassion.
Barrow said the youth often tell her it’s just not summer without Salkehatchie.
She said the camp continues to grow by word of mouth as teens have powerful experiences, share that with their friends, and bring more folks with them the following year. Occasionally, even parents decide to come be a part of Salkehatchie the year after their child participates because their children have such a moving experience.
Salkehatchie, named for a Low Country river, began in 1978 as part of an outreach ministry to barrier islands in South Carolina.
A summer youth activity led by the Rev. John Wesley “Bubba” Culp, the ministry first focused on an urgent need in the area in which Culp ministered. There were homes on the sea islands that were little more than shanties without running water.
Culp realized his passion for youth outreach ministry and for the gospel could connect and help build communities, one hammer and nail at a time.
The ministry spread throughout South Carolina under the auspices of the United Methodist Church, though participation is not limited to Methodist youth.
Today, Salkehatchie camps change lives in the Carolinas and Georgia. There also have been Salkehatchie outreach efforts as far away as Nicaragua and Brazil.
The Newberry Camp divided into 10- to 12-person site teams, which become like family units amid the overarching camp structure. They served sites in Pomaria, Chappells and Newberry.
Teens bond, serve others
As teens sweated together, got grimy, dusty and dirty together, as they prayed and studied scripture together, they also interacted with the homeowners and in some cases the children and family of homeowners.
Common repairs included roofs, windows, bathrooms/plumbing, ceiling and painting.
“They sure to do good work and works,” homeowner Jamie Glymph said. “They take care of you in a way that (is compassionate and loving) and you really appreciate it.”
On Wise Street at the Hutcherson residence, Salkehatchie ministered to a dialysis patient of limited means whose home needed extensive repairs.
Columbia resident Alexa Kirby did Salkehatchie this year for the first time. She works as an outreach coordinator for student ministries and brought around 20 youth with her from Mt. Horeb.
Sarah Hudson returned for her second year. Some of the repairs at the site where she volunteered this year included windows, a new hall floor, new doors and plumbing repairs.
Jacob Darnell said the team came together even when the work was grueling such as when digging a 30-foot ditch.
“We truly are doing the Lord’s work,” he said.
For 15-year-old Cameron Hill, service included working on her birthday. She learned of Salkehatchie from a friend.
The 2013 Miss South Carolina spoke Monday night, sharing her life experiences and faith story and re-emphasizing a theme Barrow tells the youth of again and again that “all of God’s children are precious.”
Nightly devotions and morning work site devotions are a core component of the camp, which lasts from Sunday through Friday.
The youths share talents during a Wednesday night performance, have a meaningful cross worship service on Thursday nights and the week concludes with object night on Friday, a night Barrow said is possibly her favorite.
For object night, each teen or college age volunteer shares a seemingly mundane object like a piece of windowsill, some bent nails or pieces from an old roof as a touchstone to explain how they saw the Lord’s hands at work.
The social bonds formed at the camp continue to renew year after year as campers repeat and often request the Newberry sites, something many say is due to the skills of the cooks in the area.
But the spiritual food that sustains these “Angels with Hammers” is what keeps them coming back for more and builds relationships that last a lifetime.
Visit www.salkehatchie.org or follow the Newberry Salkehatchie group on Facebook for more information.