NEWBERRY — The annual Salkehatchie Summer Service returned to provide assistance to those in need by making repairs and improvements to homes around Newberry County. This year an estimated 108 campers participated in the week long camp.
The Newberry County camp was first formed in 1985, but settled in Newberry County around 1993, as of this year 47 camps have been held, 200 plus homes statewide have been worked on and about one million dollars a year has gone towards supplies to fix homes and run the camps.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the camp since its inception. Over the entire 40 year period, Salkehatchie has had around 63,000 campers and has assisted over 6,000 families.
Gary Graham, director of Salkehatchie Summer Service, said the idea for Salkehatchie started with Rev. John Culp, a recently retired United Methodist minister.
“The first camp was held in 1978 in the Lowcountry. It happened as a result of the poverty and the things that he had seen around him there, he was a volunteer firefighter where he lived and there was a home that burned down and as a result of that, Salkehatchie kind of started,” he said.
Joyce Barrow, director of Salkehatchie Summer Service, added that the fire took the lives of three small children.
“There were three little children that were burned in the fire, he (Culp) was called to do their funeral, it was a very poor area, all three buried in a cardboard box and he realized that these people needed help,” she said.
The cause of the fire was believed to be faulty wiring, Graham said if an organization like Salkehatchie was around beforehand the fire could have possibly been prevented.
To participate in Salkehatchie, Graham said campers have to be at least 14 years old by the first day of camp.
“Each participant pays $230 to attend, that money, with donations that we receive from our local community here in Newberry, goes to fund the repairs on the homes, our homeowners aren’t charged a dime for what we do, they don’t pay anything,” he said.
Another aspect to Salkehatchie is incorporating worship into the camp.
“Each evening starting on Saturday evening we have worship music time and we have a worship service, Joyce normally puts together a program for the week, we may have speakers in and out during the week, but Joyce coordinates and we usually have a program with a theme during the week, then on the final Saturday, we close with Communion,” Graham said.
Barrow added that the youth and adults volunteering stay day and night.
“The guys stayed at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer gym and the girls stayed at Central United Methodist Church, all of our daily activities were at Central UMC. The community brings meals in and serves us, cleans up and then go home, this allows us to use money we would put towards food to go back into the homes and do a little more for them,” she said. “The merchants in town support us tremendously with discounts and donations, we couldn’t possibly do it without all of the outside support of the community.”
Graham and Barrow said through the use of posters and local resources they are able to determine what folks need help, adding that by the end of the week campers and site leaders feel like they have accomplished more than they ever thought they could.
“A lot of folks when they come they really don’t realize what they are getting into and as the week goes on I feel that, especially when our campers and site leaders leave at the end of the week, although they are exhausted and they’re tired, they have accomplished so much, but they feel like they have received much more than they have given,” Graham said. “I guarantee you, anybody you ask at the end of the week would probably tell you it was exhausting, it has been tiring, but they have received much more than they have given and that comes from our homeowners, they have an opportunity to bond with their homeowners and some of the kids will tell you they don’t want to leave at the end of the week because they have become so close with their site family and homeowners.”
Graham, who has participated in Salkehatchie since he was 14, added that the experience helps one realize the problems we face in our own communities.
“When I started I didn’t realize there was so much, I wouldn’t necessarily say poverty, but I didn’t realize there was so much need right here in our own backyard,” he said.
According to Barrow, that was part of Culp’s mission.
“That was part of John’s mission, to stay local and stay in our own backyard because he saw that need. You would be amazed at how many homes you drive by every day that look pretty good on the outside, but may not have a working bathroom or they have holes in the floors or porches falling down,” she said. “Our goal is to make people warm, dry and safe, it amazes me that the homeowners have enough trust that we go in on Monday and tear everything apart and they just have to trust that we are coming back the next day to start putting it back together and it takes a lot of faith, and lots of these homeowners have been praying for a long time for someone to help and they’ve fallen through a lot of cracks with the system and those are the ones we try to step in and do for.”
Graham said many campers come through Salkehatchie thinking they can’t offer anything, but assures campers they are capable.
“There is a place for everyone regardless of skill set, they (campers and site leaders) can do something no matter how small or what they think they cannot do,” he said.
To stay up-to-date on Salkehatchie Summer Service, Newberry, visit their Facebook page, or visit www.salkehatchie.org to register. Salkehatchie is typically held every third week of July in Newberry, but is subject to change, registration usually opens up in early March.
”While it is primarily a ministry of the United Methodist Church, it is not just for United Methodists. We welcome everyone, it is interdenominational,” Graham said.
Reach Kelly Duncan at 803-768-3123 ext. 1868 or on Twitter @TheNBOnews.