JOHNSONVILLE - Relaxing by the pool, tubing at Lake Marion or simply chillin' at home are where you can typically find teenagers and young adults during their summer months away from school or work.
That's not the case with more than 2,000 youth …
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That's not the case with more than 2,000 youth and young adults who volunteer their time each summer for Salkehatchie Summer Service, a mission project sponsored by the United Methodist Church Conference of South Carolina.
Founded in 1978 by John Culp, Salkehatchie Summer Service has grown from 40 campers to more than 2,000 campers. The service was named after the Salkehatchie River that winds its way through the coastal areas of South Carolina where many of the projects sponsored by the service are held. During its first year, the service helped four families by restoring dilapidated houses on the Sea Islands of South Carolina. This year, the service sponsored 46 camps throughout the state with more than 2,000 campers from across the nation volunteering their time to help families in need of housing repairs.
Jessi and Laura Weir, ages 24 and 20 respectively, are sisters who began their work with Salkehatchie seven years ago.
"I fell in love with the program after the first year," Laura said after returning home from this year's weeklong project. "It's changed me a lot for the better."
"It's amazing to see how much difference that we can make in just five days," Jessi added. "To see how happy the homeowners are is very rewarding. We've had a few of them get emotional about the help they've received."
Jessi and Laura were sponsored by Pinewood United Methodist Church, where they both are members. At their prior Salkehatchie camps, they were sponsored by Paxville United Methodist Church.
The cost of the weeklong camp is $230 per camper with that money paying for supplies that are used to make home repairs that week. Many of the supplies for the home repairs are also donated by local businesses and individuals.
While the majority of the campers are teenagers and young adults, there are some seasoned veterans who are accomplished carpenters, electricians, plumbers and general do-it-yourselfers who help get the jobs done according to code.
The sisters worked at different sites during their week in Johnsonville.
"This year, the homeowner that I was working with only wanted a hot water heater," Laura said. "She had been heating her water on the stove for about two years. We ended up giving her more than just a hot water heater. We replaced some flooring, worked on some drywall, worked on her plumbing and painted some of the home's interior."
At Jessi's site, the campers pressure washed and painted the home's exterior, repaired the home's steps, cut down overgrown trees and painted and repaired a handicapped ramp at the home.
The days were long but very rewarding, the sisters agreed.
Wakeup was at 5:30 a.m. Breakfast was at 6 a.m. Crews rotated between cleaning up after breakfast and devotional time prior to getting to work. Arrival on site was about 7 a.m. with a devotional prior to beginning work. Cleanup prior to lunch occurred about 11:30 a.m. Then lunch and back to work at 1 p.m. Site cleanup began at 4:30 p.m. before leaving the site at 5 p.m. for showers and dinner. After-dinner games of Uno and other card games entertained the campers before lights out at 10 p.m.
The campers were housed at Vox United Methodist Church, the host church in Johnsonville. The campers slept in various rooms at the church on sleeping bags and inflatable mattresses that they brought from home.
Meals for the group of 18 campers representing Camp Circuit Rider, the name of the Johnsonville mission group, were prepared by local churches. Dinner included everything from fried chicken to Frogmore Stew.
Will they go back next year?
"Of course," they both harmonized. "We enjoy helping families rebuild their homes to make them safer and more enjoyable to live in."
Anyone wanting to make donations to the 2019 Salkehatchie Summer Service can mail their donations to Pinewood United Methodist Church, P O Box 203, Pinewood SC 29125. Please note on the check that the donation is for the Salkehatchie Summer Service.
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