While repairing homes, Salkehatchie builds friendships
by Staff Writer
HUNTERSVILLE – Summer, generally a season filled with lazy days and beach trips, was not what the 55 campers at Salkehatchie Summer Service wanted for their break.
Not at all, in fact. They paid $215 each to spend seven days waking up everyday at 5:45 a.m. and repairing houses in 90-degree heat, until quitting at dinner time, almost 12 hours later.
The campers, ranging from 14 years old to 67, came from as far away as Durham? and Charleston, S.C., and as close as China Grove and Shelby. They came from seven Methodist churches as part of the denomination’s larger summer service program.
Salkehatchie started in North Carolina in 2003, but the summer service project began 25 years earlier in the Salkehatchie community in the Low Country of South Carolina. The Methodist Church expanded to more camps in South Carolina, and Huntersville residents Jerry Kita and his wife, Mona, with the help of Huntersville United Methodist’s Rev. Monica Humpal and Katie Cloninger, of the Western North Carolina Conference, brought it to North Carolina after participating in a camp in Camden, S.C. Kita now directs the camp in Huntersville.
They admired the service camp because it enables Carolinians to help other Carolinians.
“I think it’s easy for faith communities to get drawn into helping missions in other countries, especially those that are impoverished and struggling,” Humpal said. “In fact, it’s a good thing to support such missions. However, we have that same situation at our own back door . . . even here in Huntersville where so many live in luxury. We need to reach out to our neighbors here – the ones who feel hopeless and helpless.”
The campers arrived at Huntersville United Methodist Church on July 16, a Saturday, and headed for home Saturday, July 23. In between, they worked on four homes in Huntersville and Cornelius, while staying at Huntersville United Methodist.
Seventy-four-year-old Louise Neel has lived alone in her two-bedroom Huntersville house for 17 years, and the Methodist work crews probably saved her from moving into a nursing home like her older sister.
“I’m glad to have them before it falls down,” Neel said. “It was leaking and everything else. I was just thinking I might have to move out of here. I didn’t know where I was going to go, I was thinking of bulldozing it down.”
During the week, volunteers like 18-year-old Sam Sykes of Durham, reroofed Neel’s home and replaced her side porch.
While taking a break from pulling shingles, Sykes said he returned for a second year with Salkehatchie because he sees the difference he’s making in someone else’s life.
“Helping other people gives you that kind of good feeling,” Sykes said. “But you don’t do it for that feeling. You do it for the other person.”
While Neel most looked forward to the repairs on her home, Franklin Brawley simply enjoyed the workers being there.
“I like a lot of the company,” the 78-year-old Huntersville resident said, sitting in his small living room. “I enjoy the group. They’re real friendly. You know, you get used to them then they have to leave”.
Eleven to 15 campers labored at each worksite, covered in sawdust or smeared with paint, cutting wooden boards or carrying sheetrock, all done with smiles on their faces and giggles echoing between hammer thuds.
While they’re repairing homes, the campers also build lasting friendships.
“Some of the best friends I have now, I’ve met from the camp that I wouldn’t have met any other way,” Kita said. “We share a common bond. Immediately, you come in sharing a set of values. So, the bond is very real and very genuine.”
Pranks and jokes abound on the sites, from the “left-handed hammer” to trying to find the “board stretcher,” to help keep the campers’ minds off their fatigue.
Carl Duncan, site leader at Gladys Henderson’s home in Cornelius and a Shelby police officer, said he has volunteered for Salkehatchie for a few years but never really understood the meaning until two years ago.
Duncan was working on a home that’s owner had a daughter who was celebrating her ninth or 10th birthday that week. ?So, the girls on the worksite banded together to organize a Hannah Montana birthday party. But the birthday party was postponed that afternoon when the girl’s principal stopped by the house to say the girl was injured in an accident. Emergency workers had rushed the girl to a hospital with possible brain damage after she was struck in the head with a baseball.
“Of course, we just stopped what we were doing,” Duncan said. “We said our prayers, and all of a sudden it wasn’t about finishing. And I’ve learned this since then: It’s not about finishing the house. It’s about what you do while (you’re) there.”
The little girl was fine and returned home late that afternoon to finally have her Hannah Montana birthday party.
“It’s about being together,” Duncan said. “It’s about being together, and it’s about the homeowners and what we can do for them.”