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Salkehatchie teaches youth ‘how to love’

Posted: July 1, 2014 4:13 p.m.
Updated: July 2, 2014 5:00 a.m.

As June ended, Salkehatchie Summer Service was underway in Kershaw County. “Salkehatchie” is a pioneering servant ministry created by John Culp that has taken place at selected sites in South Carolina since 1978. The camp is designed for high school and college age youth drawn primarily from the S.C. United Methodist Conference.

Adults from the community also participate in the camp to lend their experience  and expertise, but the mission itself is intended to be led by youth. The camp brings youth together to repair, rebuild and improve homes for community members in need. Each youth donates $250 to participate in Salkehatchie.

Kershaw County Salkehatchie Camp Director Richard Hagins has been involved with the program for 31 years. He explained that there are 52 camps around the state, with some counties having more than one camp depending upon the number of residents in need.

Teenagers come from all over South Carolina, but also from as far away as Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina, to participate. Hagins said Salkehatchie helps teens come to understand that they can make a difference for the better, that they can help people in need.

During Salkehatchie, the youths camped out at Lyttleton Street United Methodist Church. Individuals and groups from the community donated meals during their stay. Local industries donated supplies to the effort also, including Haier, contributing three new refrigerators to be placed in homes.

Dennis Turner of Camden said one of the homes this year’s Salkehatchie group repaired had actually been two separate houses built together. He said a gap had resulted where the two houses were separating and water damage had occurred.

“The kitchen has been rebuilt entirely, from the ground up,” Turner said. “We’re building a new wall to support the rafters and we’ll put in repaired sink fixtures and a new refrigerator.”

Turner also said the home would benefit from a donation made by Georgia Pacific consisting of construction materials. Hagins said Sherwin Williams donated paint and other supplies.

The response from the youth participants best depicts what the Salkehatchie experience is meant to teach and convey. Everett Newlon of Charlotte, N.C., has participated for three years.

“I like to help people,” Newlon said. “I like to make them feel good about themselves. It’s the most gratifying experience, especially at the end of the week. The homeowners are all smiling and crying and there are hugs all around.”

Christian Harris and Zoe Burring have both been involved for two years and agreed they love participating in the camp because of the homeowner’s reaction.

“I enjoy meeting them,” Burring said. “It makes me appreciate what I have. They’re so sweet and appreciative.”

Burring and Harris agreed that a crucial part of the camp is the relationships that grow between participants.

“We become family,” Burring said.

Thomas Brantley, a contractor from Landmark Builders of Columbia, has participated for 19 years.

“I do it because it gives me the opportunity to serve the community and to work with the youth,” he said. “It gives me the opportunity to serve Jesus through serving others.”

Amber Steene of Tennessee returned for her third year with Salkehatchie this summer.

“It’s a great experience to work with strangers who become your friends,” she said. “I’ve learned how to do roofing, flooring and that will help me out in the long run because I want to be a contractor.”

Hunter Smith, also of Charlotte, also returned for this third year said he fell in love with the area and has made lifelong friends.

“Year after year, I get to see my friends at Salkehatchie,” Smith said. “I also love seeing the homeowners from previous years.”

He said he was particularly pleased to be improving the security features for homes.

“This is God’s miracle, God’s work,” he said.

The Kershaw County camp welcomed a very special guest speaker as Culp himself -- Salkahatchie’s founder -- came to visit the youth. Culp was a Methodist preacher for 45 years, only recently retiring. He said he started the camp for youth and adults to work on poverty homes during segregation.

“I wanted these young people to understand poverty,” he said, explaining that most of the Salkehatchie participants are youths from “white suburbs.”

He called South Carolina a “poor state right now,” noting that the rural areas of the state tend to suffer much greater economic hardships than urban areas.

“The places where plantations used to be, that’s where you see generations of poverty,” Culp said. “I am convinced that young people want to be constructive, but they just don’t have the structure to do that. They want to help others. Salkehatchie teaches them values and coping skills. They learn how to deal with their feelings in a positive manner. They learn to see God in unexpected places.”

Part of Culp’s message is to teach people that “Salkehatchie is a love story.”

“It teaches people how to love,” he said.

The camp is now over a $1 million mission.

“Young people go home from camp and their parents say, ‘What did you do to my child?’ A kid that was always angry with his parents goes homes and thanks his parents and doesn’t fight anymore,” Culp said. “Youths learn about economic conditions and classes that are very different from theirs.”

Culp said another story had a profound impact upon him. He described a mother whose home was being repaired in Beaufort.

“The mother was riding a bus every day to Sumter to clean hotels there,” Culp said. “She was on the bus one way for more than two hours, getting paid minimum wage.”

Culp said the mother brought home her children bags of potato chips one day and that one of the children gave her bag of chips to a Salkehatchie participant. Culp said that experience was incredibly humbling to all involved.

“That night, we had communion with potato chips,” he said.

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