Paying it forward and making new friends
Sometimes you just need a little help. And sometimes you simply don’t know where to turn.
For Summerville residents this summer, the answer came in the form of a team of teenagers from across the state, each of whom chose to spend part of their summer vacation giving back.
The teens are the Salkehatchie Youth and their mission is to serve the people of South Carolina. And serve them they do.
The Salkehatchie Summer Service sends South Carolina youth – high school and college – across the state to help others. In fact, you can’t stay in your own community, you must choose another community.
The United Methodist Church sponsors this outreach and has done so for years.
This summer, about 10 families in the Summerville area benefited from their largesse.
On a bright sunny morning last week, the sound of hammers drifted through the neighborhood on Wassamassaw Street.
At one house, 10 young people and their two adult leaders, were busy completing work on Harriet Simmons' home.
The youngsters had already replaced rotted floor joists in two bedrooms, painted the outside of the house and were busy finishing off the floors in the bedrooms. One of the bedrooms belongs to Antwanasia, Simmons' granddaughter, who is seven. With a shy smile, Antwanasia shows off her new bedroom floor.
Simmons sits quietly in the living room with a smile on her face as activity bustles around her.
“They are a blessing,” said Simmons. “I don’t get around much, and don’t get to talk with them much but they are beautiful kids, and very well-mannered.”
“Aaron Brown told us about the camp and we applied,” explained Simmons. “And, they are building me a ramp in the back!”
The ramp will enable Simmons to get in and out of her home easily.
Down the street, a handful of teens are busy putting a new roof on Sylena Hill’s home. Hill lives there with two of her children, BJ, 8, and Byaijah, 10.
Byaijah is sound asleep, exhausted, said Hill, from helping out.
BJ is bopping around helping and grinning.
“I just love it,” said Hill. “I spent yesterday crying. I have had problems for a long time and couldn’t get anyone to help me.”
Hill is walking gingerly, using a cane, while her knee heals from recent surgery. Hill tells how her heat/AC broke a couple of years ago and how she and her children live without either.
“In the winter we share a bedroom to stay warm.”
“For someone to come and do this for me,” she said, her eyes filling, “is a blessing.”
Unfortunately, repair of the heat/AC is not on the list this summer, but Hill is getting a new roof. One look at the roof and it is clear it is sorely needed. The particleboard that lies under the shingles is rotted through. So Hill will get a new roof, which will eliminate the need for “all those buckets” she said. She is also getting a new floor in a bedroom and new plumbing.
“I thank God every day,” she said, “I am so glad they came into my life.”
Hill said she is also thankful that the teens are teaching her kids. “They make my kids feel so comfortable.”
“They talk about school, and BJ is up early every morning waiting for them to get here. He is so happy.
“It’s fun!” said BJ.
“They came in like they were family, and I am so happy, so thankful,” added Hill.
So what do the teens get out of all this?
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Austin Poole, 16, of Duncan. “We get to connect with the homeowners, get to know them and a lot will help with the work.”
Sixteen-year-old Austin Carver, of Greenwood, said “Helping the homeowners is a good feeling,” and Katelyn Miller, 19, of Greenwood quickly added “We are spreading God’s word.”
“Salkehatchie Summer Service is a pioneering servant ministry at selected sites in South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia involving high school- and college-age youth, adult community leaders and persons of different cultures in upgrading housing, motivating community cooperative efforts by helping persons to help themselves and providing all participants with opportunities for personal growth and service.”
So reads the Salkehatchie application form which is long, involved and requires references.
Yet many of these young people come back year after year. Miller is back for her fifth year. This is Poole’s third year.
The Summerville program is run by Marty Gunter, of North Charleston, and sponsored by the Bethany United Methodist Church in Summerville. Other area churches feed the group during the week they are here. They sleep on the floor at Bethany Church. This is the 10th year that Summerville has had the program.