Salkehatchie Summer Service volunteers repair homes, rebuild lives on St. Helena Island

charley@beaufortgazette.comJune 30, 2012 

Homeowner Amanda Singleton looks on approvingly as work proceeds on her new side porch on June 21.


Rotten wood on the porches of 64-year-old Amanda Singleton's St. Helena Island home created holes all the way to the foundation. It got so bad she was afraid to go anywhere.

"It was scary," she said. "I had to learn to maneuver around the situation to get in and out of my house."

With no cartilage in her knee, the retired certified nursing assistant already has problems walking -- having to pivot from one place to another around soft boards made the situation even worse.

Now Singleton can walk across her porches without fear of falling through. Last week, a group of hard-working teens replaced them as part of the weeklong Salkehatchie Summer Service project.

About 110 teens from 14 Methodist churches from across the state including Greenville, Myrtle Beach and Rock Hill, as well as North Carolina, repaired and renovated nine homes on St. Helena Island last week. Local churches helped by preparing two meals for the group each day.

This is the 30th year for the project on St. Helena Island. Salkehatchie has 52 other camps in North Carolina, Georgia and South Carolina.


In addition to new wood on the porches and a new roof, much of Singleton's house got a fresh coat of paint.

Sitting in a white plastic chair on the new porch, Singleton clapped her hands and smiled as she watched a team of 20 teens and camp leaders work all around her.

"It was a blessing," she said of being chosen to receive renovations on St. Helena Island. This was the third year she had applied for help to repair her home, and the first time she was chosen. Each year about 50 people apply and about 10 are picked.

One of the teens, 19-year-old Kaylie Hamill of Greenville, has been coming to Salkehatchie Summer Service for six years. Her older brother was also a volunteer. This year her duties included tiling, painting and helping to replace the soft spots in Singleton's kitchen floor.

"It is weird to see a different side of the community," said Hamill, who has relatives in Beaufort. "What really struck me was how happy Ms. Amanda looked when we came here to work."

The project is about more than just home repairs, though.

"I love my team," Singleton said in between swatting gnats and putting her arm around Anna Smith, 14, of Pauline. "I got the sweetest team. They are so respectful and they have such good manners, I couldn't ask for anything better. And they are hard working, and do it with a smile and keep on going."

Smith's eyes welled up with tears as she listened to Singleton.

"Ms. Amanda has touched me," said Smith, a first-year volunteer who learned to roof and use a skillsaw during her week on St. Helena. "She kept saying stuff like 'Don't forget me.' I don't want to forget her."


Steve Brown, who led the camp, said, "We encourage the kids to work on the homes and the life of somebody who lives there. They've probably been beaten up as much as the home has."

Some have made the week at Salkehatchie a family vacation. Second-year volunteer Karen Nash was one of 10 people who came to St. Helena Island from Central United Methodist Church in Monroe, N.C. Nash brought her two sisters and her nephew this year. She plans to bring her granddaughter next year.

"It is wonderful," she said. "It is a lot of hard work, but it is so rewarding. You fall in love with the homeowners, and they fall in love with you, and it makes you feel so good."

Robyn Curry came from the Bahamas group Island Journeys to volunteer and to see if the Salkehatchie program could be adapted to her nonprofit organization, which helps rebuild homes and communities in the Bahamas.

"One thing I noticed is it seemed to be like the volunteers are families who come back every year," she said. "It seems to promote generations of families and the work they do is wonderful."

Curry also noted the large number of mobile homes in the area that need so much work.

"We have no mobile homes in the Bahamas," she said.

Volunteers said the work is so rewarding that many have returned for multiple years.

Despite having moved from South Carolina to Texas two years ago, Jim Wild flew back to Beaufort from his home in Plano for the second year to participate in his 18th year at the St. Helena Island camp.

Offering his service to others is important to Wild.

"Having faith ... is what it is about," he said. "You have got to have (service) works. It is the right thing to do."


Salkehatchie was started by the Rev. John Wesley Culp while serving a church in Hampton County near the Salkehatchie River. He wanted to inspire young people to break racial and social barriers. In 1976, they cleaned and did construction work at a halfway house for ex-prisoners in Columbia. Volunteers worked on homes in Columbia at a camp in 1977. And in 1978, another camp was based in Hampton County.

Brown, pastor of St. Matthew United Methodist Church in Greenville, has led the St. Helena Island camp for the past 18 years and has seen a lot of changes.

He said the group is finding they are revisiting some homes that were repaired by the group 20 years ago. Where the group once repaired outhouses 18 years ago, he said most people are now on septic tank systems. The Gullah language, once a barrier between the volunteers and homeowners, is no longer an issue. Brown said the new generation of homeowners no longer speaks it.

They are also seeing more mobile homes in need of repairs -- many are being used beyond their life expectancy.

Brown estimates more than 280 homes have received work from the Salkehatchie project since it began on St. Helena Island.

"It is tough," Brown said. "We have 50 applicants, and one out of five people we have to say no to."

On the final day of their work, the group visits each homesite, explains what work was done and says a prayer. The homeowners often give a speech of thanks.

Walking, cane in hand, Charles Brisbane's step was a little peppier following the prayer over his home.

"I have been kind of down, but since God sent you all I'm feeling like I'm 16 again," Brisbane said, waving his cane in the air.

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