An occupying army showed up at four homes in York County this week. They brought guns – nail guns.
They also brought hammers and saws, screwdrivers and huge hearts. If it is July, the 50-plus young people around Rock Hill and York covered with sweat, singing as they work, are the Salkehatchie Summer Service volunteers. The group is part of the United Methodist Church ministries, in its 37th year in South Carolina and 27th year in York County. The service helps elderly and poor people, who are on fixed incomes and can’t afford repairs, a chance to have homes fixed that need a helping hand.
The crews this year are fixing a pair of homes in York next door to each other, and two houses in Rock Hill. On Baker Street in Rock Hill, the sound of power saws and nail guns starts with the sunrise and lasts all day as the crew puts in a new bathroom from floor to ceiling complete with fixtures, walls and floors in two other rooms, and even refinishes the back door so it can lock.
“These young people, they are the ones who do the work,” said Tammy Hailey, who is known as “Salkehatchie Mama” for all the young people she has mothered over the 27 years that she and her husband, Chuck, have run York County’s Salkehatchie service. “We all love to help people and serve God.”
Materials are donated or bought at a discounted price from businesses that help out, and Chuck Hailey, a licensed contractor, serves as the overseer for the projects. Several area churches provide volunteers to prepare and serve meals, and the young people – in their teens through early 20s – sleep at India Hook United Methodist Church. The volunteers come from all over the state – Salkehatchie has crews in more than 50 places around the state this summer.
“I just love being able to help people and serve,” said Randi Rice, of Saluda, a college student who has spent the past seven summers as a volunteer.
The other volunteers echoed Rice, saying that service to people, and God, is the greatest part of Salkehatchie.
“You get a chance to make a difference for people,” said Robert Caviness, a high-schooler from Greenville.
Like the Baptist World Changers who were in York County last month, the Methodist Salkehatchie volunteers pay a fee to be a part of the project. Bobby Taylor, a volunteer well into his 60s, retired after a lifetime working in restaurants, says that Salkehatchie is really all about service. Older volunteers are an example to the younger ones, and the chain continues.
“At the end of the week the young people can see what they have accomplished – and it is an accomplishment that helps other people live in a home that needed repairs,” Taylor said. “Everyone involved gets something from Salkehatchie.”
The work can be daunting. Chuck Hailey has contractors such as Clint Raymes help him supervise the work and provide direction, as well as making sure the volunteers are safe. Raymes has volunteered for decades after his own children were volunteers, too.
“Everyone has something to offer,” Chuck Hailey said. “When someone says it is a group effort, Salkehatchie really is a big group working together to serve God and help other people.”
This year’s camp is the last for Tammy Hailey, who said declining health means that she can no longer be the official “Salkehatchie Mama” to all these young people. Others will take over, and her husband will continue with the program, but York County will soon have to pick another mother for all these Methodist young people from all corners of the state.
“The opportunity to do this has been the greatest thing I have ever done in my life,” Tammy Hailey said. “It has been an honor to serve these young people, and for all of us to serve the people we have helped.”