What started as a small service project for high school students at Walnut Grove Christian School has grown into an ongoing labor of love.
School owners Shannon and Kyle Boyd separate male and female students for a week each year for programs called Guys Week and Girls Week. This year, the Boyds decided to add a service project to the program that focuses on teen issues. They proposed helping Hope Whitlock, the 90-year-old matriarch of the Blackmon Road Community in Rock Hill by renovating her small kitchen and winterizing her home.
"A parent from our school volunteers over at A Place For Hope on Blackmon Road," Boyd said. "We were having coffee and I told her I wanted a service project for Girls Week and she told me about Blackmon Road."
The community has been stuck in limbo between the City of Rock Hill and York County for years. It has no running water, no power, no public services to speak of. Initially, the plan was to winterize Whitlock's home, which her late husband built by hand. All of the windows had been busted out, the walls were falling apart, a small wood stove inside was falling apart from years of use. Then Boyd went to meet Whitlock and see her home.
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"Her kitchen was so small, she didn't even have a place to sit down," Boyd said.
Whitlock has taken nearly two dozen people into her small home, many of them members of her family.
"It's Third World conditions right in our backyard," Boyd said.
The project grew to include a kitchen renovation. When Boyd pitched it to the parents of her students, they jumped at the chance to help, Boyd said.
"We didn't ask for money; we asked them to donate their time, their services and their connections," she said. "One day I told someone I needed six windows, the next day, he called back and said he found someone willing to donate all of them."
The project kept growing. Whitlock had no running water, but she does have a well. Because Walnut Grove volunteers were redoing the kitchen, they decided to give Whitlock a sink connected to the well. Someone with plumbing experience hooked it up after volunteers dug trenches for the pipes. Then they decided to add a toilet, a first in the community where everyone shares a Port-a-potty in the middle of the road. One parent donated a septic tank to make it possible, and another provided two tons of drainage gravel.
Several local businesses also pitched in, Boyd said. Springs Global donated sheets and bedding. Lowes donated a $1,500 gift card. Aaron's Rentals provided a kitchen table and chairs.
The students and parents began working Saturday, Nov. 1. They spent the day removing a pile of trash the size of a football field from behind Whitlock's house. By Tuesday, Whitlock had a newly renovated kitchen with cabinets and running water, a shower and toilet, a new wood stove and windows and walls that keep the cold out.
The student's have finished their part of the project, but the Boyds have continued volunteering their time and efforts in the community. And next year, students will probably pitch in again. Other groups, including Winthrop University students, have taken on the task of renovating the other rooms in Whitlock's home.
"We want to continue to help one family at a time," Boyd said.