Changing lives, one home at a time

Over 50 youth and adults will be spending their summer vacation in Chester and Blackstock this next week, but they’re not here for fun in the sun, they’re here to change lives.

The youth and adults of the Chester Camp of Salkehatchie Summer Service will begin their week of repairing homes and changing lives.

Camp leaders Dan Bilderback and Ron Poston said the campers will come in around noon on Saturday and after lunch they will tour the sites they will be working on. There will be three – two in Chester and one in the Blackstock area.

Additionally this year, the camp will be doing something different, partnering with Battered But Not Broken’s Magdalene House on Loomis Street. Once renovated, Magdalene House will be a women’s home administered by BBNB.

Bilderback said “the house on Loomis Street was something I felt we had the expertise to help get them off the ground. We can’t finish it in a week, but we can make a good start on stuff,” he said.

The group of campers this time, mostly high school and college age kids, will be coming from as far away as Florida. Ages of the campers range from 14 year olds to one volunteer in their 70’s said Bilderback. They will bunk down at Bethel United Methodist Church for the week, and area churches will take turns feeding the group each night.

Groups are from Landrum, Beaufort, Columbia and Batesburg and there are some local kids from the Chester area, Bilderback and Poston said.

Both Bilderback and Poston are construction professionals, and they say they are constantly amazed by what the kids do at these home sites. What the Salkehatchie campers accomplish, said Poston, is a blessing and nothing short of a miracle.

For Salkehatchie to work on a home, said Bilderback, there has to be an amount of work needed for at least eight to 12 campers, which, of course, means that the home in question is usually in pretty bad shape.

Poston relates a story about a Salkehatchie homeowner from a few years ago.

“Two years ago, we went to do a house, we had already picked our houses, and Dan called me and said you need to go and check on a certain house. The homeowner happened to be someone I knew – I passed by the house every day. Walked up on the porch, and it was obvious it was a Salkehatchie house. The homeowner’s granddaughter came to me three days later and said she heard Ty Pennington (the host of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, famous for the phrase ‘driver, move that bus’ as the refurbished home is revealed) was coming and there’s going to be a bus out here.

“I told her, well, they’re partially right. I hate to break your heart, I said, but you’re looking at Ty Pennington. I said there will be a bus, and we will be moving it -after the people get off of it,” Poston laughed.

One of the sites the campers will be working at has been one Salkehatchie has wanted to work on for a year or so, said Ron Poston.

“What’s so special about this one is I got a call about it last year, but we didn’t get to it (because of time constraints, the camps work on only four home sites each summer). Got another call this year and didn’t get to it, but then God changed things. We got to it and the homeowner still doesn’t believe we’re going to get there, but I said ‘wait until Saturday, you’re going to have more kids and grand-kids than you’ve ever had in your life!”

The community just seems to come together to help the Salkehatchie campers in their good works, said Poston.

“What will happen is, about Wednesday of the week, we’ll get telephone calls. ‘I understand you’ve got a house with two kids ages so-and-so. What do they need?’ By Friday, the trucks will start rolling in with whatever those kids in that house need. You don’t know who it comes from (you know where it comes from, of course) but that’s what makes it special.

“I tell each kid as we start our site, Mr. Ron’s motto: Expect a miracle. And it happens.”

And the miracle continues to grow, Bilderback and Poston said.

“We plant the seed, the kids come along and water the seed, and then someone comes along and adds the fertilizer, and the harvest continues year after year after year,” said Poston.

On Sunday night, the Salkehatchie crosses will be put up at the home sites. Each of the kids will sign the cross at each of the houses they work on. Poston said it means the kids leave a little of themselves at the home sites. He recalled a lady that he used to do yard work for, who told him “Ron, when you go out in life and get a job, whether it’s raking leaves or painting a house, when you leave that job, if you’re ashamed to write your name on it, it’s not finished. I’ve never forgotten that, and so I instill that in our kids. I tell them; when you leave here, you might never see that home or homeowner again, but a part of you is here. And then the kids sign their names on the Salkehatchie cross.”

And he adds, they sign their names on the hearts of the homeowners they help, changing their lives, one home at a time.