Warm, safe, and dry – these campers’ legacy

26 Salkehatchie campers came to Fairfield County from as far away as New Jersey, Michigan, Florida and North Carolina to help repair homes in Ridgeway and Winnsboro.

WINNSBORO – Another week, another Salkehatchie camp – this one headquartered out of the Fairfield Elementary School in Winnsboro.

“It was our first summer of Salkehatchie camp since COVID,” Camp Director Frank Gravely, 55, from Ft. Mill said. “I’ve been working with Salkehatchie since 1989, and during that time our camps always hosted anywhere from 100 to over 200 campers. So we’re having to rebuild after COVID, with only 26 campers this summer. But each one was just great.”

Ty’kelia Cooper, 18, of Winnsboro, works with Sidney Hillhouse, 23, of Fort Mill to roof a home in Winnsboro as members of the Fairfield Salkehatchie camp last week. | Photos: Contributed

Campers came from as far away as New Jersey, Michigan, Florida and North Carolina. They also came from Ft. Mill and one, Ty’kelia Cooper, 18, from Fairfield County. The campers pay their way and work hard under difficult circumstances to repair homes for folks in the community. They do it because they care.

The campers arrived at Fairfield Elementary school on Saturday, June 8, their home-away-from-home while spending the next week making repairs to two houses in Ridgeway and two in Winnsboro – everything from roof and floor repairs and replacement to building a wheelchair ramp.

After a Sunday of fun, fellowship, worship, and Training 101 in the use of electrical tools, plumbing and carpentry, their community service began Monday morning with reveille at 5:30 a.m.

Breakfast was at 6 a.m. – meals were provided by local churches and service organizations, including the Winnsboro Lion’s Club, Salem UMC, Bethel UMC, Gordon Memorial Church, Greenbrier UMC and others – and the campers were on the job at 7 a.m. each day.

The sun beat down as the 26 campers, more than half of whom were between 14 and 18 years old, hammered, sawed, nailed, and sweated. At noon, they headed back to the sweet air conditioning at Fairfield Elementary for lunch that was prepared and brought to the school cafeteria by community organizations and individuals. Then it was back to work.

Work days were long and hot – or wet, at times, when the sky opened up with torrents of rain. The workday ended at 6 p.m. Every evening after supper, the campers participated in fellowship and worship, had some down time at 9 p.m., then headed to bed and were back up at 5:30 a.m.

Some of the campers have work experience from previous Salkehatchie camps to the extent that they specialize in certain areas of construction.

Sidney Hillhouse, 23, of Fort Mill has participated in Salkehatchie since she was 14. Over the years she worked on enough Salkehatchie roofs that she is now fairly expert at training other campers how to install and repair roofing. During this camp, Hillhouse worked closely with Ty’kelia Cooper, 18, a camper from Winnsboro, teaching her the intricacies of roofing as they worked together repairing roofs on two of the houses.

Cooper, a 2023 graduate of Fairfield Central High School and Salutatorian of her class, has participated in Salkehatchie since 2019. In September, she will enter Frances Marion University as a junior as a result of earning an associate’s degree from Midlands Technical College while attending Fairfield Central’s dual enrollment program during high school.

“These kids who come out here to work and contribute are great kids, every one of them.” Gravely said. “I can’t say enough about them. I’m looking forward to even more kids participating next year as we rebuild our program. We all have a goal in working on these houses – to make them warm, safe, and dry,” Gravely said. “That’s what we want to leave behind us.”

“This work is not just beneficial to those folks whose homes we repair,” Gravely said. “It’s beneficial to the campers in many ways. The idea is to not only train these campers in Godly work, but in construction work too. Some who are now doing construction work for a living and building houses have told us they were influenced in their careers because of what they learned at Salkehatchie camp. Others have gone into different areas of the ministry as a result of their Salkehatchie experiences.”

Gravely also gave a shout out to the Fairfield Central School District officials, particularly Fairfield Elementary Principal Tammy Martin for their hospitality in housing the campers. Gravely said School Board Chair Henry Miller stopped by several times to offer encouragement and show interest in the work.

Just seven days after the campers arrived, they woke up a little later than usual, cleaned up the school where they had lived for a week, ate breakfast, said their goodbyes, had one last prayer together and headed home. They were gone by 9:30 a.m.

But their work, which left four homes in Fairfield County warm, safe and dry, will be a reminder for years to come of what they did and why. And next year, hopefully, they’ll be back.

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