A summer of service

Photo by Matt Brodie

Salkehatchie draws 920 campers who repair 80+ homes across S.C.

By Jessica Brodie

Despite relentless heat blanketing the southern United States all summer long, nearly 1,000 youth and adults dispersed among 32 different sites across South Carolina as Salkehatchie Summer Service returned in full force.

Founded in 1978 by the Rev. John Culp, Salkehatchie brings youth, young adult and adult volunteers together for a weeklong mission event to repair and rebuild homes for people in need, many of them living in poverty situations without the ability to fund the work on their own.

This year marked Salkehatchie’s first big return since the pandemic and the first time many youth had the opportunity to participate.

According to Kathy Hart, Salkehatchie staff member, 920 Salkehatchie campers participated in camps that ran from June 10 through July 29, ultimately repairing more than 80 homes for families in need. 

While Salkehatchie returned in 2022, it was a much smaller version. The 318 campers worked on 33 homes in 11 camps, largely doing outdoor work such as roof jobs and ramp construction.

Although 2023’s Salkehatchie was smaller than it was pre-pandemic, which typically saw about 45 camps and 2,500 campers, Salkehatchie tripled the number of camps and volunteers this summer from last year. Organizers hope that growth will continue.

Those involved said it felt good to be back to relative normal after COVID.

“A big concern was recruiting youth, ages 14-17, who never had the opportunity to participate before. It was exciting to see the youth showing up and most pledging to return next year,” Hart said. 

One of those new youth was Cameron Connor, 17, who volunteered at the Santee Camp and said the experience “changed his life.” Salkehatchie is already on his calendar for next July, and he plans to invite friends to join him.

Another Salkehatchie first-timer, Landon Gurley, worked at the Lancaster Camp and told the Advocate he can’t wait to return next year.

Gurley said the experience was a win-win for everyone, and it felt good, as “I was with my friends and having fun and doing something good for someone.”

While Salkehatchie is part of the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church, volunteers do not need to be Methodist to participate.

Hart said they will continue, as always, to be open to anyone outside of the UMC who wishes to join in efforts to improve the living conditions of neighbors in need.  It’s also open to volunteers beyond South Carolina, she said, noting a youth ministry director from Massachusetts brought his youth to Harvest Camp in Dillon.

For many churches, she said, Salkehatchie has been the impetus behind the establishment of their youth program.

“I hear many churches complaining that they have no youth in their congregations,” Hart said. “But I also have heard youth directors mention how Salkehatchie was the kick-off to building a youth program in their church.”

It’s not uncommon for those who volunteered as a youth to continue coming back year after year, eventually becoming a camp director and even bringing their own children to Salkehatchie when those kids turn 14 and become old enough to participate. For example, Hart said Eryn Price Wilson was a youth at Harvest Camp 15 years ago when she was 15. She became the assistant camp director in Williamsburg County for two years and now is camp director for the new Rock Hill Camp. Ward Smith started at 14 at the Santee Camp and today serves as that camp’s director. Others “have all received the torch and are carrying it into the future,” Hart said, such as Jonathan Calore, Kemper Moody, Robert Harrelson and Gary Graham.

Hart offered huge thanks to all the churches who helped feed Salkehatchie campers, offer lodging space or give donations. Without that support, she said, Salkehatchie could not continue.

June 2023 camps were 2 Rivers, Baker Creek, JET, Penn Center, Piedmont, Sumter, Sand River, Winyah Bay, Lancaster, Catawba, Jenkinsville, Union, Bishopville, Marlboro Flowers and Rock Hill.

July 2023 camps were Lake City, Foothills, Bamberg, Black Swamp, Calhoun County, Circuit Rider, Edisto Island, Fairfield, Harvest, Santee, Moncks Corner, Columbia, Emerald City, North Augusta, Newberry, Clover and North Strand. 

Hart said Salkehatchie leaders are planning now for next year’s camps and hope to release the camp dates and begin registration this fall. 

For more on Salkehatchie or to get involved, visit

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