RICHLAND COUNTY, SC — When John and Tami Covert begin their annual search for homes in need of repair, they rarely begin with a pre-determined waiting list or reference file.
“We truly just get in the car and drive, and sometimes we’ll just pull over on the side of the highway and pray,” Tami Covert said. “There are no lists or references. We are truly just depending on God (for direction).”
It’s a practice that’s worked well for the area couple and others in the Blythewood Salkehatchie Summer Service group they’ve directed for the past seven years.
About 80 volunteers – mostly youth and young adults – have taken up hammers, nails and other tools to make improvements to the homes of seven families in need this week throughout Richland and Fairfield counties. The Blythewood camp is one of more than 50 couple-led groups statewide taking part in the annual summer outreach of the South Carolina United Methodist Conference that continues through early August.
The week’s volunteers — who paid $215 each to take part — have been spending their days patching leaky roofs, repairing rotted floors, replacing broken doors, correcting faulty plumbing and making long list of similar repairs.
“God has a lot of energy and he ships it down,” Pete Desmond said as he watched group of young workers build an additional room off an RV he shares with his wife, Marilinn, in Blythewood. Marilinn Desmond is on hospice care, and her mobility is significantly restricted by the couple’s limited space.
“We just love what these kids are doing,” Desmond said. “They’re a blessing from the Lord.”
Blythewood site leader JoJo Morris said the week of service allows the workers to put their faith into action. “You can (just) tell people that you’ll pray for them, but when you do something for them, in the long run the homeowner will always remember.”
Those memories run both ways, he added. “They’re having as much as an impact on us as we are on them.”
The Coverts said the Blythewood camp has adopted the motto “Warmer, Safer, Drier.” And while learning the importance of serving, young volunteers also are developing practical skills, they added.
“It’s amazing how the kids that have been coming for three years just jump on stuff that their peers have no idea how to do,” said John Covert, a home builder. “We’re glad to cultivate the leadership and keep it moving forward. And we have developed some great relationships (with the families).”
Caitlin Smoot, a rising Blythewood High sophomore and first-time volunteer, said the week has been fun and humbling.
“I was kind of reluctant at first because I had not done anything as intense,” she said. “But I kind of just felt it pressing on my heart by God to come.”
Salkehatchie Summer Service is for high school and college age youth drawn primarily from the South Carolina United Methodist Conference. Adult leaders are encouraged to participate to offer guidance and support.
The on-site workers are being supported this week by hundreds more, including church workers who have supplied meals and homebuilders and other businesses that have made donations.
“It’s about building the community as much as anything,” Tami Covert said, noting some of the sites have struck closer to home than the young workers might have imagined.
“It’s (the home of) a kid they might sit beside in science class and they had no idea they were in that situation,” she said.
Volunteers in the Blythewood camp from the surrounding Columbia and Lexington communities are being joined this week by others from Saluda, Lancaster and as far away as Miami. Tami Covert said for many, it will begin an addiction of service that won’t be easily shaken.
“When people come, I tell them it’s going to get in your blood,” she said. “As much as we’re repairing people’s homes, we hope we’re repairing their lives and their hearts a little bit.”