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Salkehatchie Summer Service - Huntersville NC
Ten Most Memorable Moments

Hosting Salkehatchie Summer Service at Huntersville UMC was an important part of our lives. We had no idea what we were getting into when we made the decision sometime in 2001 to host a camp. After about 18 months of planning we hosted our first camp in 2003 with 39 campers attending. We did it again every year for the next nine years. We closed the doors on the camp for the final time in 2012. It had been a great 10 year run. We had many great experiences and got to meet some of the very best people in the world. Many have become our very best friends. Thank you to everyone who shared this experience with us.

As I said there were many memorable moments. Here's the 10 that stand out the most for me.

#10 Ms Evans Returns Home

Everyone has probably watched Extreme Home Makeover on TV. The show tells the story of a deserving family who has a brand new home built for them. The dramatic highpoint of the show is when the family gets to see the home that has been created for them while they have been away.

The ramp and porch are complete at the Evans home

At Salkehatchie the "unveilings" are not nearly so dramatic. That's because the homeowner lives at home during the week that we are working. They have watched the progress throughout the week.

However, there have been exceptions, where, for specific reasons, the homeowner hasn't been at the home during the work week.

One such instance happened in 2006 when we worked on Irma Evan's home. Ms Evans had a very tiny home that had many small rooms. That didn't give her a lot of room for storage. Ms Evans also tended to hang on to a lot of things. When Mona and I visited her for the first time only one of us could sit down. There was no room for both of us to sit down.

Furthermore Ms Evans had a disability for which she had to have an oxygen tank with her at all times. We were not only concerned about Ms Evan's health but we were also concerned about the many oxygen tanks in her home.

For all the above reasons we, along with Ms Evans, decided that during the week of Salkehatchie she would live with some friends in Charlotte.

Ms Evans left her home on Sunday evening and would not return until late Friday afternoon. And what a return it was. During the week we tore down walls, built her a ramp, added a laundry room on the back of the house generally made her home more spacious and livable. The change was dramatic. When Ms Evans arrived home on Friday she was truly overcome with emotion. For those who were there it was a moment they would never forget.

#9 Lunch at New Friendship Presbyterian

At any kind of camp the campers expect to get fed. You get breakfast, lunch and dinner. And although you want it to be good it's not usually a memorable part of the camp experience. The same was true of our camp in Huntersville. I thought that we provided excellent food. However, it wasn't something that people would talk about at the end of the week .... with one exception.

Lunch a New Friendship Prebyterian Church ... great as always

New Friendship Presbyterian Church is a small African-American church in the middle of Huntersville. It's been there forever. During our first camp in 2003 three of our homeowners were members of the New Friendship congregation. They had been referred to us by their pastor, Linda McMillan. As a way of thanking us they offered to provide us lunch one day during the work week.

When we pulled up the church for lunch you could immediately see (and smell) the chicken wings being fried up just outside the door. You sort of knew that this was going to be good. In the kitchen the women were cooking up some macaroni & cheese, green beans and salad. Then there was some yummy spice cake for desert. Lots of Kool-Ade rounded it out.

In addition, the people at New Friendship were the most gracious hosts. The had a big sign welcoming us and that they had a duty to make sure that everyone was well fed.

The kids talked about this lunch for the rest of the week.

The next year the youth asked (insisted actually) that we go back to New Friendship for lunch. Thankfully, New Friendship did a lunch for us every year during our existence. The menu was always the same and it was always the culinary highlight of the week. I'll always be grateful to Emma Sloan and Bettye Phillips for the great job they did hosting us every year. In the ninth year of our camp (2011), partly as a thank you, we worked on Betty Phillips home.

#8 The Honeymoon Suite

Mona and I were first introduced to Salkehatchie Summer Service in 2000. We took a group of youth from Huntersville UMC to a camp in Camden, SC. We had a great time and the seeds were planted that eventually led to us hosting camp in Huntersville in 2003. We also met a lot of great people in Camden. Among them was Baker Ratliff. Baker had attended Salkehatchie every year since he was 14.

Fast forwarding to 2003, as we were making the final preparations for our very first camp (we had been planning it for 18 months) we were very blessed to have a number of our friends from the Camden camp attending including Richard Hagins (the Camden Camp Director), Jimmy Cauthen, Laura Pascal and John Ballentine. We had hoped that Baker would attend but as it turned out he was getting married the first day of our camp in Troy, NY. We were disappointed but we understood.

A couple of week before the camp I received a call from Baker. He asked if he and his bride Jennifer could attend the camp. Since they weren't in a position to have a honeymoon they hoped they could spend their first week together at our camp. The plan was to get married on Saturday in New York and then drive all night to Huntersville.

At the request of the newlyweds we hurriedly put together a honeymoon suite. The honeymoon suite would be a small shed on the church property that we called the squirrel hut. It often served as a meeting place for our youth. During the week of our camp we had planned to use it to store building materials. It was too late to find another place for the materials so we cleared some room on the floor and put down a mattress. That was the honeymoon suite.

Thankfully Baker and Jennifer survived the week and are still happily married, living back in New York with their three kids. The story of the Huntersville Honeymoon Suite eventually found its way into the book, "Send Me, The Story of Salkehatchie Summer Service" by Arlene Andrews. As far as I know, no couple before or since has spent their honeymoon at a Salkehatchie Summer Service Camp.

#7 The Fake Building Inspector and Other Pranks

One of the time honored traditions of Salkehatchie is the building site prank. This tradition is as old as Salkehatchie itself. At every camp some number of unsuspecting youth would either be asked to get a board-stretcher (to fix a board that was cut too short) or they would be told the importance distinguishing between a left-handed and right-handed hammer. Some of the adults could actually be quite creative and convincing. We once got one of the youth to go to the Lowe's Customer Service desk and ask for a board stretcher. When the Lowe's employee looked at the youth like she had two heads she knew she'd been set up. Carl Duncan became a master at describing the subtle differences between left- and right-handed hammers to the point that by the end of the week the youth could recite with complete certainty the characteristics of each.

Not all pranks were targeted towards the youth. My all time favorite occurred in 2007. The 2007 Camp was unique in that for the first and only time all five of our homes were in the same neighborhood. In fact, in less than 30 minutes you could visit all the homes.

One of the homes needed a lot of work in the bathroom and very early Monday morning the site leader, Baker Ratliff, began to tear the bathroom apart. When he tore apart the floor he learned to his great dismay that the toilet was disconnected from the drain pipe. For years, sewage had been falling directly into the crawlspace beneath the house. Clearly, this was a problem that would need attention during the week.

By Wednesday, the entire bathroom was gutted as well as the adjoining room. The entire crawlspace was exposed for everyone to see.

It just so happened on Wednesday that I received a call from my good friend, Dick Gamertsfelder. Dick and I worked together at IBM and I had for several years invited Dick to visit our camp and get a tour of our work sites. Today was the day. Dick dropped by shortly after lunch and I took him around to see the houses. When we got to Mona's house we decided that we could play a joke on Baker. Dick is very tall and is an imposing figure. The plan was for Dick to go over to Baker's house and pretend that he was a county building inspector. We called Tresca Hollis who was another adult on Baker's site to let her know what was going on. She told a few of the youth.

It was perfect because we could see Baker's house from Mona's house. We watched Dick walk into the front door and then come out about five minutes later. Within seconds my phone rang. It was Baker. "Jerry, we got a problem", he said. "What is it?", I replied. "The building inspector came by and the entire crawlspace was exposed and he saw everything we were doing. He wasn't happy", said Baker. "What did you tell him?", I asked. "I gave him your name", Baker answered. I said, "OK, we'll have to figure something out" and then hung up. A minute later Dick was back at our house and repeated what Baker had just told me.

For a few moments we considered not doing anything and leaving Baker to worry for the next couple of hours. We ultimately decided to both go back to Baker's house.

By then, everyone on the site knew what was going on with the exception of Baker. Dick and I walked into the house, both looking very serious. Baker was in the bathroom along with most of his team. He looked at us. We looked at him. I broke the silence by saying, "Baker, I'd like you to meet my friend Dick. He works with me at IBM". Everyone burst out laughing. Best prank ever.

#6 Billy Rintz sings Little Cabin in the Woods

Salkehatchie Summer Service is youth-based home repair ministry. During the week teams of adults and youth take on large construction projects like renovating kitchens & bathrooms, shingling roofs and building decks. However, a Salkehatchie camp is not just a building camp. It's a Christian camp and that means the evening programs, music, reflections and fellowship are just as important as the construction that goes on during the day.

As we planned our first camp we knew that the spiritual leadership in the camp would be vitally important. It was not a role that Mona or I could assume.

Billy Rintz addressing the campers ... he got us all to sing a silly song ... "Little cabin in the woods"

About the time we were planning our first camp Billy Rintz joined our as the senior pastor. During his first year he attend a Salkehatchie Camp with our youth. I remember bunking with Billy (and Bob Inskeep) that week. During that week Billy embraced Salkehatchie and near the end of the week told me that he would like the opportunity to lead the spiritual part of the camp. I gratefully said yes.

In 2004 during our second camp we decided that we would spend Sunday afternoon at Duke Power State Park. Sunday afternoon's were a good opportunity for the site teams to get to know each other a bit better and generally relax before the work week. In the evenings we would have dinner which was then followed by a worship service and commissioning.

Billy, of course, would lead the worship service. What I remember about this service was that Billy managed to work a song into his message. The song was a silly little song called Little Cabin in the Wood. The song had three verses and each verse was song with a different voice ... the first verse with a normal voice, the second voice with a big 'strong' voice and another verse with a high-pitched squeaky voice. By the end of it everybody was laughing and singing along. But most importantly Billy had everyone's attention as he preached his message.

Billy was a wonderful partner in this ministry. He gave Mona and I the freedom and confidence to run the camp. Behind the scenes he ensured that we got the support we needed from the congregation.

Billy's preparation for the camp would begin several months in advance. He knew it was important part of the camp experience. I'd often hear from youth after the camp who would tell me that Billy had delivered exactly the message they needed to hear.

I was very sad when in 2010 Billy announced he was leaving Huntersville UMC to take on another assignment. I would miss the partnership and the friendship. We were a good team.

During the time Billy was with us he was responsible for a lot of memorable moments. There were many I could have picked. But I think the "Little Cabin in the Woods" service was my favorite. It says everything you need to know about Billy ... his ability to hold an audience, a willingness to occasionally be silly, a gift for connecting with youth and most importantly his ability to deliver the message we needed to hear.

#5 Joan Redfern's Kitchen

Early in 2008 Mona and I were introduced to Joan Redfern. Joan runs Clara's House of Love in Charlotte. For a number of years, Joan and her husband Roosevelt ran Clara's House of Love, a ministry to the homeless. Each Wednesday and Friday they would feed and preach Christ to folks from their own back yard and home. Shortly before we met Joan, her husband had passed away. Joan's home was quite old and in need of some significant repairs.

We met Joan at her home and heard her story and the outreach she did from her home. It wasn't uncommon for her to feed more than 100 people every Wednesday and Friday. We were amazed at what she could accomplish in such a small kitchen. As we thought about her needs it occurred to us that what she really needed was a much bigger kitchen. We finally settled on a plan whereby we would add an addition to the house and essentially triple the size of her kitchen.

The new kitchen with the new bathroom to the left

The kitchen addition ultimately became the largest project we had ever undertaken and the most expensive. It was a wild week with contractors, electricians and plumbers working alongside us. On the Wednesday evening Joan invited the entire camp of about 60 people to join her regular guests and enjoy a meal in her backyard. There was a lot of great food and a lot of great preaching.

We ended the week with about two-thirds of the kitchen completed. Over the next 8 weeks we spent weekends getting it completed. It took longer than we would have liked but at the end of it Joan had a great big kitchen that allowed her to continue her ministry.

#4 Worship at Union Bethel AME Zion Church

For a number of years Mona and I had driven by the Smithville neighborhood in Cornelius, NC. We always had it in the back of our minds to work with homeowners in this neighborhood. Smithville is located just east of Exit 28 on I-77. In early 2007, quite by accident, we were introduced to Delores Williams who was a trustee at Union Bethel AME Zion Church. This church serves a number of the families in Smithville.

With Delores' help we were introduced to a number of homeowners in the neighborhood and eventually settled on five homes.

It was a great week. For the first (and only) time all the homes were close enough such that you could walk between them. We really enjoyed working in that community.

At the conclusion of the work week we would, after dinner, have worship service. The members of the congregation at Union Bethel not only offered to make us dinner on Friday night but they also offered up their worship space. It was a memorable evening. About 60 of us were crammed into this tiny church and we were served a great dinner.

However, the highlight of the evening was the worship service. Union Bethel provided the music and their choir. Their preacher gave a stirring sermon and we were all up and singing and dancing in the aisles. We went late into the night. It was a great end to a great week.

#3 Ethan Beck and the Ladder

During the week of Salekatchie we get involved in some large construction projects. We're under the house, on the roof, up & down on ladders and working with power tools. Although we continually preached safety we were always aware of the potential for an accident. Over the years we've made a small number of trips to the Emergency Room and occasionally had to call a doctor who would make a housecall. The incidents were mostly minor and it was often the adults who seemed to get hurt. For example, the camp 'record' for most stitches is held by Pastor Robert Cox who needed 7 to close a wound on his hand. That little mishap occurred in 2004.

During our last camp in 2012 I thought for a moment that my worst fears were realized. Shortly before lunch I was in my car and had just left Lowe's. My phone rang and I noticed that Sharon Hilliard was calling me. I picked it up and was barely able to say "Hi Sharon" when she blurted out, "Ethan fell off a ladder, we've called 911 and the ambulance is on it's way", click. Sharon was working on Mona's site. I was about 7 minutes away and got there as quickly as I could. As I drove up to the home I could see that the ambulance had already arrived.

Ethan has had a long day

I learned that as the team was loading up the van to go to lunch they noticed that Ethan wasn't on the van. They called for him but got no answer. Everyone got out of the van and started to search the property. They found Ethan in a bush unconscious. Next to the bush was a ladder. Ethan had apparently been on the ladder and fainted. It wasn't entirely surprising since the temperature was in the 90's and the ladder was not in the shade. When he fainted, Ethan fell off the ladder. His fall was broken by a large bush. It looked like he had fallen in head first.

By the time I had arrived most of the excitement had passed. The team had been able to revive Ethan and he was able to walk 200 feet under his own power to the ambulance. By the time I saw him he was wide awake and in pretty good spirits. One side of his body was pretty scratched up but he seemed otherwise to be fine.

He was well enough to go to lunch but as a precaution Norm Jones, Ethan's pastor, and I took him to the Emergency Room where he got a clean bill of health.

It was a close call but Ethan was fine.

#2 Nicole Ann Sager

Not all our memories were happy or pleasant ones. Our Salkehatchie friends have become like a large extended family, and like in any family there are bitter times in among the sweet.

The saddest was in 2008, shortly before camp. Nicole Sager was a member of McMannen United Methodist Church in Durham, NC. She had attended our camp in 2006 & 2007 and was registered for the 2008 camp. On April 27th of that year, while driving home from a meeting with her church youth group Nicole lost control of her car while negotiating a curve on a wet road. She died of injuries suffered in that crash. It was two days after her 17th birthday.

Word of Nicole's death spread quickly. Those at our camp who had known and worked with Nicole shared stories and comforted each other. At Nicole's funeral, thirteen members of our camp traveled from Huntersville, China Grove and Shelby to be there to show respect and to share in the grief of her passing..

That summer, during our camp, we remembered Nicole and celebrated her life. Nicole's mother, Michele, attended our camp and it was a special experience to have her there.

Over the years a number of close friendships had developed between folks who had met at our camp. In any given year 60% - 70% of the campers had attended the previous year. And even though we only saw each other one week every year we'd all been through a lot together. The intensity of the week, both the good and the bad, created a certain closeness and trust. As a group, we have become more than friends; we've become a family. That was never more evident than when Nicole passed away.

#1 Wednesday Evening, July 25th 2012

Sometimes the best things are unplanned.

The Wednesday of our last camp would be one of those times. I have forgotten what we had originally planned to do Wednesday night. Earlier in the week Frank Greene had shared with Pastor Mike Goode a story about his experience as a voluntary fire fighter and its impact on him. So we changed our Wednesday plan and let Frank speak instead. Frank told a an inspiring story of renewal and hope.

Following Frank, Cody Shores had an opportunity to speak. Anyone who has attended this camp or has followed this website over the years knows Cody. Cody attended our first camp in 2003 as a 14 year old. In 2004 he was joined by his brother Kyle. Cody and Kyle would attend our camps every year for the next 7 years. About three years ago I made Cody a site leader. Throughout the years he has exhibited a very competent and quiet leadership that was admired by others.

Due to his work schedule Cody wasn't able to commit to our camp. However, he did call me a few weeks ago and asked if he could attend on Tuesday & Wednesday. Of course, we were glad to have him. He also asked if he could address the camp one evening. Wednesday night seemed to be the best evening to fit Cody into our schedule. Cody had faced a number of personal struggles over the past few years and has been on the road to recovery. He talked very openly about his continuing struggles and how his faith carrying him though it. It was one of the best moments we've experienced during our camp.

Alec Landry

Alec Landry, who had been performing for us during the week, closed the evening with a powerful song. Meredith Walker, who has attended our camp every year since 2004, performed an impromptu liturgical dance during Alec's closing song. It only added to what had been a powerful evening.

This was our last camp and I don't know if we'd ever had a more powerful evening of music, worship, testimonials and dance.

Check out the Huntersville 10 Year Presentation. It is in Powerpoint form. It will take a while to download but you will enjoy it!