Homes with no running water, no electricity and sometimes, no roof, pose as shelter for some of the most poverty-stricken areas in the United States. But for poor South Carolinians, people like Ronald F. McLean are working to remedy the situation by doing what good-natured people do best--lend a helping hand for free.
When McLean, division director of transportation management for the South Carolina Department of Corrections, is not overseeing transportation vehicles, he is out with a hammer in one hand and a steadfast desire to help people in the other. Every summer, McLean and other volunteers from South Carolina participate in the Methodist church-based Salkehatchie summer camp. Similar to Habitat for Humanity, the program helps the less fortunate by offering assistance in home maintenance and repair.
McLean explains the objective of the group with the motto, "We make it warmer, dryer and safer." Every year, numerous homes that require serious work are chosen for the camp. Each work site has two to three adult supervisors and eight children, ages 14 to 18, assigned to it. The participants come from various parts of the state, but are not permitted to work in their own hometown areas.
McLean, like the volunteers, sacrifices personal time to help stem the tide of poverty and takes a week of annual leave in the summer to participate in the camp. However, the reference of summer camp may leave a sharp contrast to the reality of this camp, which is four days of grueling work. A typical day begins at 5 a.m. with breakfast and a quick shower. Then it is off to the work site where, aside from a lunch break, volunteers work on their hands and knees for 12 hours a day. Adding to the valor of the situation, volunteers sleep on classroom floors in a nearby middle school and awake to a shower that may lack a functioning water heater.
Donations from Fair Lawn United Methodist Church are used to fuel the mission of fixing a failing roof or falling wall, but with a budget of $1,500 to $2,000, volunteers must often add to the initial price of participation, which is $180. McLean extracted $1,800 from his wallet last year to ensure the job could be done.
But McLean says it is a meager price to pay for the reward. "It's all worth it when they [house residents] come out and hug you around the neck and you see tears coming out of their eyes. It's all worth it," McLean said.
McLean fondly recalls working on one house that left a memory...