Towel Ministry Brightens Saluda Homes
By Rachel Carr
Missioner for Communications
Six homes near Transfiguration, Saluda, got much-needed updates recently with help from 17 youth campers and about 20 volunteers who pitched in with Towel Ministry.
A staple ministry in the Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina for nearly 30 years, Towel Ministry began at Valle Crucis, expanded to other sites across the diocese, and in 2019 started at Transfiguration under the direction of rector the Rev. Chip Broadfoot and his wife, Becky.
“Here in Saluda, people know about Towel Ministry. They started to recognize the t-shirts and they know these kids are here to help the elderly. The mayor even scoops ice cream for them,” Broadfoot said.
After a canceled year in 2020, the ministry at Transfiguration is now in its fourth year.
Each year, campers arrive on Wednesday and are split up into teams that work on home repair projects Thursday through Saturday. They work on the projects with volunteer leaders from about 8:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. Projects include things like building ramps, repairing gutters, cleaning out debris and plant overgrowth, and painting.
“The whole point is for the team to bond. By the time Sunday rolls around, they’re buddies,” Broadfoot said.
In the afternoon, campers come together for a recreational activity, which this year included a trip to the lake and a visit to an equestrian farm. There are also morning and evening devotionals, as well as songs taught by church music director Debra Henson Bridges.
"The kids really like that time together. They enjoy sitting down and singing,” Broadfoot said. "Every camper said they wanted to come back next year.”
Parish volunteers prepare breakfast and dinner, and lunch is packed before the youth leave for the workday. Each team brings enough lunch to share with the homeowner. When lunchtime comes, they all sit down and have the meal together, opening space for conversation.
“One of the greatest features of Towel Ministry is the intergenerational relationships that are formed. The adults that volunteer at the worksites are mostly in their 50s and 60s, the campers are in their teens, and the homeowners are in their 80s and 90s,” Broadfoot said. “When you have a 95-year-old person telling you about his life, he may have lived through the Great Depression or World War 2. The kids only know of that through schoolbooks, but now they can understand it through a person’s witness. A person makes a lasting impression. You’re more likely to remember the stories from a person than merely studying history books.”
On Sunday, campers share their experiences with the Transfiguration congregation.
Of the six campers that attended the first five-day camp, four now serve as counselors.
“To see it from both sides is a blessing in and of itself. My favorite part of coming to camp in the summer now is getting to watch them be part of the community and really reach into their hearts and help their fellow neighbor,” Jayna Gerber, an original camper who is now a counselor, told the Transfiguration congregation on June 18.
The projects come from Saluda’s Living in Place, a nonprofit that helps elderly people update their homes for safety and better quality of life. The group also provides rides to doctor’s appointments and other engagements.
"Towel Ministry provides an incredible opportunity for youth to serve and positively impact the lives of homeowners. As many may remember, Bishop José’s ministry and subsequent vocation as priest and bishop were all impacted when he participated in Towel Ministry, bringing youth from Virginia to Valle Crucis. Bishop José is committed to expanding Towel Ministry across the diocese and supporting parishes that are interested in hosting this important extension of Jesus’ love, mercy, justice, and compassion," said the Rev. Canon Augusta Anderson.
Contact the diocesan office for information about grants to start a Towel Ministry.
“Parishes that are in communities of a smaller size can really benefit from the evangelism side of this. People are aware that the church is actually doing something. That’s really what the Gospel is about, servanthood and ministry,” Broadfoot said.