Service Over Self: SOS

Posted on June 1, 2014


By Tiegst Ameha

soslogoThe season of pool days and Memphis humidity is upon us. Schools are out and homework assignments are simply a distant memory. Yet for a select group of volunteers, the real work has just begun. This summer, while most of us are getting a nice tan or jamming out to music at the Shell, over a thousand volunteers are devoting their vacation to a cause much bigger than themselves. Through a program called SOS, young men and women from across the country will gather to share a summer of service in the low-income neighborhoods of Memphis. SOS stands for Service over Self, and the camp has surely lived up to such a title. Since its humble beginnings in 1986, as a two week service experience stemming out of Christ United Methodist Church (CUMC), more than 700 homes have been repaired by over 20,000 volunteers. I spoke with Executive Director, Philip Walkley, about expectations and goals of the upcoming summer at SOS.

theGRIND: How many people do you anticipate coming through to volunteer this summer? 
Philip Walkley: 1,500

TG: What kinds of service activities will they be doing? 
PW: Critical home repairs for low-income homeowners in Binghampton, Orange Mound, and Alcy Ball.

TG:  SOS does so much for the Memphis community; what do you believe is your biggest goal for this summer?
PW: As a Christian organization, our biggest hope is that God would be glorified through our work…that all those who connect with our ministry – whether it is a low income elderly homeowner or a teenager from out of state – would have a deeper love for Jesus. We also really desire to see people empowered and neighborhoods transformed. Our hope is that through our work, homeowners would have a renewed sense of hope and pride in their home and neighborhood.

TG: Many of your volunteers are young people; can you describe what you believe these programs do to cultivate their serving spirit? 

PW: It’s one thing to tell people of the importance of serving others because of the way Jesus has served us. It’s another thing completely to ask and empower them to actually do that. We believe that we were created by God to serve others over ourselves, just as Jesus did (Mark 10:45). And we believe that when we put that into practice, we will experience great joy in doing what we were meant to do.

TG: How have you personally seen these programs affect the families and communities you work with? 

PW: Practically, the housing stock in the communities where we work is improving. That’s encouraging. But beyond that, I see a growing sense of hope.

It’s not every day you see teens and young adults taking their summers and putting them to good use. Through SOS, hundreds of kids use their summers not only productively but charitably. I actually grew up at CUMC and worked on various SOS projects, and I can say that this is not only a worthwhile experience but also a powerful learning and growing experience. Through SOS, I met and spoke with people I probably never would’ve come across otherwise. So if you ever see those red shirt volunteers working on a house, give them a honk or a high five and thank them for making our city better!

If you are interested in getting involved or learning more about SOS, please visit their website.

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