Giving Back: Service Over Self

Giving Back: Service Over Self

Every spring and summer, church youth groups from across the U.S. descend on Memphis to spend a week in the heat repairing roofs and conducting other home repairs. Students arrive on a Sunday and descend on the city in small groups to conduct home repairs every day during the week, specifically in the Binghampton and Orange Mound neighborhoods. The work is the mission of Service Over Self (SOS), an organization housed in a building off Poplar Avenue just east of East Parkway. The work provides needed home repairs while serving as an important life lesson for the teens who travel to Memphis for a week of sweaty work.


About 1,600 high school and middle school volunteers will work this summer to repair 30 to 35 homes in Binghampton, The Heights and Orange Mound. In addition, SOS has hired 50 college summer staff and 11 high school students from the neighborhoods served to work on the high school summer staff program.


“Many of the kids realize they come from privileged backgrounds, but the goal is not for you to come observe that people’s lives are rougher and for you to be thankful,” said Philip Walkley, executive director of SOS. “It’s to fuel you to use the gifts God has given you and use that for the good of others. It ties back to the Gospel. That’s exactly what Christ did.”


Over the course of the year – primarily summer and spring break projects – some 2,000 high school and college students come to Memphis to do repairs on 40 homes. The work is mostly roof repair because, as Walkley said, “so many of the houses we see have so many problems that are a result of a leaky roof. You can’t fix other problems unless the house is dry.”


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Service Over Self (SOS) started in 1986 at Christ United Methodist Church when some of its leaders realized its youth could help with some of the needs it saw locally in Memphis. Along with a church from Mississippi, they began repairing houses in the city. Eventually that effort grew into the need for a separate organization, and in 1999 SOS formed as a separate nonprofit organization.


The focus shifted specifically to Binghampton in 2000 where a great need existed. They added Orange Mound in 2009 as there were fewer houses in need in the Binghampton community. All houses are chosen through an application process. The applicant must own the home and live in one of the neighborhoods.


The work is a blessing. “So many of these homeowners we partner with it truly is an answer to prayer for so many of them,” Walkley said. “I don’t have a graph of data that says how many lives have been changed from our work, but we hear so many stories of homeowners who weren’t certain how they could remain in their home, but because of our work, they can.”


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While much of the youth campers are from out of town, there are some local participants. And SOS depends on the generosity of Memphis-area volunteers to keep the work going, whether that’s donating food or cleaning the facilities. Local churches adopt a week of camp to volunteer to clean the facility, serve meals and do laundry for the summer staff. The home repairs are free to homeowners, but the materials can cost $2,000 to $5,000 per house. Financial contributions make the work possible.


For more information about how to donate or volunteer, visit


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