LEXINGTON COUNTY, S.C. (WIS) - The Midlands is filled with natural beauty, between Lake Murray, Lake Wateree, and the area's tranquil rivers.
One Lexington County Sheriff's Deputy has made it his mission to connect kids from a tough end of town to the great outdoors.
Deputy David Burns started the Summer Venture Program in 2015. Burns worked as a school resource officer at Nursery Road Elementary School at the time and saw a way to make an impact over the summer with the kids he watched every day. Some of those kids live in a Section 8 apartment complex off Broad River Road, an area with a tough reputation.
“I set out to do a program that would allow them to do some things that they would not normally be able to do,” Burns explained. “Some of these kids have never seen Lake Murray.”
Saluda Shoals Park now hosts the program every other week, free of charge over the summer. The program includes a catered lunch from volunteer chefs in addition to the other fun activities. Attendance fluctuates in the program. Some weeks 40 kids attend,while other weeks its only 10 kids in attendance.
Burns and his fellow deputies, many of them school resource officers themselves, take the kids on outdoor adventures. This week, the group headed to the Saluda River for kayaking.
A bus towing kayaks transported the group on a short drive to the boat launch.
Volunteers with RIverland Hills Baptist Church in Irmo helped the kids strap on life jackets while park rangers explained the safety protocols. Within a few moments, the group was off and away.
While navigating the rippling currents of the Saluda River, it becomes apparent something deeper is happening. Connections are forming between these deputies and these kids.
Len Wilkerson of the Lexington County Sheriff's Department said he and his partner have participated in the program for the past few years.
“I love it. I love these kids. Just watching them grow,” Wilkerson confessed. “Giving them somewhere they most likely wouldn’t go - that’s a good way to build relationships and have a good time.”
Burns said the program has done a good job keeping kids out of trouble and enjoying nature during the summer months. And it appears the kids had a great time during the kayak adventure, learning teamwork and gaining self-confidence.
Once the kayakers reached shore, a girl named Jaylynn admitted, "Well, I was screaming a little bit. It was fun."
Perhaps best of all, each of these kids horizons are expanding on the smooth waters of the Saluda River under the deep blue Carolina sky.