When God visits her in the early mornings, Earlene Hilton gets out her pencil and paper.
When “Queen Earlene” visits Georgetown in summer, she gets out her week-long itinerary. This year’s activities for Queen Earlene’s Uplifting Children’s Camp include bowling, museum visiting and a trip to James Wragg’s farm for 15 area children.
The evening activity for July 27, was a dinner of fellowship and learning with Pastor Jason Coakley and daughter Chrissy of St. Peter Missionary Baptist Church, Georgetown Police Officer Michelle Schoenfeld, and many of Hilton’s program sponsors, friends and prayer partners.
Since 2000, the Georgetown native has returned from her current home in New York to share her ministry in the place where she grew up. Since 1979, Hilton has run a similar camp for youths in Harlem. “This is a God-given program,” she said, “God gives me how I should do it. ” saying that she contributes her social security income to help fund the activities. “I would like for my work to be kept goin’ on,” she said. “I would like for a child to follow behind me, let me teach them how to run a camp.”
This year, she invited Bola Afolabi her friend and seamstress, to accompany her on the train ride from Manhattan to Kingstree. “Originally, I am from Nigeria. I’ve been in the United States since 1977,” Afolabi shared. “I knew Earlene for over 20 years when she first started in New York City. Then, she’d always get like 30, 40 kids; they would come to the store. She’d say that she needed something for them.” After all of these years of offering her services, Afolabi wanted to see what Hilton was doing in South Carolina. “What I think about Georgetown, it’s a beautiful city,” said Afolabi, “nice, calm, quiet, people are very friendly. It’s just a laid-back city; I love that.”
Georgetown Police Officer Michelle Schoenfeld, who has been serving the city of Georgetown for almost a year, discussed with Hilton and Afolabi the importance of positivity in children’s lives. “I’ve seen a lot of parents basically give up on their kids after them doing minor things. Really, they need some type of encouragement.” Schoenfeld, who grew up in New York, described the influence of her martial arts instructor who was also with the NYPD. His stories fascinated her so much that she chose to become a police officer instead of a teacher.
Chrissy Coakley, an alumna of QEUCC and a 2019 Georgetown High graduate spoke to the group about her four summers in the program. “I’m still connected to some of the people I met in the first year of program and truly the program was a blessing,” Coakley began and recalled her favorite camp memories for the children: visiting the museums, having talent shows, going to the beach and staying in the condos and “just experiencing everyone’s different ethnicities and backgrounds.” Coakley shared her plans to attend Claflin University in the fall where she will study business. “Truly, I am blessed to have Queen Earlene here—she just taught us all a lot and I know that she will also teach you a lot, as you grow older.”
Encouraging campers Theresa McColum, 9 and Brian Martin, 11 to read aloud two poems, Hilton continued sharing her message of faithful constancy adding in personal experience, scripture and song. “Once again, God has allowed me to come back home and to do the work that God puts in front of me. It’s just wonderful when God gives you a calling.” .
“Being in touch with Queen Earlene is kind of like being in touch with the whole world,” said Pastor Jason Coakley. “She’s not shy with her gift to try to help make connections; we don’t know what’s going to happen with these children down the road as they transition through school,” Pastor Coakley continued. “Every moment is a teaching moment. We appreciate God for ushering her into our community. ”