June 28, 2023 // Diocese

Working to Help People in Need During Teen Service Week

Most of us take for granted the ease of walking out the front door in the morning. En route to our busy lives, those first few steps are an unnoticed part of the daily routine. For someone in a wheelchair, though, living in a mobile home without a good quality ramp can mean the difference between a safe way to begin the day and an inability to engage the outside world. A group of Fort Wayne teenagers joined forces with the St. Vincent de Paul Society’s Carpenter’s Sons Ministry to tackle ramp builds and more during Teen Service Week.

Lara Schreck, Executive Director of the St. Vincent de Paul Society said, “It is set up like a mission trip in your hometown.” She said several of the students have engaged in the event all three years, with the group of teens participating limited to 20 to 25 selectees to maximize the impact of the experience. The waitlisted event has three or four adults working alongside four to six students at each site. Schreck said the Teen Service Week is a great opportunity to introduce “young Vincentians” to the St. Vincent de Paul Society and its focus on spirituality, friendship, and service.

Bethany Beebe
Area high school students joined forces with the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Fort Wayne’s Carpenter’s Sons for Teen Service Week from Monday, June 19, through Thursday, June 22. The work included construction projects for pre-selected lower-income homeowners in need in the Fort Wayne area.

The Society pays for lunches and building supplies, and asks the homeowner to contribute only as much as they are financially able. Schreck said in some cases, residents could be fined by the city if the repairs are not made. The St. Vincent de Paul Society in our area has 24 chapters, and each can tailor its community service to the needs of the residents in their region.

The Carpenter’s Sons provide the adult labor and expertise to oversee the builds. A ministry of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Carpenter’s Sons meet every Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. in the St. Vincent de Paul Church’s Life Center and then depart to work on various projects, like the mobile home ramps. Prebuilding portions of projects speeds up the on-site time, and each site is carefully evaluated before selection. With practiced speed, the Carpenter’s Sons can complete a mobile home ramp installation, for example, in a day.

The Carpenter’s Sons selected the projects completed during Teen Service Week. There are about 30 Carpenters, and they find projects from Neighborlink, phone calls to parishes, and the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

June 19 to 22 this year, prayer began and ended the work days of Teen Service Week, with students doing a blessing at the project site at the end of the week, Schreck said. “Prayer can help us remember what it is all about.” The students were informed of the special week of work in parish bulletins and through area Catholic schools. Sending her an email cemented spots on the roster for the lucky group of teenagers.

Small group size allowed for camaraderie to develop between the junior and senior members of the working crew. Aside from the obvious physical outcomes, benefits to the students extended beyond doing service hours for school. Scott Nguyen, Director of High School Ministry at St. Vincent de Paul Church said projects like this can help “mend age-related prejudices” and improve the “intergenerational connection.” He said it is also a great exercise in problem solving.

Kathy Dawson, involved with Carpenter’s Sons for about five years, saw the problem of poverty in the area and decided participation was a way she could help. Operating the table saw is her regular job. With a smile, she gives a “haircut” to a board handed to her by a teen that needs trimming to fit ideally in its spot.

Her spot in the group means working with a group of people she respects. “These are the most beautiful, spiritual men,” she said. “They just give and give and give.” Never bossy or arrogant, their humility is noted in the fact that they do it all without any social media presence, she said.

An unmediated social experience is one benefit to the week’s activities, said Bridgette Haynes, who is going into her junior year at Bishop Dwenger High School. “It is a good way to help the community. It is hands-on and a good way to learn something.” She also said she appreciates the chance to accomplish something beyond sitting at home with her vacation time.

Haynes and her colleagues on Tuesday, June 20, were working at the home of area resident, Sharon, who has mobility limitations. “I love it,” she said. “They are doing a nice job. It’ll be easier for me to have the wheelchair-friendly ramp they are building. My legs give out on me.” Sharon, two others, and dogs Princess and Precious have lived at the residence since 2015. Since it is a floating, or unattached deck, all the usable parts can be reused in the future when not needed in its current capacity.

Bethany Beebe
Area high school students joined forces with the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Fort Wayne’s Carpenter’s Sons for Teen Service Week from Monday, June 19, through Thursday, June 22. The work included construction projects for pre-selected lower-income homeowners in need in the Fort Wayne area.

Helping to put together the prefabricated puzzle that soon became a ramp was John Berhoff, a retired architect of more than 40 years in practice and member of the Carpenter’s Sons since early this year. “I like to do something hard and different,” he said. This week’s work with the high school students has allowed him work with some fun people who had proven themselves to be learning through the hands-on process, he said. “We try to get them to do as much as they can.”

One of the projects on Wednesday, June 21, had a different construction outcome, but similar responses from participants. The rebuilding of a front porch took two days and again brought together the Carpenter’s Sons and students. Going into his sophomore year, Anthony Ortigoza said he liked “helping out the community.” Working alongside him, member of the adult group Rob Wyatt said he thought the kids were having fun and, “They like to learn. They like to do things hands-on.”

Future projects of this nature are always in the works. Schreck said more volunteers and more projects are always welcome. To learn more about the St. Vincent de Paul Society or to make a donation to support their ministries, visit their website at svdpsfw.org.

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