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Restored woodshop invites conversation and community

A story and video by Stephen Richards, Optage Hospice Chaplain

community residents gather in the woodshopOn October 6, 2020, SummerHouse of Shoreview ― an independent living community in Minnesota — held an open house to showcase a refurbished woodshop. Amongst the communities of Presbyterian Homes & Services, a woodshop is somewhat unique. It means anyone can continue honing their handiwork or develop new talents when they move here. The woodshop is not just for a small group to use but belongs to the whole community.

All are welcome — and made to feel welcome in this space. Every resident is invited to make use of the woodshop and join the woodshop committee. They are even given their own keys to access the room. Residents can pursue hobbies, and some use it to repair furniture for others in the community, such as desks and chairs, at no charge. Many enjoy going there simply to hang out for an hour or so.

The woodshop is a wonderful addition to this vibrant and loving community — and whilst the machines were silent during my visit, the room never stopped humming as stories were shared and questions enthusiastically fielded.

The first thing I noticed when I walked into this bright, clean and well-ordered space was the wide array of tools and fixings. Many tools had been donated by those coming to live at SummerHouse and had been carefully arranged, labeled and catalogued, so that anyone can find what they are looking for. In fact, the mantra of the woodshop committee is, “Don’t buy anything until you have come here first.”

However, this is no museum where artifacts are merely set out to be looked at or studied. The expectation is that everything can and should be picked up and worked with, in the hope that these previously owned items will remain useful for many years to come.

Love for the woodshop has also brought people together in other ways. For instance, committee member Veryl Johnson brought out an airplane lamp base he was making for a great-grandchild. The lamp’s base is modeled on the classic Boeing Stearman. Veryl spoke affectionately of his project and how he was building several lamp bases to give to members of his family. To speed up the process, he would make three or four parts, such as wings or wheels, at a time. Reflecting on this detail led him to share the story of how a grandson bought an old airplane, took it apart and then rebuilt it. Later on his grandson took him out in the same plane for a trip round the Alaskan mountains. This prompted another resident to share how her father owned a flying school and that she “grew up in airplanes.” 

As they told their stories, I thought of the different pieces of wood being shaped and formed to make model airplanes, and then how airplanes had shaped and formed the lives of these different families who had been brought together in this unique space.

President of the Resident Council Bill Damberg, a self-proclaimed cheerleader of the project, called Chair Howard Grivna the key player in restoring this space back into the life of this community. Somewhat surprisingly, Howard is not a woodshop user. Instead, he says he became invested in the project because of the example of service he saw in others: "Everyone volunteers for so many things, and I wanted to volunteer for something I could do. My background is in a company that made machinery for woodworking, so here is something where I can volunteer and feel I am doing my part.” Another significant mover was Veryl, whom Howard referred to as his “arms and legs of putting the shop together.”

I was inspired by Howard’s leadership as he took time to learn what each committee member’s skills were, and then asked for help according to their abilities. This made me think of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, where he wrote: 

“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6).

I believe the woodshop at SummerHouse of Shoreview exemplifies the Christian values of community and service. God has uniquely gifted each person in this community, and through these gifts, God’s Spirit is working for the common good. Let’s take some time today to thank God for their example, and also be inspired to go and do likewise with this prayer:

Thank you, God, for uniquely gifting each one of us to serve each other, for it is through our diverse gifts that your Spirit works for the common good. You do not want us to be separate from each other. In your Kingdom, differences are not meant to divide us but bring us closer together and make us stronger. God, help us as we pause today to acknowledge with gratitude our own unique gifts and abilities you’ve given us, as well as those of others. Amen.

Considering a change, but not sure where to find a caring, thriving community? Search Find a Community or connect with a Housing Counselor today.

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