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Senior Shepherds committed to outreach

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Friday, March 19, 2010

By Eileen Connelly, OSU

ST. ANDREW DEANERY — The seniors group at Good Shepherd Parish in Montgomery provides a variety of meaningful and fun spiritual, social and educational opportunities for its members, ages 55 and over. The Senior Shepherds, as they are called, enjoy luncheons and entertainment, trips, days of reflection and expert speakers on relevant topics.

The Senior Shepherds are also committed to outreach. A major project for the group, and one that has become dear to their hearts, has been coordinating support for Good Shepherd’s sister parish in Whitley City, Ky.

 Senior Shepherds
Members of the Senior Shepherds load donated items onto a truck bound for Whitley City, Ky. (Courtesy photo)

The parish’s relationship with Good Shepherd Mission began in 1996 when Betty Rea, then-president of the seniors group, learned of the situation in Whitley City through her nephew, who had recently been elected parish council president of the local faith community. Rea brought the needs of the impoverished, isolated mission to the Senior Shepherds group. Good Shepherd Parish then decided to adopt and support Whitley City. Since then, Rea has chaired the Whitley City Outreach Committee of the Senior Shepherds.
Whitley City is located some 220 miles from Cincinnati in southeast Kentucky. While coal and timber provided many jobs in the past, when these industries ended, the area did not have sufficient economic development to raise residents out of the cycle of poverty. Sub-standard housing, limited educational opportunities and lack of adequate healthcare are a way of life in Whitley City, according to Rea, yet the residents are “good, hard-working people who treasure their families and the land they have and will sacrifice to keep both.”
Since 1974 the Sisters of St. Joseph of Chambery have served the poor in Whitley City, sharing their nursing and teaching skills through a medical clinic and educational opportunities for adults and children.
Over the years, said Rea, she and others who have visited Whitley City have developed close relationships with the Sisters and area residents. With the Senior Shepherds organizing things at Good Shepherd, the parish has given annual gifts of money and food, as well as furniture, household items, clothing and toys.
In recent years, the group has expanded its efforts to include the McCreary County Clinic and food bank, along with Whitley City Elementary School, said Ed Kassner, a member of the Senior Shepherds who has been involved in the outreach project for the past several years. Kassner coordinates pick up of donated goods and transport of the items to Whitley City. It’s common, he said, for two large moving trucks, packed to the tailgates and driven by volunteers, to make the trip to Whitley City. Between October of 2007 and December of 2008, 15 runs were made to the mission; six runs were made in 2009.
The Sisters communicate the needs of the Whitley City residents via email, and they are they published in the parish bulletin, Kassner said. Five area homes have burned to the ground since Thanksgiving because emergency crews couldn’t reach the remote mountain location so furniture and household items are among the pressing needs. Kassner said the group is trying to work with a national organization to get the homes rebuilt.
While the Senior Shepherds coordinate the outreach, the entire parish has been generous in its support. The kindergarten through sixth-grade faith formation classes, under the guidance of Sandy Rivet, have become involved in Operation Shoebox to benefit the children of Whitley City Elementary School. Three hundred shoes boxes filled with gifts for the children, including crayons, small toys and socks were delivered just in time for Christmas.
“Without a doubt, Good Shepherd is one of the most incredibly giving parishes,” Kassner said.
Looking back on her experience with the outreach effort, Rea said, “I never envisioned myself becoming so involved.”
She has lost count of the number of trips she’s made to Whitley City over the years, yet no matter how often she visits, Rea said the trip is always rewarding. “I get so much more than I give. When you see the people and their response, there are just no words to describe it. I tell the other seniors that they have made someone’s life better.”
The trips are always memorable for Kassner as he delivers donations from Good Shepherd. “On my first trip down, I realized there wasn’t a need to say anything, so I just watched and listened,” he said. “It’s what’s not said that means the most. Now when I pull into the lot, the people are clamoring around the truck wanting to hug.”
The Senior Shepherds are also active in outreach closer to home. With money from their treasury, they have funded a bench in the church foyer along with various projects that have made certain areas of the building handicapped accessible. In addition, the group has a jazz band that plays at area nursing homes, senior gatherings and other church events throughout the Cincinnati area. The band has performed more than 100 times since beginning in 2001, and all donations for performances are given to Whitley City.

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