Sharing songs -- and life

Idaho church project brings children and retirees together
June 15, 2008

Two seemingly different groups in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, recently began building relationships with the help of St. Luke's Episcopal Church.

The first is the children who live with parents or guardians at the St. Vincent de Paul Transitional Housing Center in Coeur d'Alene. Each Monday evening, a small group of St. Luke's volunteers works with the children while their parents and guardian attend classes aimed at providing the necessary skills in parenting to these adults who are trying to break the homelessness cycle. The volunteers provide the children with role models, fun, learning, games and other activities.

The second is the residents of Coeur d'Alene Homes. CDA Homes is owned by 25 Christian congregations and "has for 85 years provided compassionate Christian care to adults and older adults in our community needing assistance with daily activities, without regard to their ability to pay," according to its website.

A group from St. Luke's works in several capacities with the homes' residents. A member of St. Luke's sits on the board and recently asked for volunteers to help with the residents, who needed contact, community and caring attention.

Out of that request developed a joint effort to bring the two groups together.

The first outing with the St. Vincent children and CDA Homes residents showed all the signs of a great success. The children mingled with the residents. As soon as the music started, they stopped running around. About 15 seniors came to the dining room, where a volunteer played the guitar and everyone sang. For half an hour, the space with filled with happy voices singing familiar tunes.

Then the children colored pictures that were handed out to the CDA Homes residents at the end of the visit. The children loved the evening, as they found a world they'd never seen. The residents laughed at the silly songs and loved the change of activities.

The latest project is just one way St. Luke's members make a difference with the St. Vincent residents.

They work behind the scenes at the housing center: doing chores, bringing as many as 1,000 children's books to the facility, assisting the staff in getting grants to cover some of the housing center's expenses.

Above all, church members work closely with the residents and their children.

"If I had not gotten to know and love the volunteers from St. Luke's while at St. Vincent's, I don't know where I would have turned when my cancer was discovered," said a single mother of two who has beaten drugs, graduated after one false start from St. Vincent's and gotten a job with benefits. "They have made meals, taught me to crochet, bought clothes for my children when I couldn't work and given me many more gifts of love and joy. They have become my friends and continue now two years after I left St. Vincent's."

Another graduate of the program said that the "friendship, guidance and love that my children and I have been given by the St. Luke's volunteers over the past 15 months will stay with me forever."

"They have helped change my life," she said. Robert Runkle, a retired engineer, is a member of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.

-- Robert Runkle, a retired engineer, is a member of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.

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