Melvin "Toad" Starkey (left) and Mark Johnson, from UMSL Facilities Services, measure and mark wood being used to frame in a woodworking shop for residents at Hidden Lake Lutheran Senior Services. They were part of a five-man crew that volunteered their time and talents for a day as part of UMSL's Employee Volunteer Program.

It was cold, dark and raining at 6:30 a.m. Oct. 18. Armed with their tools and sporting bright red T-shirts, five men from Facilities Services at the University of Missouri–St. Louis arrived at their volunteer post.

Mike Bruza, John Burton, Mark Johnson, Melvin “Toad” Starkey and Rick Treadway unloaded their trucks and got to work framing in what will become a woodworking shop for residents of the retirement community at Hidden Lake Lutheran Senior Services in Bellefontaine Neighbors, Mo.

The men were participating in UMSL’s Employee Volunteer Program that enables employees to effectively volunteer in the community under the sponsorship of the university. Under the program, eligible staff members receive up to eight hours of paid time each year to volunteer for approved organizations in the St. Louis area.

“We are so grateful. There is no way we could express our appreciation for this,” said Rebecca Zimmer, director of stewardship at Hidden Lake. She shouted over the noise of a power saw and nail gun. By mid-morning, one door was hung, 2 inch x 4 inch studs lined two walls, two offices were taking shape and a window frame was nearly complete.

UMSL’s Johnson said he and his co-workers were all experienced and the work was going smoothly.

“We all know how to frame in a building,” he said. “We just came in and said, ‘you do this wall, I’ll take this one’.”

The actual construction work seems to be moving quickly, but planning the project has been going on for months.

“The volunteer coordinator at Lutheran Senior Services approached me at our volunteer fair in May,” said Elizabeth Pawloski, UMSL’s coordinator of volunteer services. “She said she had a project that needed experienced construction workers.”

Together the university and Lutheran Senior Services made it all happen.

Zimmer said the impetus behind the woodworking shop came from a young man who attends St. John’s Lutheran Church in Ellisville, Mo. His grandfather, John Moehring, had passed away leaving behind a collection of woodworking tools, complete with instructional videos and DVDs for the power tools.

“Some of our residents had been talking about building a workshop and even talked about collecting money to begin buying tools,” Zimmer said. “And this young man was wondering what to do with his grandfathers tools. He now gets to see his grandfather’s world coming back to life.”

Pawloski said that sending UMSL employees out into the community fosters a more personal link to the St. Louis region by sharing the university’s human resources with organizations that provide valuable community services. There are dozens of volunteer opportunities available for UMSL employees. From organizations as diverse as the Alzheimer’s Association, the Magic House and the YMCA, individuals or groups of individuals can find a need to fill.

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Maureen Zegel

Maureen Zegel