Local volunteers keep seniors active through woodworking projects

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - Every Wednesday after lunch, three men spend an hour keeping seniors at Milton Adult Day Services occupied.

John Shirk, Mike Wirt Sr. and Ron Maier volunteer to do this every week from 12:45-1:45 p.m. They give them a woodworking project to keep their minds busy while they battle diseases like Alzheimer's and dementia.

"You have to know how to redirect so they're still happy down here and not dealing with what's going on with them," said John Shirk, of Homemade Stuff By John.

Mary P. finished her tree project already, so she started sanding her second one on Wednesday.

"I have to move my hands faster before they stop working," Mary said with a laugh while Shirk joked that she needed to slow down how quickly she was sanding the wood.

"She was sanding so fast I thought she was going to set the wood on fire," Shirk said, reflecting on the first project Mary did more than two years ago. "93 and she has more vitality than I do."

Shirk said volunteering is a thankless job when it comes to working with this group.

"They enjoy what they're doing here," he said. "Some of them have never sanded before, never painted before and it's a complete diversion. That spark in the eye and that smile, that's our payment."

Down in the wood shop, no one has a disability. In fact, they created a stabilizing device so people like Betty can paint with only one hand.

“The first time we were down here with Betty, nobody could tell, she hides that that well, and then I realized that so I came up with that device that clamps the wood so she can either sand it or paint it," Shirk said. "Nobody down here has a problem because I don't allow it. Nobody uses anything as an excuse."

"It's making something, and he lets us take the first one we make home," Mary said. “I’m going to make another Christmas tree for him for the business because he’s letting me take that one home.”

The group is always joking around, not thinking about why they are there in the first place.

"We could sit down here and do absolutely nothing and have a great time, but that way we're having fun and making stuff," Shirk said. “These people are my family after so long. I see them down here, Judy, Mary, all the different people throughout the years, they become part of my family. I worry about them, I keep an eye on them every Wednesday.”

These men pay for everything out of pocket, but they can afford it by selling the extra crafts the seniors create. They typically go for $10 a piece. You can purchase them by calling Milton's at 574-232-4121.