The future of homeless people can be as uncertain as the question: Whose responsibility are they? Government services are limited, social resources are stretched thin, and citizens are faced with panhandlers who seek quick solutions. Into this complex issue plunged former pastor and woodworker Rev. Duane L. Sich.
Sich’s ministry career gave him an insider’s view. He saw people wander into his church looking for a short-term fix, but he was only able to offer prayer and a few dollars. Sich decided to tackle the bigger challenge and find a more permanent solution, wo 13 years ago he started a woodworking ministry called Friends of the Carpenter.
Those who have been cast aside by life’s circumstances, and perhaps poor choices, find their way to a building as big as a cathedral – but this one is a warehouse that shelters a full woodworking shop. The building is called the Friendship Center and although the visitors aren’t offered a handout, they get a chance to be trusted.
Each day begins with a devotional. The sharing of faith stories and praise songs communicates the mission of Friends of the Carpenter. Sich says it’s “a great way to put God and God’s guidance right before everyone who is in the Friendship Center. And the vision and conversations continue all day long.”
Those conversations hum along with power tools, scroll saws, and turning lathes, as visitors and volunteers are taught to turn blocks of wood into gifts sold by the ministry.
“We have within us the desire and the ability to create. I see people getting engaged in the woodwork and getting engaged in the activities here,” says Sich. “They really feel good about doing something that makes a difference.”
It’s a casual atmosphere devoid of suits and ties, and it’s difficult to know who’s who.
“You probably really won’t know who is a volunteer and who is the person that’s coming to find some kind of shelter for the day,” says Marlene Najdek, who volunteers three days a week.Shop assistant Craig Cluff calls the center a place where people “can come together as a whole and work together for the betterment of our community.”
Like the wood that is shaped and the rough edges sanded smooth, arrivals at the Friendship Center have a similar experience. Participant and volunteer Tina Walker says the woodshop “gives people a place to go and know it’s OK.”
Board president Brent Stahl loves the power tools and being able to create things, but what’s highest on his priority list is seeing people “thrive and gain a sense of being worth loving again.”Duane Sich welcomes all to the Vancouver-based nonprofit with the belief that people are artistic, capable and “no one comes better than anyone else.” Then he proceeds to draw out the best in everyone the ministry touches.
“What we really do is give the ability to do something that makes a difference for somebody else,” says Sich.
Video shot and edited by Miles Burnett