Local parents show children the value of service



To complement another article in this issue encouraging parents to engage children in charitable giving, this is a story about two local families who reach out to others on a daily basis and involve their children every step of the way. DeAnne Chenoweth and Joe Hinshaw are raising two daughters, now in 4th and 6th grades. Pete and Liz DeSmits’ children are in graduate school, but they have many happy memories of working with their kids in community activities.

DeAnne Chenoweth, who teaches in the history and political studies department at Eastern Mennonite University, remembers how often her own parents took care of others while sacrificing some of their money and time. DeAnne served as PTA President at Keister Elementary several years ago and volunteered many hours each week helping the teachers there. But she prefers to involve the whole family rather than making it “mom’s volunteer work.”

Her husband Joe Hinshaw, who is professor of media arts and design at James Madison University, supports her efforts and helps out when he can. Now that their daughters Bethany and Carolyn are 11 and 9, DeAnne and Joe include them in most of their service work. They want their girls to see how good it feels to help others. Trinity Presbyterian Church, where they are active members, provides the structure for much of their community outreach work.

Members of Trinity include their children in mission projects and other aspects of their church life. The congregation divides into house churches with each small group choosing a mission focus. Since DeAnne and Joe’s house church is focusing on food needs, it is feeding twenty low-income children each weekend through the Keister Elementary School backpack lunch program. Members of the house church also gather in Trinity’s kitchen to occasionally prepare a large meal for the Harrisonburg Free Clinic, the Open Doors Homeless Shelter and the Presbyterian campus ministry.

Keister’s backpack lunch program supplies weekend food for low-income children who often have to fend for themselves food wise on weekends. Their parents have trouble making money stretch for housing, medical and food needs. These children need healthy foods they can eat without much preparation. All the food must fit into the backpacks and be light enough for the children to carry.

DeAnne Chenoweth guides her daughters, Carolyn and Bethany, in filling backpacks with food for the Keister Backpack Lunch Program which feeds low-income children on the weekends. Photo by Lauree Purcell

DeAnne and her daughters collect the backpacks from Keister and return them full of food each Friday morning so the kids can take them home. Other members of Trinity take turns buying food, sorting it and packing the backpacks. Children easily help by following charts that show how many of each type item goes in the bag. Carolyn likes being involved in helping her fellow students. She has learned to practice discretion to keep the identity of the children confidential.

Preparing a casserole might be easier for an adult to just do it at home, but DeAnne and Joe’s house church prefers to meet at Trinity’s kitchen to help their children prepare the big meals. It gives the children time to cooperate on a project, and allows the adults, mostly moms, to enjoy being together, too. The kids had fun in recent months making enchiladas with Spanish rice for one meal and turkey tetrazzini for another. After a recent funeral at Trinity, both Carolyn and Bethany served punch and helped clean up.

DeAnne tries to keep a balance between meeting her family’s needs, getting all her work done for her part-time teaching jobs, taking care of herself and letting Christ use her family for service work. She knows Joe must make his work his first priority to support everything else they do. Both Bethany and Carolyn are involved in travel soccer, and Bethany runs cross-country. Despite the hectic schedule, DeAnne and Joe want their kids to remember they already “won the lottery” by being born in a country where their needs can be met more easily. Many children grow up being far less fortunate. “It is our privilege to help those who haven’t had as many chances in life as we have.  I want to give out of thanksgiving for the abundance in our lives,” says DeAnne.

Joe’s main volunteer focus is being in charge of the audio-visual equipment and systems at church. Joe set up a computer lab for Trinity so technology can be used for religious education efforts, especially with the children. DeAnne uses that lab when teaching Sunday school. In the fellowship hall, Joe voluntarily installed speakers, sound system, television, media cart and all the connections. On special occasions when Trinity’s sanctuary overflows, Joe’s video hook-up now makes it possible for more people to enjoy the service from the fellowship hall. He also installed a television in the Sanctuary for use during all events held there.

Joe trained Carolyn and Bethany to use the equipment so     they can also help out in this way at church. This past May, Trinity’s former pastor, Reverend Dr. Ann Reed Held retired from her 36 year career in ministry. At the end of a service to honor Ann, 3rd Carolyn scooted out of the room before the others to start a slide show so that everyone in attendance could watch it. She turned on the television, inserted her pen drive containing the pictures and used the menus to start the photos.

Peter Alan DeSmit, who now works full-time in information technology at JMU, was part of a family of 11 while growing up in a three-bedroom home. He didn’t always have enough to eat and had to wear hand-me-down clothes that didn’t fit right. In high school, he would go without the free lunches at school to avoid feeling ashamed. Due to that early experience, Pete empathizes with those who have very little and does whatever he can to help them. He and his wife Liz feel strongly they should never waste the valuable blessings of time, talent and treasure, so they have tried to model their life to show their children the kind of people they hope they’ll become.

“Don’t tell me what’s important to you. Show me where you spend your time and treasure,” says Pete. From the time Megan and Zach were very little, Pete and Liz involved their children in the many community outreach projects that fill their “free time.” Megan, now 23, is working on a master of nurse leadership degree at University of Virginia. Zach, 22, is at Virginia Tech starting a PhD in industrial and systems engineering. Pete has many memories of working with his kids to help others.

From the age of 2, Zach wore a yellow smock while selling Tootsie Rolls to help raise money for the Knights of Columbus, a fraternal organization for the Catholic Church. That organization supports Camp Still Meadows Enrichment Center near Linville, as well as the Harrisonburg Pregnancy Center. He and Megan rang the Salvation Army bell for their Christmas kettle fund drive, and served dinner on Wednesday nights at the Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church soup kitchen. Pete taught them as small children to eat and converse with the people they were serving.

Zach DeSmit paints the walls of Bridgewater’s Harrison Park bathroom as part of a full refurbishment project to earn his Eagle Scout Badge. Harrison Park is home to the fire department’s lawn party each July. Photo by Pete DeSmit

With Pete’s guidance, both children assisted in building a Habitat for Humanity house in 2000. When the children became competitive swimmers, Pete helped their teams organize food drives. Megan continued that tradition with her swim team at Mary Washington University. Zach went with Pete on mission trips to Wise County, Va., to help with the rural poverty there. As a result, Zach has led several alternative spring breaks to build porches, wheelchair ramps, and other needed projects through the Newman Community at Virginia Tech.

While Zach was active in Boy Scouts, Pete often spoke to the boys about service and coordinated an annual barbecue to raise funds. He also managed a program called Scouting for Food where Scouts collect food from area residents, sort it, and deliver it to area food banks. When Zach wanted to become an Eagle Scout, Pete helped him earn his badge as they refurbished the bathrooms of Harrison Park in Bridgewater, Va. Harrison Park is home to the Bridgewater Fire Department’s lawn party during the third week in July each summer. With Pete’s help, Zach fixed the bathrooms’ roof, pressure washed the building, painted it inside and out and repaired all the wooden structures.

Pete showed his children how to “glean” from area businesses that have excess food. Many gladly donate the excess if someone will simply transport it to area soup kitchens. The Volunteer Farm in Woodstock has been of particular interest to Pete over the years, and he involved his children in many days of working the 35 acres there to help provide fresh food for the Shenandoah Valley’s needy. They also worked with him regularly in Blessed Sacrament’s food pantry and shared their family time with children matched to Pete and Liz through the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program.

Liz, who works full-time in sales for Jenzabar, has always been active in religious education at Blessed Sacrament. She currently teaches third grade Sunday school. Pete appreciates how supportive and helpful she has been of his volunteer efforts. Together, they try not to waste any of their spiritual, emotional and physical energy. Pete says, “You can’t out-give God, but you can have fun trying.”

LAUREE STROUD PURCELL serves as an editorial consultant for Living. She and her husband Steve have two daughters.


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