SEATTLE – When Margaret Whetham’s husband, Bill, experienced complications from neurosurgery in early 2017 and needed more than four months to recover, “I quickly realized it was too heavy of a burden to carry alone,” she said.
Whetham sought advice from Father Matthew Oakland, her pastor at Holy Rosary Parish. He suggested the parish’s Shoulder to Shoulder program — a ministry of parishioners helping each other by taking care of simple tasks and chores.
“I was hesitant,” said Whetham, a Holy Rosary parishioner for more than 40 years. “I’m not used to asking for help.”
After she signed up with Shoulder to Shoulder, a cooler appeared on her doorstep so volunteers could drop off dinners three times a week. Those meals were helpful, Whetham said, on days she was visiting Bill in the hospital.
“We didn’t feel we were alone and we didn’t feel beholden to anybody,” said Whetham, who helps teach religion at the parish school. “I felt very proud telling people how we were being helped by the parish community.”
The West Seattle parish started its Shoulder to Shoulder ministry nearly five years ago with about 20 volunteers. By 2017, the group had 180 volunteers who helped complete 50 projects.
Tennessee and Dave Herrin prepare a meal for delivery to another Holy Rosary parishioner, through the parish’s Shoulder to Shoulder ministry. Photo: Jennifer Herrin
“It’s a ministry that allows people to get engaged with the parish,” said Jim Burgess, the committee’s chairman. “We’re trying to move people from the edge of the pews to the center of the pews.”
Serving according to skills, time available
Shoulder to Shoulder volunteers take care of a wide variety of needs for their fellow parishioners — driving someone to the doctor, cleaning up a yard, organizing paperwork, installing a security camera, repairing a faucet, preparing a meal or offering a prayer.
“You can serve based on your own gifts and your ability to give,” Father Oakland said.
One larger project involved moving a 92-year-old parishioner from her home of 50-plus years and into a retirement community. Without family around to help, parishioners stepped in to plan and accomplish the move and estate sale.
Most projects, though, can be completed in a day, Burgess said. That provides a lot of flexibility for volunteers, who can commit four to 40 hours a week to the ministry, he said.
There are no monthly meetings, allowing “people to serve in the midst of their busy lives,” Father Oakland said in an email.
Kevin McMahon helps fellow Holy Rosary parishioner Polly Halley with her computer. The two were matched through the parish’s Shoulder to Shoulder ministry. Photo: Russell White
How it works
When a parishioner needs assistance, someone in the Holy Rosary community — a priest, staff member or fellow parishioner — usually knows about it and forwards the request to Shoulder to Shoulder, Burgess said. Referrals also come when parishioners call the parish office seeking assistance, or through the Shoulder to Shoulder ministry’s web page.
Projects are organized using an online platform called Groopit. Volunteers can easily see what projects are available, sign up to help, and see when a project has been completed, Burgess said. Volunteers also post photos of their volunteer projects on Groopit, which Burgess said helps volunteers build connections with each other.
When Whetham signed up for help, 18 volunteers offered to help immediately; after two days, nearly 50 wanted to help, Father Oakland wrote.
And while her husband, Bill, was recovering, Shoulder to Shoulder volunteers took down the Christmas lights on the couple’s home and installed grab bars in the bathroom and handrails for the basement stairs.
Andrew Jozaitis and John Kennelly help take down a fellow parishioner’s Christmas lights as part of Holy Rosary Parish’s Shoulder to Shoulder ministry. Photo: Courtesy Holy Rosary Parish
“What was amazing was I just had to mention the need,” Whetham said. The assistance from fellow parishioners, she said, was a bright spot during a difficult time.
“We felt the love of God in a tangible way,” she said.