PHOENIX, Ariz. (Mennonite Mission Network) – Plates clinked and conversation flew in the fellowship hall of Trinity Mennonite Church in Phoenix. It was a Monday night and participants in the SOOP
program were gathered to share a meal with members of the Goldensun
Goldensun is a faith-based organization that provides supportive living communities for adults with developmental disabilities. Members of the program live in three houses within walking distance of the SOOP house and Trinity Mennonite Church.
About 15 SOOP participants gather each week to share a potluck meal with all of the Goldensun households. After eating, the groups sometimes spend time singing and worshiping together.
“The SOOPers and Goldensun residents are such a natural fit. The SOOPers bring a wealth of life experience and a deep spirituality to our community, but it goes both ways,” said Aaron Gouldthorpe, director of Goldensun, “Our Goldensun guys bring so much life and help to bring other people’s gifts out.”
Trudie Kehler, a nurse from Gimili, Manitoba, and Riverton (Manitoba) Gospel Chapel, has spent her annual month-long holiday in Phoenix for four straight years.
“I was searching for some kind of fulfilling winter holiday, and SOOP turned out to be a good mix of work and relaxation,” she said.
During their stay, SOOPers keep themselves busy. They help to run activities at Glencroft
, a local retirement community, tackle construction projects for Trinity and other congregations, serve at a local food bank, help teach GED and ESL classes, work at a thrift store, and serve in a variety of other settings.
But for many SOOPers, one of the most important experiences is getting to know Goldensun residents.
“The interactive communication with the Goldensun residents is a highlight,” said Norma Leaman, of Landisville (Pa.) Mennonite Church.
“At home we don’t have much interaction with people with disabilities.”
Goldensun residents and SOOP participants fellowship at meals, through informal conversations and gatherings, and at church.
“The most exciting piece is building community with Goldensun, Trinity and SOOP. It’s a tremendous blessing and it really energizes me,” said Marlin Hershberger, a Trinity church member involved with both the Goldensun and SOOP programs.
Goldensun participants like Mike Sterrett and Dede Seever bring their energy, joy for life and talents to interactions with SOOP participants. Sterrett enjoys playing along on guitar with the worship band after Monday night meals and Seever’s welcoming personality helps all to feel at home.
At one gathering when Mary Dyck, a SOOP participant from Chilliwack, British Columbia, was celebrating her 85th birthday, Seever led the group in celebration. As soon as the cake appeared, Seever began a search for Dyck, letting everyone that she passed know that it was “Mary’s special day.” Upon finding Dyck, Seever began clapping and led the group in singing a boisterous rendition of “Happy Birthday.”
And Mark Ewer, another member of the Goldensun community, is an accomplished cook who always brings good, home-cooked food to share at Monday night dinners.
The SOOP program allows participants to choose their own location, time and length of service. They also work directly with on-site coordinators, who frequently help to arrange housing. For more information or to apply, visit Service.MennoniteMission.net.