| Feb 17, 2017
Our volunteers are at the heart of everything we do. This is part of a special feature about the volunteers that make our headquarters work possible. Meet Art, a hard-working volunteer who recently helped renovate our Real Life Exhibit in Tigard, Oregon!
The twinkly-eyed man in front of me has the physical markers of a hard worker. Sturdy, in spite of age, with hands scarred ever so slightly by years of manual labor. Art’s open face and honest eyes seem to tell me that there is no more to him than the former handy-man/teacher standing before me.
What had brought this unique individual to Medical Teams International? How did a teacher, turned vice principal, become the construction aficionado lending me his expertise? His recent work on two vignettes in the exhibit showed extensive capabilities, but building was not his chosen profession – how did he end up here? These were all questions I hoped to answer during our brief interview.
Singer, teacher, handyman.
Raised in the Portland area in the 1950 and '60s, Art spent his teenage days crooning with a singing quartet, made up of five young men. Apparently, they eventually realized their quartet had one too many fellows and Art began accompanying the set on the piano to numerically balance the group. At the time he decided to make this transition Art didn’t actually know how to play the piano, but that was no matter he told me– he would teach himself.
In describing the volunteer environment, he notes the selfless and kind people - he may not know it, but he’s describing himself.
At this point I have to pause the interview to let out a laugh. Teacher, construction expert… and singer? But I realize I shouldn’t be so surprised. If I’d been paying attention, I’d have noticed the baritone hidden by his slightly gruff talking voice. And his offhanded way of discussing things he’d learned just because he felt like it was nothing new. That is just Art’s attitude about everything, and what makes him such an invaluable member of our team: No matter – I’ll figure it out.
After years of quartets and accompaniments, Art tells me that he began volunteering his talents for the Almighty by playing piano in his church. His musical talents escaped no one’s notice, and shortly thereafter, he was asked to direct the choir. He was 17 years old.
In 1975, at the age of 26, Art began his career as a special education teacher, a career to which he felt an emotional calling. After more than a decade of dedicating his professional life to students with special needs, Art pursued the certifications needed to become a vice principal, a job he stayed in until he retired from Westview High School
Retirement didn’t really suit Art, so he began investing in and flipping houses until the housing bubble burst in the late 2000s. With house-flipping no longer a stable option, Handyman Art, LLC was born.
To my surprise (having seen him in action), Art didn’t realize his own affinity for this type of work until he and his young wife Arlena purchased this first home - “a real fixer upper.” By this time, Art’s father-in-law, a farmer with genius for engineering and construction, had taken him under his wing while helping renovate the new house. He quickly became one of the most influential people in Art’s life.
Working together, using skills to help those in need.
The skills that he learned with his father-in-law proved to be valuable throughout Art’s life. With the prospect of a second retirement looming in the late 2000s, Art opened business as a general contractor in 2009 and worked for another six years before retiring completely in 2015. But unsurprisingly, retirement’s leisure once again proved too much for Art and he began volunteering for Habitat for Humanity almost immediately. Using his construction skills to serve those in need was fulfilling, but by 2015 Arlena was also retired, and wanted to an opportunity to put her nursing skills to use in an equally meaningful way.
As they learned more, Arlena realized she could use her medical knowledge to serve alongside Art, sorting medical supplies in the distribution center.
Providence was smiling on Medical Teams International when Art and Arlena ran into an old friend. She told them all about her own volunteer experience at Medical Teams, and suggested that they explore the opportunity. As they learned more, Arlena realized she could use her medical knowledge to serve alongside Art, sorting medical supplies in the distribution center.
Over the last year and a half, they have served weekly in the distribution center. Art also took a three week sabbatical from the distribution center to help rebuild two vignettes in the exhibit, during which time I had the privilege of getting to know him. The new vignettes – Cambodia and Mobile Dental – helped bring the exhibit into line with Medical Team’s current work around the world and here at home. In describing the volunteer environment, he notes the selfless and kind people - he may not know it, but he’s describing himself. His own dependable and heartfelt service doesn’t go unnoticed. Medical Teams International is lucky to have Art and Arlena on the team.