Frank Harper: “Why I Volunteer for CSS”
I casually meet with a Vietnam Veterans group every other Wednesday for a lunch gathering. Jim Schmidt is in the group and I believe it was around October of 2020 we were having lunch with the group and Jim asked me if I would be interested in volunteering to build Conestoga Huts. I previously volunteered helping Jim with packing after-school snacks for kids for Lane County. I knew if Jim was involved it had to be good, so without hesitation I said, “Yes!”
CSS is not the first time I volunteered. I also volunteered to become a member of the United States Seabees on January 4, 1968, a day after I turned 18 years old—at the time when the United States military was drafting high school graduates to participate in the Vietnam War. When anyone volunteers it is generally for a good and worthwhile cause. In the case of volunteering for the military it was the opposite of accomplishing something good and worthwhile.
You have most likely guessed that I made it out of Vietnam. After my service I was temporarily married and then I became a single parent raising two boys. My kids loved theater and so I volunteered for years building sets for school plays and community theater plays in San Jose, California.
The old saying goes “One thing leads to another!” On October 28, 2006, I returned to Vietnam to try to find little kids that I photographed during the war. During my trip I met Ed Reinman, a Vietnam Veteran, who lives in Cottage Grove. Ten years later I moved to Eugene, and I was contacted by Ed and he told me about a Veterans Group that he meets with bi-weekly. Ed invited me to join the gathering where I met about eight Vietnam Veterans. The rest is history. I met (Standing Ovation) Jim Schmidt at the luncheon and I became a part of a wonderful brotherhood.
It was in November 2020 that I showed up with my cordless drill at the Skinner Butte site and I was immediately welcomed with open arms. Jim is such an inspiration who motivates all the volunteers, not only on the build site, but also in the shop. He does a great job keeping us informed via the internet. Jim is taking a few months off to recover from back surgery and Carmen is now our volunteer coordinator and is doing a wonderful job. I feel sorry for Carmen because she has to listen to my terrible puns.
I really enjoy working with everyone that I have met through CSS. They are so friendly and motivated to help out the unfortunate people that may be living under a tent on the streets of Eugene or Springfield. I really look forward to Tuesdays and Fridays. If we don’t have a Hut to build, we have plenty of projects to build or repair in the shop.
There are so many negative things going on in the world, but to actually accomplish something positive is so heartwarming. Every Hut that we build is a positive accomplishment to get a person off the streets. It’s a humbling stepping stone for that person to move into a place they can call home. It’s a step towards getting a job and eventually actually living in a comfortable apartment.
I want to thank Pujita, Carmen, Barr, Jim, and all the CSS staff and volunteers for opening the door for me to be a member of the CSS family. It’s so much fun!