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Meet SBEC Volunteers

Karen and Paul Groucutt

SBEC Volunteers Karen and Paul Grocutt

Once a week, Karen Groucutt visits a place full of memories for her. A former St. Benedict Academy (closed in 1988 when it became St. Benedict Education Center) student, she returns to that familiar site on East 10th Street, now assisting others seeking their education. She and her husband, Paul, work at Treasures and Such a shop for students at St. Benedict Education Center (SBEC).

Initially motivated by the desire to support the Benedictine Sisters of Erie in their inner-city ministries to the poor and marginalized of Erie, Karen and Paul return twice a month for many more reasons. “I think more globally now. No longer do I see just the problems in this country, but I am very aware of the problems around the world”, says Paul. The refugees who frequent the shop and who come from countries such as Bhutan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Nepal, and Somalia have helped Paul and Karen to expand their understanding of other cultures and deepen their compassion for the suffering that plagues so many parts of the world. Karen agrees: “I am astounded at the tragedies they have endured. And why them? We are all God’s children.”

Paul and Karen also have observed, to their surprise, that they are helping to clarify misinformation in the community. “People think these refugees are taking jobs away from us. That’s simply not true. They are most often doing work others will not do.” Despite the fact that many refugees were qualified teachers, physicians and other professionals in their native land, they now find themselves employed as janitors or dishwashers. Karen also observed that these newcomers to the community are fixing up homes in dilapidated neighborhoods as they create new lives for themselves and their children. “They endure these struggles because of their children, who hopefully will have an easier time. Isn’t this what our own ancestors did?”

Often frustrated by the language barriers they encounter, Paul and Karen, like other volunteers, have discovered ways to communicate. A touch, a smile, hand gestures, simple words all go a long way in transacting business in the shop. Week after week, deep connections are made with these strangers in their midst. After all, understanding, compassion, helping others and the desire for a better life are the common currency of the human spirit.

Paul also observed the camaraderie that has developed among the volunteers themselves. Amid the clothing and household items they sort and prepare for sale, he has discovered new friendships. “This has been a great experience!”

Karen and Paul first became acquainted with the Sisters about 15 years ago when their son, a counselor at the former Camp Glinodo, operated by the Sisters, suggested they come one Sunday. They are now frequent visitors to Mount St. Benedict Monastery, affectionately known as “The Mount”, volunteers at SBEC, and Oblates of the community. If you happen to visit the monastery one summer day, you just might find Paul along with his friend Neal, a fellow volunteer whom he met at Treasures and Such, painting the Gazebo or engaged in some other project. Go ahead…ask him about St. Benedict Education Center.