Roundtable Woodcarvers Club presents comfort crosses to hospice patients



Joe Alessi has spent practically every Thursday morning for the past dozen years in the much the same way.

For about 21/2 hours each week, Alessi, who lives in Cornersburg, meets up with 20 or so fellow members of the Roundtable Woodcarvers Club at the Senior Independence Senior Center on the city’s North Side to practice his craft: woodcarving.

He’s missed meetings of the informal club, which has neither officers nor annual dues, only three or four times.

“I just got the idea that I wanted to learn how to wood-carve,” said Alessi, a former safety coordinator for the city of Youngstown. “Once I got there and saw what a grand bunch of people they were, I got excited. Anybody who wants to relieve their stress and have fun, come on down.”

At the club’s most recent meeting, Alessi presented about 50 wooden comfort crosses, all of which were carved by members of the Roundtable Woodcarvers Club, to a representative from Senior Independence Hospice. The crosses will be distributed soon to its patients.

Mona Behnke, director of the Senior Independence Senior Center, said she approached the Roundtable Wood-carvers Club, which has long met at the senior center, a few months ago about carving the crosses.

Behnke said she was just “so happy” that members agreed to do so, and wanted to express her gratitude during Thursday’s presentation.

“The woodcarvers do a lot of work in the community, and we wanted to give them some recognition for all the good that they do,” she said. “They said they enjoyed making the crosses, especially knowing their purpose and what they’re used for.”

The crosses, which are emblazoned with the words “Sr. Center” and the occasional heart, are small enough for patients to hold in their hands and hold close to their hearts, Behnke said. She added that she has one on her desk at work, which she often clutches when she feels stressed.

The project was entirely a group effort, Alessi said, noting that members have “always stepped up when requested — and even not requested — to do things of this nature.”

He said he hopes the smooth, handmade crosses will help console the hospice patients who receive them.

“They’ll comfort them in their anxieties or pain or illnesses and bring them closer to their Maker,” Alessi said. “I hope [the patients] will feel not so much alone, knowing that someone else is thinking of them.”

The Roundtable Woodcarvers Club began in the early 1990s and is always willing to accept new members of all ages and of all skill levels, Behnke said.

John Lesko, who retired from United Airlines about five years ago and has been attending the club’s meetings for almost four years, said woodcarving is the most enjoyable and relaxing hobby he’s ever had.

“Every place I go, if I find someone who’s halfway interested in doing something with their hands, I pitch the club. You don’t need any tools, or any knowledge, or any experience,” he said. “Anybody who would like to carve and join us, we welcome with open arms.”

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