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Pews will be auctioned at upcoming Pew-To-Do

The success of the original Shirley Landry Benson PACE – Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly – at the former St. Cecilia Church campus on North Rampart Street in Bywater prompted Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans to put the wheels in motion for a second site.

    The West Bank was chosen, with the site being the former St. John Bosco Chapel on the Hope Haven campus.      To raise money for start-up costs to renovate the chapel, PACE is hosting its second annual “Pew-To-Do” fund-raiser at the chapel on Nov. 9.  Local restaurants donated food, and local artists chipped in their talents to paint pews to auction.
    “We are trying to open a second PACE Center on the West Bank, and the fund-raisers are for that,” said Fany Hernandez, PACE Greater New Orleans project coordinator.
Needed on West Bank
    Hernandez said a PACE Advisory Committee devised the concept of an auction fund-raiser with food last year. The idea to auction original pews from the former St. John Bosco Chapel was logical due to the many pews that had to be removed before renovation of the space for a senior day care center could begin.
 Eight local artists got involved and painted benches for the 2011 auction, and eight artists will again paint pews this year. Other pews in original condition also will be auctioned. The minimum bid on painted benches will be $800, and $600 on unpainted benches.
    “So many people had so many connections to the pews,” Hernandez said, adding how one woman said her father had built the pews.
    This year’s artists include Lisa Reed, Angelina Geraci, Manuel Ponce, Kellie Byrd, Christy Works-Boutte, Connie Kramer and students at Academy of Our Lady and Archbishop Shaw.
    Reed, who now lives on the West Bank after being displaced from New Orleans East by Hurricane Katrina, volunteered to paint a New Orleans-themed bench she’s calling “Renewed Spirit.”
    “I’m actually loving it,” Reed said about the weeks she’s spent painting a wooden bench. It’s falling together nicely. ... I’m trying to make it festive and renewed,” just like Katrina opened new doors, forcing people to get out of their comfort zones.
    Using acrylic paints, she is incorporating many elements synonymous with New Orleans: the Superdome, a streetcar, crawfish, comedy and tragedy masks, a fleur-de-lis, Tabasco bottle and a magnolia. She will varnish the bench once complete.
    “We’re such a jazzy city, I had to jazz it up a little bit,” Reed said.
    To correlate with the Pew-To-Do, she painstakingly recreated the St. John Bosco Chapel and all of its detail.
    Reed, who is a driver for Second Harvest Food Bank, said she has dabbled in art her entire life, though only recently for profit. She credits God with her talents, admitting to never having an art class.
    When asked to participate by her sister-in-law, Chantell Harmon Reed, who is director of enrollment and member services, Reed didn’t hesitate.
    “I wanted to do it to give back,” she said. “I think PACE is a great program. So I wanted to take my time and do a really good job (on the bench) so they can raise more money when it is auctioned.”
    At the 2011 event, some pews auctioned for as much as $5,000. The event raised $50,000. Broadcaster Norman Robinson will emcee.
    New at the 2012 Pew-To-Do will be a gift shop featuring items that PACE board chairman John Hummel created from the original pews. From the kneelers, Hummel made crosses that were blessed by Archbishop Gregory Aymond, picture frames and shelves. Book holders from the back of the pews were fashioned into home book holders. An added incentive for Gold sponsors (those contributing $5,000) will be an original unpainted pew.
    Reed said this fund-raiser is important to get the West Bank location started,  especially considering the cutbacks in state funding for senior day care centers such as  PACE. This program allows low-income elderly and disabled individuals age 55 and older to live at home while providing medical and preventive care, transportation to and from the center, nursing care, rehabilitation, recreation, pastoral care, social services, nutritional counseling, in-home care and caregiver support, home modifications, and needed hospitalization and nursing home care.
    The first phase of the West Bank location will include renovating the chapel, Reed said. PACE has hired Blitch/Knevel Architects, the masterminds behind the St. Cecilia PACE location, for the St. John Bosco project, she said. The West Bank location will be larger than the Bywater site, Reed said, because the former two-story school building at Hope Haven also will be used.
    “We’ll be able to help more clients,” Reed said.
    Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarion