--By Jackie Campbell--
At The Lake Ministries has scheduled a big painting party for late May, but the party-goers won’t create colorful wall art to take home. Their canvas will be the JoAnn M., a commercial fishing boat that’s being repurposed as a charter vessel to take children and adults with special needs and their families onto Lake Erie for fishing or cruising.
The Western PA Annual Conference purchased the JoAnn M. late last year and At The Lake Ministries was established as part of the Conference’s Camping and Retreat Ministries program.
"The ministry will offer individuals with special needs and their families opportunities to experience the beauty of God’s creation, build supportive relationships, and relax in a setting where they feel valued and welcomed in Christ’s love," said the Rev. Rob Wilson, pastor of Zion UMC in Sarver and director of At The Lake Ministries.
Wilson, whose father, grandfather and great-grandfather were commercial fishermen, was thinking about how to reach out to those with special needs after discussions with a parent in his congregation. When he heard that the Joann M. was available, it looked like God was showing the way.
Since the boat was purchased last fall, Rob Wilson, his dad Dan Wilson, and volunteers from the Zion church and Good Shepherd UMC have been working tirelessly to get the boat ready.
“Dad’s put in hundreds of hours, all winter long, working on the boat,” Rob Wilson said recently. “And I can’t say enough about the commitment of the volunteers; many of them drive hours to get here to help. Like the electrician, Bill Wessel from our church who is instrumental in getting the entire electrical system completed." A log of volunteer hours showed a long list of workers. Several people have logged in regularly, among them are two welders from Zion UMC.
"Matt Kiffer and Tony Gehenio have been welding on their days off throughout the fall, winter, and spring," said Rob. "Matt also took his time to drive with me in his truck and family trailer to take delivery of a new 20-foot propulsion shaft required by the Coast Guard. This was a 10-hour round trip up to Algonac, Michigan.
"We have also been blessed with a plumber, Tom Potter from Girard United Methodist Church, who has been working all along and who will be working in the coming weeks," he added.
As Rob was showing some visitors around one day in late April, Rev. Jonathan Bell of Good Shepherd UMC and another volunteer were on their backs under the hull prepping the area for painting, a third man was on a ladder working on the side; a fourth was connecting things below deck and Dan Wilson was installing a vent above the wheelhouse.
On May 13, John Burtoft, a professional painter and volunteer from Zion UMC, is scheduled to paint the hull beneath the waterline with a special epoxy paint.
“Guests” at the Painting Party, scheduled for May 22-24, weather permitting, will do final painting of the rest of the boat inside and out. "With 15 to 20 people working, I believe we can knock out the entire job in about two days or less,” Rob said.
Before that, more paint preparation -- scraping, wire brushing, priming and a final wash-down -- must be completed and groups of volunteers are needed to lend a hand.
For an invitation to the the painting party or to volunteer for prep work, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Can’t make the party? You can still help Float the Boat! Download a brochure to see how.