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With A Little Help From His Friends, Jerel Smith Is Building Again

Part of his therapy and his reason for being is to build things.
Jerel Smith with a birdhouse he made using old fence pickets.
The houses that Jerel Smith builds these days are smaller, but the skill and care he puts into them remains a big part of his life at Grace Living Center-Edmond.

Take the barnlike birdhouse he made from graying fence pickets. It took three weeks to craft, complete with swinging barn doors and clear Plexiglas windows. “With a real house, you've got blueprints,” said Smith, 71. “Here, it's all in the mind. If I can see it, I can build it.”

In addition to birdhouses, Smith has made wishing wells out of wooden shipping crates and handcrafted jewelry boxes that adorn many residents' rooms.

The retired homebuilder can't seem to put down his chisel and mallet. And Grace Living Center doesn't want him to. “Jerel is just the kind of guy that doesn't want to sit around,” said home administrator Josh Wood. “He's got to be busy and have something to do. Part of his therapy and his reason for being is to build things.”

And he isn't alone in his craft.

Grace staff members enjoy helping find donations of scrap wood to allow Smith to purse his passion for building. He works in the center's maintenance area with the help of Grace staff and Mimi, his 7-year-old black and white Chihuahua.

Smith has been building things out of wood since he was a 12-year-old carving Cypress roots in the Louisiana bayou. His father worked for a saw mill, so saw dust seems to run through his veins.

Smith praised Grace for allowing him to continue his hobby after moving in last year. He plans to keep building just as long as his health permits.

“I'd stay in here all night if I could,” he said while brushing a clear coat of gloss on a jewelry box for a 95-year-old friend. Mimi agrees as she sits on Smith's lap. She's right at home in the sawdust.



Employees who provide encouragement and assistance to residents so that they can pursue interests which keep them happy, healthy and fully engaged in life – that's part of the Grace difference!



A version of this story appeared in the Oklahoman on November 26, 2011.