OSHKOSH — Throughout her life, Betty Hawley has had a simple mission as part of her faith: to find ways to serve God by filling needs of her neighbors.
“The one thing I say every morning when I wake up is, ‘May I be of service to (God) today?’” she said.
Hawley, a member of St. Raphael the Archangel Parish, said she was first influenced by her mother, who “was always doing nice things for people.”
Hawley and her late husband, Wayne, sponsored handicapped individuals and offered the first respite home in Oshkosh. They sponsored and advocated for Laotian refugees. She also ran a religious education program for developmentally disabled persons for many years. “God was so good to us,” she said. “He gave us five beautiful, healthy daughters. We just wanted to say ‘thank you.’”
She also has started numerous small ministries — from prayer groups to artistic endeavors to service projects that simply bring joy to others — wherever the spirit has led her. “All of a sudden, God puts an idea in my head and I think, ‘All right. I’ll go check it out.’
“It’s part of my faith,” she said. “If you have gifts, you have to share them.”
She is on the prayer team at St. Raphael the Archangel and serves once a week as a receptionist at Father Carr’s Place 2B, a shelter and wellness center for disadvantaged people. She noticed that so many of the visitors were tense and stressed.
While others work to fill their needs of food and shelter, Hawley wondered, “What gifts has God given me that I could give to that population?” She has always enjoyed the sense of freedom and empowerment that creative endeavors such as art, writing, quilting, embroidery and sewing have brought into her own life.
“I’m an artist in my own way,” she said. “I like the creativeness within my soul. I could provide an art experience and give them that sense of self-esteem and freedom.”
Hawley is ending her second year with her Creative Hearts ministry at Father Carr’s Place 2B that offers an artistic experience for adults and children at the shelter, refugees, those staying at Christine Ann Domestic Abuse Services, and those living with grandparents, friends or on the streets.
“It offers a tool for the homeless and displaced that’s not available anywhere else,” she said.
Creative Hearts is held on the second Saturday of each month during the school year. Art supplies are gathered from donations of individuals and St. Vincent de Paul or purchased with donated funds. Art projects are planned around whatever supplies they have for the month.
“People can come in and do all levels of art to express themselves,” Hawley said. Because of the fluidity of the homeless population itself, she said attendance fluctuates greatly. There could be 25 adults and seven children one month, 25 children and a few adults another month, or no one on a third month.
She recalls a woman who went through the supplies line with very little enthusiasm, but when she realized she could create a greeting card for someone she admired, “her whole persona changed,” Hawley said.
A 12-year-old boy created a piece of shaving cream art but left it behind quickly without a thought. Hawley trimmed the piece and framed it, then showed it to the boy. “It was so beautiful; look at what you did,” she told him. “His eyes got so big. It gave him a new level of self-esteem.”
Hawley runs the ministry with other volunteers, many of whom are members of the Circle K service organization at UW-Oshkosh. Upcoming projects include participants designing a canvas about themselves through decoupage and collage; decorating rocks; and painting ceramic pieces for Christmas.
Hawley, who lives in the Simeanna Apartments in Oshkosh, has held a tea party for residents there over the age of 90, served them one-on-one and offered homemade coffee cake. “It was just delightful,” she said. “It made them feel so warm and so loved.”
She also is planning her annual art exhibit of work by residents older than 60 from the three Simeanna buildings. Homeschooled children and children from Carl Traeger Elementary School will also show some of their artwork. The participation and attendance is growing each year, and she hopes to exceed last year’s count of 200 visitors.
The exhibit will run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6, in the lower level of Simeanna I, 155 N. Eagle St. Musical entertainment will be by the Heaven Bound Singers and Fr. Joseph Mattern, formerly pastor of St. Mary Parish in Omro.
Because of health concerns, Hawley is looking for volunteers to help continue the Creative Hearts ministry and is always looking for donations of funds and art supplies. She is counting on help from St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost and stolen articles.
“He’s helped me through the years to find answers, find lost things, find volunteers, to find myself,” Hawley said. “I love him. I can’t wait to get to heaven to meet him.”