Jenga may be a brain-teasing puzzle game for some.
But for members of the Coquitlam Men’s Shed Society, crafting large lacquered wooden blocks to create an outsized version was a way to come together again after more than a year of working individually in the group’s workshop.
Formed as a way to connect men through the camaraderie and shared experiences of working on carpentry and small home repair projects, the society’s 35 or so members were forced apart by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In other words, when they needed fellowship the most to counter the isolation and anxiety brought on by the public health crisis, they were denied by the contagion, said Mike Jennings.
Some members found other ways to fill their spare time, others moved away; membership dwindled to about 15.
So it was serendipitous when Men’s Shed member Doug Gale happened to receive an enquiry through the society’s website from Cheryl Galandie, the co-ordinator of volunteers at Community Volunteer Connections, about the possibility of building a giant Jenga puzzle that would be used in therapy and socialization sessions at various mental health facilities where some of its volunteers help out.
Public health restrictions were just beginning to ease and the Men’s Shed was looking for a common purpose to bring some of its handymen back together again safely.
“We’ve got to keep the guys busy,” Jennings said.
About five of the Shed’s handymen worked on the project.
Over the course of several days, they cut 2x4 boards into pieces, sanded and lacquered them to a glossed shine, painted some with bright colours from Cloverdale Paints.
“We wanted to make sure it was done right and something they could use,” said Cal Smith.
The end result towers about three feet high and will be a perfect catalyst to bring some of the people Community Volunteer Connections serves out of their shells, develop their hand-eye co-ordination and hopefully put smiles on their faces, Galandie said.
Jennings said the easing of public health restrictions is bringing some members back to the Shed, where former storage space has been converted into an additional workshop after a grant from New Horizons allowed the group to acquire a steel shipping container to hold all its wood and some tools.
That means more than one member can be working on a project while still maintaining a safe social distance from each other, allowing conversations and connections to blossom again.
As well, the group has resumed its weekly breakfast gatherings at a local restaurant after a year of virtual meetings over their home computers and mobile devices.
“It’s been different,” Jennings said of the last 16 or 17 months.
The group is also working on launching a new satellite branch in Charlie’s Shop, an old workshed at the Port Moody Station Museum.
The new location will join a contingent of 12 Men’s Sheds across British Columbia, after the movement first took root in Australia and New Zealand in the 1990s.
Jennings, who lives on his own, said some of the lessons learned during the pandemic about the importance of mental health and maintaining social connections means that’s likely to grow.
“If I hadn’t been able to come down here for a few hours a week, I would have been lost.”
For more information about the Coquitlam Men’s Shed Society, go to www.coquitlammensshed.ca.