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French mission team works at 3 area work sites with ACT

Cary Ashby • Jul 23, 2017 at 4:00 PM

Norwalk resident Joe Shinski will have an easier time accessing the side door of his house.

Thanks to the hard work of a French mission team and Answering the Call Together (ACT), he has a new wheelchair ramp at his home. Shinski lives at 11 Willard Ave., which was built by Firelands Habitat for Humanity, with his wife Peggy and their children, Joey, 17, and 14-year-old Cossandra.

“I put in some time (building the house) before I got in the chair,” Shinski said. “We have been here 12 years.”

Recently the boards on the side and floor of the wheelchair ramp started rotting.

“The wheel, when he’d go up, would fall through,” ACT Executive Director Dave Wallace said. “It removes a safety hazard.”

The French mission team and ACT knocked out the project in a few hours on a very hot and muggy Wednesday. The teenage French students are with Parfums de Vie, a non-profit organization with Christian values which started in 2008, and came to Norwalk through the funding of the Geotrac Foundation. Vincent Derieux, of Parfums de Vie, said the Geotrac mission is to “bring global attention to Norwalk.”

Three Norwalk churches partnered with ACT and Parfums de Vie to house the French students — The Chapel, First Presbyterian Church and The Foundation Church. Derieux said half of the group — ranging in ages from 12 to 17 — has never been to the United States.

Marilou Coste, 17, was born in California, but her family left the United States when she was about 2 years old. The last time she was in America was in October 2015.

“It’s important for me to learn about this culture and improve my English,” she said, referring to why she was on the mission trip.

Helping build Shinski’s new wheelchair ramp gives her a sense of pride. 

“Wow. I made that; it’s a really good feeling,” Coste said. “I really like to help people.”

The team has been in Norwalk since July 7. In addition to Shinski’s new wheelchair ramp, the group added a new ramp to the home at 11 Spring St., Willard, and repaired a porch at 616 Jay St., Sandusky. 

“It means a lot that people from other countries are wanting to help,” Shinski said.

This was the first time Narjes Oujani has been to the United States. Partially through Derieux translating for her, the 15-year-old girl said she “wanted to help” and was excited to come to America.

“Everything is bigger (here),” Oujani said.

Cortes also was asked what she has learned about American culture. 

“Everyone has a smile every time,” she said. “It’s really nice to see people with smiles.”

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