May 5, 2006

A teen with character: Scecina freshman honored by President for volunteer efforts

By John Shaughnessy

When he saw a man struggling to enter an Indianapolis hospital, John Trennepohl never thought about earning a volunteer service award from President George W. Bush.

The 16-year-old Indianapolis youth just wanted to do whatever he could to help the man.

“He barely made it into the door,” recalled John, a freshman at Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School in Indianapolis. “I was passing by, and I saw he needed help. I got him a wheelchair and took him upstairs where someone could help him.”

That incident was just one of the many ways that John has made a difference as a volunteer at Community Hospital South. His 218 hours of community service in just six months at the hospital recently led to his recognition from the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation.

A note on White House stationery signed by President Bush told John that he demonstrates “the outstanding character of America.”

“I was just doing what I needed to do to help people,” said John, a member of Holy Spirit Parish in Indianapolis. “I was shocked when I got the award. A lot of people at the hospital do a lot more than me. There’s a lady, Mrs. Wilma Havercheck, who’s been there for 25 years, helping at the gift shop. Debbie Abraham is another volunteer. She has been there for 20 years, and she has almost 10,000 hours of service.”

That attitude of looking beyond himself is part of John’s character, according to his mother, Jane Neal. She believes it comes from his experience of growing up in a single-parent home where he had to help with his younger brothers at a young age.

“I always had to feed my brothers when they were young, put them to bed and calm them down,” John said. “I think that attitude carries over to being a volunteer. It’s not a new thing for me. I like the people at the hospital, and I had free time. I thought I wouldn’t waste it being a couch bum.”

He has given up weekend nights to deliver meals to patients when the dietary staff needed help.

He has unloaded a truck at 6 a.m. on a school morning—a delivery for a plant sale at the hospital.

He has delivered flowers to patients’ rooms, stuffed envelopes for hospital mailings and even comforted his former music teacher when the woman’s mother was in the hospital.

“John’s a good kid,” said his mother, who is also the director of volunteer services at the hospital. “There’s a learning process that you see with all the kids who help. They do grow up. John is kind of shy. This has brought him out. He’s able to have conversations with strangers in a compassionate way.”

At Scecina, the presidential award has gained notice for John, who already stands out in a crowd at 6-feet, 4-inches.

“John sees service as second nature,” said Kevin Caspersen, Scecina’s president. “I was just so pleased that one of Scecina’s students would receive this level of distinction, and being a freshman at that.”

John plans to continue to volunteer at the hospital this summer, part of a schedule that also will include a job, practice in playing the drums, and training and conditioning for Scecina’s basketball and football teams.

“Volunteering at the hospital has taught me a lot about respect for other people,” John said. “A lot of people help me out and show me what to do. I try to help people, too. We just try to keep smiles on our faces and try to be uplifting for people who are facing sad situations.” †


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