PROVIDENCE — With a saw in hand, Nelson Ramos kneels on the ground outside Emmanuel House and cut a large tree branch into pieces.
Ramos, 24, a guest of the diocesan emergency overflow shelter, housed in a former daycare center on the South Side, was spending his Saturday morning cutting wood and clearing brush from the yard to make other residents like him feel good about where they are staying.
"I want to make the community beautiful and to make myself a better person," Ramos said.
At least four dozen other volunteers — including residents, Knights of Columbus, Boy Scouts, young adults and consecrated women — turned out the morning of April 21 at the shelter to clear the yard of trash, brush, tree branches and other debris. A team of volunteers also cleaned the street outside the shelter.
"I think it's marvelous. I'm amazed. I can see the ground," said Dotty Perreault, site manager of Emmanuel House, located at 239 Public St. in Providence.
Perreault said she envisions the shelter's outdoor yard becoming a community garden where Emmanuel House residents and staff will grow and harvest vegetables, as well as planting and watering flowers. She also hopes to create a small picnic area with patio chairs and tables.
"It will give the clients something to participate in," Perreault said.
David Gillis, a Knight of Columbus and member of Our Lady of Fatima Council 4331 in Providence, helped organize the cleanup effort, which he noted is one way that the faithful can help to support the pope’s call for individuals to become better stewards of the environment.
Last month, on St. Joseph’s Day, Pope Francis encouraged the faithul to act as protectors like St. Joseph: protectors of the poor, families and the environment.
Gillis said he believes in Perreault's garden vision for Emmanuel House, whose grounds became overgrown when the daycare closed years ago.
"It's important not only to beautify the place, but it's also important for the residents and neighbors," said Gillis, who is also a member of the Diocese of Providence's Evangelization Committee.
Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, who opened the shelter in December 2010 to provide a warm place to sleep for those without a home, said the Earth Day project was a wonderful example of the Holy Father’s call to serve as good stewards of God’s creation.
“The diocese is very grateful for the vounteers who are sharing their time and talent to improve the grounds of our homeless shelter and provide new opportunities for the guests of Emmanuel House,” Bishop Tobin said.
The shelter provides up to 35 beds a night to meet an immediate need as the demand for shelter beds exceeds availability.
Gillis said Atwood Greenhouses in Cranston will donate many of the plants and produce that will be grown in the garden, which will include green beans and tomatoes. He said there may also be a rose garden on site to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Lowe’s of North Providence has donated 48 pairs of leather gloves.
"It's a work in progress. We might not get the entire thing planted this year," Gillis said, adding that fresh dirt will need to be applied after the entire yard is cleaned up.
Our Lady of Fatima Council stepped up to help make that happen, paying for a large dumpster for the trash as well as providing lunch for all the volunteers.
"This is the sort of thing we need to be doing in the church," Gillis said. "Especially for the young people here, it's important for them to practically apply the things they hear every Sunday in church. This seems to be a real concrete way of doing that."
The council's Grand Knight, Ernie Pennine, said the cleanup efforts were consistent with his order's values of charity and fraternity.
"If needed, the Knights are there," said Pennine, who is also the committee chairman for Boy Scout Troop 22 in Cranston, whose members also helped out at Emmanuel House.
Magdalena Faine, a consecrated member of Regnum Christi, and seven young women discerning the consecrated life at Mater Ecclesiae College in Greenville also turned out for the cleanup effort. Faine said the younger women asked her if they could participate.
"They are always very eager to help," Faine said.
Victoria Backstron, 19, who is in her first year of formation at Mater Ecclesiae College, said she enjoyed the opportunity to help.
"It's just being a testimony without having to use words and being part of a community," she said.
Paul Medeiros, 56, an Emmanuel House resident, also donned work gloves to clear the yard because he wants other residents to have some pride in their home.
"It's a good place," he said. "They have a nice staff here and they are great people to work with. I appreciate that. A lot of the guys appreciate what we have."