In 2012, Sam and Sharon Carpenter helped supervise a Builders Beyond Borders trip to Nagarote, Nicaragua.
The longtime Westporters fell in love with the community of Sonrisa de Dios (“Smile of God”), and vowed to continue serving it.
They’ve returned every year since. Each year, they bring at least 20 family members and friends to share the experience.
Sam and Sharon Carpenter
Working with NicaPhoto — a support agency whose board Sam joined in 2013, and now serves as chair — and with special help from Westport Rotary, the Carpenters have helped build 4 classrooms, 3 latrines, a playground, sidewalks and garden at an elementary school; rebuild homes after an earthquake; and construct walls, classrooms and more at another site.
Beyond building, Sam and Sharon join others on the trip as they play and dance with the children.
Sharon Carpenter and her friends.
It’s one thing to spend a week on a service trip. It’s another to return to the same community, year after year. That shows special care and commitment. It also builds lifelong solidarity and friendship.
A longtime fellow volunteer cites the Carpenters’ “incredibly big hearts, generosity, love for their fellow man, enthusiasm in the face of challenge, and always their love.”
In 2013, Ronnie Maher — another volunteer — had dinner with Sam, Sharon and the mayor of Nagarote. The mayor asked Sam why he was there.
“I’ve been very fortunate in my life,” he replied simply. “I can give back, so I do.”
Sam Carpenter, hard at work.
Nagarote knows and loves Sam and Sharon Carpenter. Many Westporters know and love them too — but may be unaware of their long and strong commitment to this Nicaraguan community.
That’s why they’re this week’s Unsung, but very worthy, Heroes.
(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email email@example.com)
Three years ago, Sharon Carpenter read Father James Martin’s “Jesus: A Pilgrimage.” The longtime Westporter was challenged and inspired by the Jesuit priest’s lighthearted yet loving exploration of ancient Galilee and Judea, and his exploration of how Jesus speaks to believers today.
When Sharon’s husband Sam decided to treat her to a 30th wedding anniversary trip to the Holy Land, he figured a Father Martin-led trip was just the ticket.
Father James Martin
Sam — who is not Catholic — did not realize Father Martin is a Big Name in Catholic commentary. A Wharton Business School graduate who entered seminary in 1988 after 6 years with GE Capital, he’s written extensively — and been interviewed by everyone from Bill O’Reilly to Stephen Colbert and Terry Gross.
Father Martin’s tour had been sold out for a year. The wait list held 400 names.
But Sam said if anyone dropped out at the last minute, they’d be ready to go.
Miraculously, there was a cancellation. Sam and Sharon got the call.
The trip was all she’d dreamed of. Father Martin was a warm, wonderful — and brilliant — guide.
Though Sam was the only non-Catholic in the group of 40, Father Martin asked him to read the Beatitudes at the Mount. “He’s that kind of guy,” she says admiringly.
Sharon and Sam Carpenter in the Holy Land.
After the trip, the Carpenters remained friends with Father Martin.
As the publication date neared for his new book, he asked Sharon to help with the launch.
Building a Bridge — appropriately published on Tuesday, during this month when the LGBT community celebrates Pride — is a passionate plea for Catholic leaders to relate to their LGBT flock with compassion and openness.
The book was a response, in part, to last year’s Orlando massacre at the Pulse club. Father Martin felt that Catholic church leaders had not spoken strongly enough about the LGBT aspect.
His voice is important: Earlier this year, Pope Francis appointed him a consultor for the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communication.
Sharon read the galleys. “He brings faith back to the basics,” she said. “It’s all about being sensitive and welcoming.”
Still, she wondered about the reaction if she tried to arrange a launch party here.
She needn’t have worried.
Father Andy Varga of St. Luke — the parish where Sharon has been active for 25 years — offered the church for an event. Father Tom Thorne of Assumption wanted it at his church too.
St. Luke was chosen to host the Thursday, June 29 (7:30 p.m.) talk, Q-and-A and book signing by Father Martin.
But there’s more. Father Varga put out the word to Westport’s interfaith clergy group. Father Thorne has publicized it in parishes around Fairfield County.
Other groups are also promoting it. The Triangle Community Center — Fairfield County’s LGBT organization — is all in. So are the Westport Library, Barnes & Noble, and the (Jesuit) Fairfield University bookstore.
Sharon’s book club and prayer group are also excited to hear Father Martin.
As Pride Month winds down, Sharon Carpenter could not be more proud.
(Click here for more information on Father Martin’s St. Luke talk.)
You or I see a UPS truck and think, “Great! A delivery!” (Or, “I can’t believe he parked his truck there!”)
Sharon Carpenter sees a UPS truck and probably thinks, “What that company did to my brother is despicable.”
Sharon is a longtime Westporter. Her brother — Brian O’Shea — got a job with UPS during college, and never left. He worked his way up the management ranks, doing important undercover theft work up and down the East Coast.
Sharon Carpenter and her brother, Brian O’Shea.
In late 2008 he was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. He kept working through brutal chemo. In fact, he used vacation days for treatment. When his supervisor encouraged him to take disability leave, he refused. His motto: “I live for my work.”
In December 2009 — after more than 36 years of service — Brian decided to retire. His oncologist told him his time was very limited. He’d lost over 50 pounds, weighing just 115.
He was 55, and fully vested in UPS retirement.
UPS Employee Services told him if he worked at all in January, he’d be entitled to his full yearly allotment of vacation days. A representative suggested a last day of actual work: January 8, 2010. Adding 6 weeks vacation and 5 personal days, his “retirement date” would be February 28.
Brian O’Shea with his 4 kids, when they were young.
“Brian was so proud when he signed the paperwork UPS sent in December,” Sharon recalls. “He was very happy, knowing UPS would take care of his 4 children after he died. They each would receive a monthly stipend for 10 years. That would be a life-changer for them. He had total belief in UPS, and was so dedicated to them.”
On February 12, Brian sat with his lawyer; Sharon; Sharon’s husband Sam (the trustee for his will), and his oldest child (the executor), to discuss his assets and obligations. He was so glad he had opted to take his pension as a “single life annuity with 10-year payment guarantee.” He emphasized the word “guarantee.”
Brian died February 21.
A thousand people attended Sharon’s brother’s wake. UPS was “great,” she says. They gave a lump sum payment, and kept in touch with the family. An HR rep told Sharon that monthly retirement payments would go to his family.
A month later, the same woman called. She told Sharon to expect a check for $100,000. It was Brian’s “death benefit.”
Sharon thought that was good news. Her voice cracking, the HR woman said, “It’s instead of retirement.” That retirement fund was about $500,000.
“Someone in Atlanta headquarters said that because he died 7 days before he officially retired, he was still an employee,” Sharon explains. “So he was not entitled to retirement pay.”
But, she says, when Brian was told to work 1 day in January, to be eligible for vacation and personal days, “everyone knew he was dying. He’d lost 65 pounds. He looked terrible. It was clear he wouldn’t make it all the way.”
No one, Sharon says, told Brian — and nowhere in the papers he reviewed was it mentioned — that he risked his pension by delaying retirement until February 28.
Sharon is a calm woman, but her voice grows steely. “Retirement is not a bonus. My brother put money into it for 37 years. This was something he earned. It’s all his family has.”
The family appealed through all the proper UPS steps. Each time, they were denied. “We’ve been at it for 4 years,” Sharon says. “They probably didn’t think we’d follow through.”
Finally, they hired a lawyer. It was not easy. “It took a month to find someone in Boston who was not already on retainer to UPS,” Sharon says.
The company has asked that the case be dismissed. A judge will rule soon.
“I can’t believe we’re the only people this happened to,” Sharon says.
“We’ve tried to do the right thing, step by step. We’ve dotted every ‘i,’ and crossed every ‘t.’ Now, we want people to know what’s going on.”
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