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  • Jordan D. Smith

St. Vincent Society Ramps Up Help for Army Vet

Edited 10/4/23: This story has been updated to reflect new information.

Curt Epps of Portland is not the kind of man to ask for help. An army veteran, Epps is used to being the one to show up to help others. “I rarely remember a time Curt had to turn down someone who needed his help. Now, he could use our help and encouragement,” says his ex-wife Joni Barner.

After graduating from Portland High School, Epps enlisted in the US Army in 1978. He served in the US Army in the 101st Airborne Division for three years on active duty and another 3 years on reserve. In the service, Epps wore a variety of hats from tank radio operator, to sharp shooter and even a helicopter based paratrooper.

Though Epps attended Portland High School and Barner St. Patrick , the couple were friends since their teens and married young. They have 4 children and 11 grandchildren. Despite the fact that the couple divorced after 37 years of marriage, they remain close friends. “Even though we are divorced and I am remarried, we still have an amazing friendship,” says Barner, “this is a testament to our faith and God’s love and faithfulness in our lives.”

Later in civilian life, Epps continued his affinity for being high in the air in his work as an electrical lineman for the Portland Board of Power and Light. In 1999, an accident on the job led to Epps being electrocuted while working on high power lines. Barner recalls that the incident knocked out power to half of the city. Epps suffered severe burns as well as nervous and spinal injuries in the incident. “He was electrocuted with 7200 volts,” says Barner, “and the doctors said it was an absolute miracle he survived.”

In recent years Mr. Epps has faced increasing mobility problems due to numbness and circulation problems in his feet and legs as well as arthritis in his hands. After several falls, Epps moved to a home in Sunset Ridge west of Portland. He is working with an occupational and physical therapist but now uses a wheelchair to get around, thus requiring a ramp to safely get in and out of his home.

The Epps’ first reached out to the VA and several veteran’s organizations for help but ran into hurdles as his disability was not related to his military service and he served during peacetime. That’s when the local chapter of the St. Vincent de Paul Society stepped up to help.

The Vincentians, as members of the society are called, are part of an international Catholic service organization. Their mission is to be, “a network of friends, inspired by Gospel values, growing in holiness and building a more just world through personal relationships with and service to people in need.” The organization was founded in 1833 in Paris and has since grown to over 1.5 million members in 150 countries.

The local chapter at St. Patrick Catholic Church was founded about a year ago. They have 14 active members who meet twice a month according to chapter president, Todd Davlin. In addition to helping neighbors in need, the group is committed to growing in faith and friendship. “When we meet, we pray, we review the upcoming Sunday Gospel reading and talk about it,” says Davlin, “we talk about service activities and who needs what support, we wrap up with prayer and if it’s a great meeting we’ll finish by sitting around eating sweets.”

The group purchased materials for Mr. Epps’ ramp and volunteered labor. That is the group's method– to adapt and help in whatever way is needed in a given situation. “...without St Patrick’s Church and St. Vincent Society, we would not have a ramp,” Barner says, “Curt, myself and our family are extremely grateful…for the society… for going above and beyond…,” to help. According to Barner, the ramp is now in use not only by Curt but also allows their seven year old grandson who uses a wheelchair to visit grandpa.

According to Davlin, the group is funded by donations. Father Mike Alber and St. Patrick Parish gave the group an initial input of $5000 which has been matched with over $3000 in other donations. In the year the group has been in existence in Portland it has funded over $8000 dollars in needs ranging from rental assistance, and utilities, to vehicle repairs. They have also supplied needs in in-kind donations including groceries, furniture, building materials, and even a lawn mower.

When a request for aid comes in usually through the parish office, a few members will visit the family in need and assess the need, pray with them and come up with a plan to meet it. “If there are immediate needs,” says Davliln, “we do our best to support.” To request assistance call the St. Patrick parish office at 517-647-6505. To learn more about the society or how to contribute to their work check out the local chapter’s website. If you’d like to help Curt Epps directly a Go Fund Me has been set up to help him with other financial needs related to his health needs.

Photo: Courtesy Joni Barner


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