Column: Retiree finds purpose in children’s ministry


If Susan Barrett isn’t tired, she should be.

She taught every elementary school grade except first grade for more than twenty years in the Carmel Clay School System. During her time as a teacher she even advised the student council towards a $22,000 donation to Riley, which still stands as a record all of these years later.

Now retired since 1998, Susan Barrett is most famous for her work not as a teacher but as the angel behind the angel.

For Barrett, it all started back in 1976 when she joined Carmel United Methodist Church. As was tradition at Christmas time, the church provides gifts to children of incarcerated parents through their Angel Tree program.

One special year, Mrs. Barrett was assigned an angel for a child whose parent serving in prison happened to be the combined name of both of her sons.

She said, “At that moment I decided someday, when my schedule will allow, I am going to return to this program and volunteer.”

The year Susan Barrett retired is the same year she signed up to volunteer for the Carmel United Methodist Church Angel Tree Prison Ministry. And now, she runs it.

Working closely with Mike Podgorski, Susan and her team provide two gifts to each child. One gift is a toy and the other present is clothing. This past holiday season, more than 200 children received a bit of Christmas joy. And if not for the church, it wouldn’t have happened.

Staging the program is a monumental task. Organizing volunteers to purchase, wrap and deliver the packages is just the tip of the iceberg. According to Barrett, sometimes just finding the children and managing where they will be on delivery day is a significant challenge.

But as happens each year, after the worry, toil and stress is overcome, children receive their gifts and the mission is complete.

“People are so generous,” she said. “One man scooped up a pile of angels on distribution day. At first I wondered if he knew what he was getting in to, but he provided every gift he promised.”

Susan tells a story which sums up the humanity of the entire program:

She learned of a family whose mother was dying of cancer. When she asked the son if he had a picture of his mother, he said no. You can guess the rest. That child’s gift was a camera. Probably no way to measure the good that came from that camera.

That’s Carmeltude.

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