After battling through a season of depression brought on by retirement, Jeff Heston found purpose from a chance meeting in Ireland.
That trip to the British Isles introduced the Wilson County resident to the concept of the Men’s Shed: a nonprofit for retirees, veterans and more to bond over tackling hands-on projects and community service.
Now, Heston is laying the groundwork for Tennessee’s first shed here in Wilson County to help others find that same spark.
“When men stop working, and you take that title off the back end of their name, they lose an identity,” he said. “I used to be Jeff Heston, sales and marketing executive. You know who I am now? Jeff Heston. The people I used to work with side by side to get things done, I don’t have them around anymore.”
Heston had previously looked for ways to occupy his time, but instead he found a lack of activities for men in the same situation. When he took the matter into his own hands with an informational meeting for the Wilson County Men’s Shed, he was greeted with over a dozen attendees eager to get the project off the ground.
“You need to belong to something,” Don Davis of Lebanon said. “Instead of sitting at home, what are you doing? With this you’ve got something that will keep you involved, keep you active and keep you coming back. The thing is, when you’ve got a profession you’ve worked all your life and you retire, if you don’t keep doing what you’ve been doing you’ll lose it.”
Men’s sheds, which are located in eight countries, are self-run based on the skills of the people involved. Some days might involve getting together for a barbecue and welding session, while others could see the members learn about CPR or tai chi.
Service projects are another key aspect. That could mean putting together a wheelchair ramp for a disabled veteran or passing on trade skills to community youth.
“This is more of a hands-on exposure and an opportunity for men to use their skills,” Lebanon Senior Citizens Center Director Patti Watts said. “We do a lot of fun activities here, but the Men’s Shed is going to be more geared toward those skills and passing them down to younger people interested in getting involved.”
Heston said both young people and women are welcome to join the group, but the structure and benefits of sheds traditionally draw older men.
“As they always say, men don’t talk face to face,” he said. “Men talk shoulder to shoulder when they’re doing projects together. You can take a bunch of men, throw a bunch of broken stuff into a shed and come back three hours later. The broken stuff might not be fixed, but those guys know everything about each other because they’ve been in there screwing around with everything and trading ideas.”
For Heston, the first priority is to find more people interested in joining the group. Another meeting is scheduled for Feb. 20 at the Lebanon Senior Citizens Center, and those who attended the first one plan to bring back friends.
“Most people, when they start on a shed they think the shed is the first thing they do,” he said. “The men come first. I think we can find a shed or some place to go in the future. Once we find out what we want to be and how many guys we have, how big of a working place do we need? How do we work it out, and how do we lay it out? Those are all things the men will decide.”
According to U.S. census data, people in Wilson County ages 60 and older make up a combined 23% of the population, so people keeping up with the effort are confident in the demand for a shed.
“I think it’s going to be a big help for the county’s older men,” Watts said. “There’s been a lot of chatter about it, and Lebanon Mayor Bernie Ash even brought it up at the senior center’s last board meeting. In my experience, once there’s chatter about something you know there’s momentum.”
Veterans are another population Heston hopes to involve, and he is working with Wilson County Veterans Service Office Director ZaBrina Seay to keep that group informed.
“Our veteran population is also at risk for adverse health outcomes,” Heston said. “We’re getting more and more younger veterans coming back from service that need help, and they could use someplace to go during the day … and over the next 10 years, that number is going to continue to rise.”
Those interested in getting involved with the Wilson County Men’s Shed can call Heston at 931-287-4664 or email Jeff@TNMensSheds.org.
“This gives me a chance to take back a part of my life right now,” he said. “This gives me a chance to make some decisions I can’t make anyplace else. It’s a chance to meet with men, make some decisions, know we’re all in it together and have the same mindset.”