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PERSONAL BEST

Carpenter's Labor of Love Is Child's Play

September 18, 1997|DIANE WEDNER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Put a hammer or paintbrush in Brian Venter's hands and he gets fired up. Add a community project into the mix and the job is as good as done.

That's why it didn't take any coaxing this summer to get Venter, 51, to pitch in at Haven Hills when the crisis shelter put out an SOS for repair work on the facility's collapsing play structure. It was all in a day's work for Venter. Well, three days, but who's counting?

Venter, a Chatsworth cabinetmaker, was spurred to action when he saw that the unsafe jungle gym was preventing the children, who reside at Haven Hills to escape domestic violence, from enjoying an afternoon's romp outdoors.

"My life hasn't always been easy, so I understand people who suffer hardships," Venter said. "I have always felt that by giving, one feels better. This has always been a part of my life."

Venter's lifelong passion for his craft unfolded in his native South Africa, where he became a cabinetmaker after completing a five-year apprenticeship as a carpenter.

Unclear about his future in a country that was undergoing rapid change, he immigrated to the United States 11 years ago after a Southern California vacation.

After a bumpy start in which he worked on a construction crew for three years, he took the plunge and opened his own cabinetry business, working out of his garage until he could afford to rent workshop space in Chatsworth.

"I like the creative aspect of carpentry," Venter said. "I love the challenge of a new project. Life is too easy without a creative challenge."

The urge to fulfill his creative needs as well as pitch in with community projects propelled Venter to the Woodland Hills Rotary Club, a service organization that offers hands-on assistance to individuals and groups in need.

At a July concert in Warner Park, as Venter served hot dogs at the Rotary food concession, a fellow club member told him about the sorry state of the Haven Hills play structure, which had been cordoned off due to rotting wood. Venter was immediately interested in lending a hand.

Helping out at Haven Hills, one of his first projects for the Rotary Club, gave Venter as big a morale boost as the children who watched him put the finishing touches on the play structure each evening after he left his shop.

"The kids surrounded me while we worked. When we were finished, they were all smiles. The mothers were relieved too," Venter said.

"I was happy the kids could play together again and laugh and take off some of the stress."

"Brian is a hands-on guy," said Jim Howard, former Rotary Club president. "He's not a 'knife-and-forker'--someone who joins a club just to eat the meals. He was a new member and managed to lead his first project and take care of it quickly. He got the job done."

Although Venter claims he came late to volunteer work, he says he is committed to giving his time and talents where they're needed.

"I've been able to achieve goals I could only dream of before I came to this country," Venter said. "I've seen how hard it is for people in poorer countries. If I can help out here, I will."

Betty Fisher, executive director of Haven Hills, is grateful.

"Brian did a great job. His effort made a difference for the kids."

*

Personal Best is a weekly profile of an ordinary person who does extraordinary things. Please send suggestions on prospective candidates to Personal Best, Los Angeles Times, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth 91311. Or fax them to (818) 772-3338. Or e-mail them to valley@latimes.com

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