Thomas Conway,  center with his father, Jim, and Father John O’Kane, spearheaded the campaign at St. Isaac Jogues Church in Chestertown
that added a bathroom, two permanent classrooms, an office and a kitchenette at the parish. Conway needed to complete a service project
on his way to becoming an Eagle Scout. (Emily Benson photo)
Thomas Conway, center with his father, Jim, and Father John O’Kane, spearheaded the campaign at St. Isaac Jogues Church in Chestertown that added a bathroom, two permanent classrooms, an office and a kitchenette at the parish. Conway needed to complete a service project on his way to becoming an Eagle Scout. (Emily Benson photo)

It all started with a bathroom.

Actually, it started with no bathroom. St. Isaac Jogues Church in Chestertown didn’t have one on the second floor of its parish center, and it was becoming a problem. 

“The children would have to go downstairs to go to the bathroom,” said Barbara Carlozzi, pastoral associate for the parish. 

The church’s main offices and classrooms for youth ministry education are all located on the top floor of the center, making the trips up and down the stairs time consuming for the students and difficult for volunteers. “The elderly who donate their time (in the office) would have to go up and down the stairs in order to use the restroom,” Carlozzi added.

At the same time, Thomas Conway, a sophomore at North Warren Central High School in Chestertown, was looking for a service project. A Boy Scout since he was 11, Conway needed to complete a community service project on his way to earning the rank of Eagle Scout, the highest rank attainable in the Boy Scouts.

Conway was only 14 when he approached the par­ish about the project back in the winter of 2018. While Eagle Scout projects are designed to be challenging, Conway’s project was advanced, requiring electrical work, plumbing, permit and insurance clearance, and fund­raising to pay for the work.

Demanding as it was, after hearing that his own parish needed help — he’s currently in the youth ministry program — Conway knew this was what he wanted to do. 

“He’s an ambitious kid,” said Bill Jennings, scoutmaster for Conway’s troop. “He had the drive to do it and the mental ability.” 

A year since starting work at St. Isaac Jogues, the parish center now not only has a bathroom, but two permanent classrooms for religious education, an office and a kitchenette. 

“It makes this space up here so much more useful,” said Carlozzi, who utilizes the new office space. “It’s just so much easier and quieter, and the kids initially just ran down the stairs.”

The second floor of the center used to be a completely open space, with curtains strung over hangers to divide office space from the classrooms. Now, the upstairs is one long hallway with separate rooms allowing privacy for parish volunteers and students, as well as a separate kitchen and bathroom. 

“First, we came up here and took a look at (the space) and it seemed pretty crazy because the floor (and ceiling was slanted) and it’s an old room and you’re thinking how am I going to get a bathroom out of it,” Conway said. 

Conway started off fundraising with a GoFundMe page, which got a range of donations from parishioners and community members anywhere from $20 to 200. By the end, “it was enough to start,” Conway said.

After word got out about Conway’s goal to help the parish as part of his Eagle Scout project, an outpouring of community support brought the project to life.

Jim Conway, Thomas’ dad, told some of his co-workers about his son’s project to fix up the parish center. A few days later, they showed up to help: “(A co-worker) showed up here with his brother-in-law and all his tools; he just showed up,” he said. “And holy cow, they were here for a couple hours and they had everything completely framed. It was just a huge kickstarter.”

What’s more amazing is that wasn’t the only act of kindness; there were many. Throughout the year-long pro­cess of fixing up the center, more and more community members heard about the project and approached the Conways all saying the same thing: how can we help. 

One local couple, Albert and Eleanor Tolomeo, heard about the project and organized a fundraising concert at the parish featuring the Hudson River Chorale. Another local, chef Matt Bolton, culinary instructor and program leader at SUNY Adirondack, heard about the concert and had his class prepare all the food for the event. 

“(The concert) really took the stress out of how are we going to pay for this, because we didn’t need to worry about that at that point,” Jim Conway said. “And because there were so many people who were kicking in and helping out, it ended up not costing as much as we expected.”

“People would collect bottles and give me how much they raised in bottles, just random stuff like that and it just kept coming,” Thomas Conway said. “It was a lot of community support.”

Barbara’s husband, Bill Carlozzi, volunteered hours of time working on the project. Some of Thomas’ friends and Boy Scout troops came when they could to help. Because of all the extra hands, he ended with over $800 leftover from fund­­raising, all of which went right to the parish: “We greatly appreciate it,” added Father John O’Kane, pastor. 

“I’m really proud of this project, because it’s such a useful project, and to know he was able to do this,” Jim Conway said.