Woodworkers mentor Evansville youth

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Sunday, January 31, 2010
— Seventh-grader Nick Resendez carefully worked the piece of wood around the electric sander as Ron DeKelver watched.

When Resendez paused to check his work, DeKelver showed him how to create a smoother edge.

“Don’t push too much on it, then you’ll get grooves on it,” he said.

When they’re finished, Resendez will have a beautiful handmade bench for his grandparents.

The mentorship program started last fall between J.C. McKenna Middle School students and the Woodchucks, a woodworking group developed out of the senior center in Evansville.

Eighth-grader Nick Templeton built a bookshelf for his room.

“It just sounded fun,” he said of the program. “It’s really cool. You get to do more hands-on stuff.”

The Woodchucks formed in October 2008 after senior center leaders solicited ideas for new programming. Local woodworkers expressed interest, and the plan came together to use the school district’s old welding room behind the district office.

About $12,000 worth of woodworking equipment was purchased or donated. Members of the non-profit group have been donating their time for projects in the school and community. The group has more than 30 members, and all ages are welcome.

School social worker Mike Czerwonka last summer provided the spark for linking the woodworkers with students. School officials and Woodchuckers quickly jumped on board, and the program started with two seventh-graders and two eighth-graders.

Czerwonka and teachers found students who had morning study halls and would enjoy the hands-on learning.

The kids learned safety; how to use saws, drills and sanders, and how to glue, clamp and measure wood.

On a recent morning, the mentors spoke of how they keep the atmosphere light and fun, cracking jokes with the boys. It took awhile to get some of the boys to open up and trust the Woodchuckers, mentor Arthur Wynne said.

But all four students working on a recent day agreed they’ve had fun while learning.

“It’s pretty fun,” seventh-grader Dylan Rude said. “We get to come over here and build things and get used to the different kinds of tools.”

It’s his first venture in woodworking, and he made a bench to put inside the front door of his house.

The first woodworking project—clocks—went on display in the cafeteria.

“A lot of the kids were, ‘You didn’t make that! You’re in seventh grade like me,’” Czerwonka said. “You can just see the pride they take in the work they do.”

“One of my greatest thank-yous is the students get the recognition that the sports jocks get,” Woodchuck Al Trawicki said. “That brings them to the limelight in the school, too.”

Eighth-grader Brandon Haley worked on a TV stand, which he first drew on paper.

“I thought if I have the chance to make one, why not?” he said.

He originally brought his clock home for his mom, “but I saw how good it looked in my room, so I hung it up in my room,” he said with a laugh.

Czerwonka said he appreciates the quality that the Woodchucks do, so the kids pick up on that.

“They’re not just slapping something together,” he said.

Last updated: 12:17 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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