Local students are gaining real-world experience by giving back to the community.
Teacher Alex Derma has been encouraging community involvement through his various custom woodworking classes at Elmira District Secondary School, facilitating projects such as custom toy builds, food bank bins and, most recently, a project to build birdhouse kits for community groups this school year.
Each year the Grade 11 class designs, builds and distributes custom toys to a deserving community group for Christmas.
The students are tasked with conducting research and collectively choosing a worthy organization. In the past, they have donated toys to places like Woolwich Community Services and women’s shelters, among others.
This year’s recipient was Sunbeam, a multi-site organization providing residential care, day programming and other services for individuals with developmental, physical and emotional impairments in the Waterloo Region.
For the organization’s Laura-Lee McKeown, the students’ generosity and creativity have come alive in the custom toys that have made a positive contribution to Sunbeam.
“Our vision is an exclusive community where people of all abilities are valued, so to me it really showed that these young people could see the value in the individuals that are supported and took the time to research and see what kind of toys would be valuable to them and pass them on,” said McKeown. “The toys went to our day program and we actually have a toy library here that, based on whatever program is going on or who is in the building at any point, they can go to the toy library and choose a toy to play with.”
Now, the Grade 12 class is gearing up to mass manufacture birdhouse kits for another cause, a Mennonite Central Committee auction. Under the supervision of teacher Randy Dyck, the project is set to teach students skills for mass manufacturing a woodworking project while providing an opportunity to make a wider contribution.
“We will be building birdhouses for the community; they are then going to sell as them as birdhouse packages. We are cutting all of the wood down for people and then there will be a package that they can purchase – we are the ‘IKEA’ for this community project,” Derma explained.
Having taught the class for many years, Derma always preaches the merits of such hands-on courses not just now but in learning life-long skills.
“I tell the kids the two biggest purchases you’re going to make in your life are your house and your car,” he said. “These are purchase you’re going to make, so it makes sense to know something about it and if you take this course in college its going to cost you thousands of dollars – so why not take it now when it’s free?”
While Derma got into teaching to help introduce more students to the value of a career in the trades, he says EDSS is a great tech school for promoting all students to fall in love with the possibility of working with their hands.
“We have a very, very good school for tech so it is a lot easier to present it to them that way. A lot of hardworking kids who have grown up using tools that already know how to do that,” he said. “That’s why I got in it to make sure that they knew that door was there.”
Their most recent project will take the students about two weeks to complete, spending each class dedicated to creating custom birdhouse kits. They will then be sold through the New Hamburg Mennonite Relief Sale at the end of May.