Woodworkers Build Brighter Days
Building from an idea
With the right tools—a caring disposition, generous supporters, and a love of woodworking—Donny Wilson of Altoona, IA and Mark Frederick of Norwalk, IA, have built something incredible. Their non-profit organization, The Brighter Day Group, hand-crafts dining sets and bunk beds for underprivileged families. "We see those as basic things people need," says Frederick. "They need a place to eat and a place to sleep."
The idea was born following a unique annual event at Valley Evangelical Free Church, West Des Moines, IA called the "Garage No Sale." The church collects used clothing, appliances, furniture, and other items, sets them up like a garage sale, and then invites needy individuals to shop for free. "Donny was the one who noticed that people were thrilled to get furniture for free that was really just worn out furniture," says Frederick. The two men—neither of them professional woodworkers—kicked around the idea of building new, hand-crafted furniture to donate to the cause, and in no time the Brighter Day Group was formed.
Growing pains and gains
After turning out two dining room sets and two bunk beds their first year, word spread of their efforts, and by the next year, the group had grown to 35 members and doubled their production.
How do they do it? Without a centralized space, both admit that it is no easy task. "It's hard to organize 30 people to cut out parts and assemble when they are all in their own garages," says Wilson.
The basic blueprint: "Find people to get involved, give them material and plans, and give them a deadline," says Frederick. The two men soon discovered that extensive up-front planning was necessary to bring together such an undertaking. Frederick, collaborating with Wilson, used his experience as a software developer to create detailed plans for each and every piece.
"We had 17 or 18 people come over to my house and each of them took away lumber with individualized plans," Wilson says. "A month later 40 or 50 parts walked back in and only one part needed to be redone, and that was because the drawing was wrong. In actuality, we had 100% accuracy."
By interviewing interested participants, Wilson and Frederick gauge the workload each person can handle and ensure each volunteer takes a piece they can comfortably make by the deadline.
"The dining room chair is made up of parts made by multiple people in their garages," Frederick says. "When you look at that chair, it's neat to see how far it's moved for miles and miles from place to place and finally to someone's house."
Volunteers donate their time and skills; a local hardwood dealer, Liberty hardwoods, donates all of the lumber. Donations come in all forms, from warehouse space to project designs. A local grocery store chain donated Thanksgiving dinners to accompany each dining room table, and Slumberland, a furniture retailer, supplied mattresses for each bunk bed.
Demand causes distribution change
As the Brighter Day Group has grown exponentially, so has the demand for their furniture, so the group now organizes distribution differently, using their own selection process. Also, they plan to start producing a surplus in advance of requests. By building an inventory, the Brighter Day Group will be able to distribute pieces as the need arises. Recently, they received an email from the Iowa National Guard Family Assistance Program informing them that one of their families was in need. Within a week, the group had completed a bunk bed to be delivered to the family.
"It comes down to wanting to be able to do something to give back," says Wilson. "There are a lot of things I could do, but there are few things I have a real passion for like woodworking."
For others who share that desire, Frederick offers a few words of advice. "Start small. Find someone and work together on a project and give it away," he says. "Donny and I worked a lot of late nights, but when we saw the faces and the families who got those things, it rejuvenated us to do it again."
Wilson agrees: "One family that got a bunk bed our first year was a single mom with three kids all sleeping on the floor. I was there when she picked it up, and the look on her face when she realized what she was getting for free was priceless."
Visit the Brighter Day Group at www.thebrighterdaygroup.com.
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