Written By: Tammy Pope
Photos Courtesy of: Kids Making It
Thirty years ago, a man came home from working as a full time lawyer, just like any other day. “Sit down right here on the porch—I gotta tell you something,” his wife said to him. “We’re having a baby.” It was that moment that everything changed for Jimmy Pierce. “All of a sudden, I knew just how wonderful kids were, and how we all have an opportunity to impact their lives in a positive way, and a responsibility to do that,” he says.
One late night, Jimmy was in the car with his wife and brand new baby boy, daydreaming and evaluating his life. Just then, he had an epiphany. If he could do anything in this world, he would teach woodworking to kids. “I had no idea how I would do it, or when, I just knew that if I could spend my life working with kids, teaching them woodworking as a vehicle to help them to learn good character traits and grow up successfully, that I would have the perfect job,” he explains.
Fast forward five years, and Jimmy was leaving work early on Friday afternoons to work with one foster teenager in his wood- working shop. Jimmy would let him be fearlessly creative whilst mentoring him every step of the way. Over the next few years, Jimmy gave up his law practice, taking a leap of faith to set off to teach woodworking to children full-time. Today, Jimmy’s dream has become a reality, as his organization Kids Making It reaches over 600 kids every year.
There are various programs for every level of woodworker. The kids start out in an introductory woodworking class where they learn how to use hand tools and work on small projects such as birdhouses or shelves. Once children turn 13, they are invited every day to the organization’s afterschool program where they get creative and continue to build upon their knowl- edge and skills. The students have the opportunity to keep their work or sell it in the Kids Making It gift shop on Castle Street. The young entrepreneurs earn 100% of the profit from the sale of any items they have made.
Opening this Summer – Kids Making It is adding 4,300 square feet to its existing building. The increase in shop space will serve as home to the Skilled Trades Program. In this pro- gram, teens are introduced to career opportunities in skilled trade fields. Kids Making It partners with area professionals and contractors to help introduce the basics of the construc- tion trades, such as electrical, plumbing, masonry, carpentry and HVAC. Kids Making It works with the students to secure entry-level positions on job sites, apprenticeships with area con- tractors and/or pathways to continuing education programs.
For young adults, there is an Apprenticeship Program, which is a part-time, paid training position which works as a stepping stone into employment in the private sector. In this program, students work to produce custom orders and laser engraved products which ultimately generate revenue. In turn, that rev- enue is used to help support Kids Making It free public youth programs.
Poverty is one of the most significant social determinants of delinquency, mental health issues and victimization. The chil- dren of Kids Making It are mostly from low income households. The marginalized youth Kids Making It serves are often caught up in a generational cycle which can be broken if they finish school and enter the workforce through significant and sustain- able employment. “We count success one kid at a time,” says Jimmy. The organization may create a fun atmosphere for kids to learn woodworking, but they are truly empowering these young adults to grow into responsible and hardworking mem- bers of society.