By Jef Tingley
While many altruistic people wait until the holiday season approaches to start purchasing gifts for children in need, a local group of seniors started constructing their contributions to the Hobby Crafters toy drive earlier this summer. Hobby Crafters is a foundation of volunteers that strives to provide free handmade wooden toys for more than 6,000 underprivileged children during the holidays. They have done so for 75 years. Knowing it would take them several months to create hundreds of handmade wooden toys, residents of Presbyterian Village North (PVN), a nonprofit senior living community in Dallas, set to work when the days were long and warm.
Bill Austin, who lives at PVN, contributed to the drive for many years before suggesting that fellow residents in the PVN Residents Woodworking Shop contribute to the drive too. When he presented the idea, several people at the community expressed interest in being involved. He then collaborated with Joe Brockette, a resident of PVN who coordinated the new woodworking shop project, to determine which toys the group would collectively make when they met on Saturday mornings from 9 a.m. to noon. After several months of hard work, the group is pleased to donate nearly 400 toys that will go to children in need in Dallas this holiday season.
“Giving back is the right thing to do, and it is extremely rewarding when you know the end result is a smile on a child’s face,” said Austin. “We made several toys including regular trucks and cars, ambulances, firetrucks, police cars and my personal favorite — high-wing airplanes. After we make a batch of toys, there is another group at PVN that paints and finishes each toy. In the past, I have also made cradles for baby dolls and a group of women at my church decorated them and made dolls to place inside. It’s a wonderful feeling coming together to make a difference in the lives of children.”
The PVN woodworking group began participating in the toy drive this past summer, and next year they have plans to begin their work in February. At the start of 2020, Austin will line up ideas for next year’s drive on the counter to see which ones residents are most interested in making, then create a game plan for the production of the toys.
“It’s a worthwhile project that benefits local kids, so we were eager to participate when Bill brought up the idea,” said Brockette. “Some of us worked with the organization in past years, so it was exciting to do it collectively as a large group. When we meet up to make the toys, Bill and I ensure we have all the necessary materials to produce 30 toys in each batch. Each toy takes a few weeks to complete, then we move on to the next toy or the next batch of the same toy we just completed. Since we are starting our work earlier next year, we foresee making at least 600 toys. With the combined efforts of the PVN woodworking group and the donations from other private woodshops and churches, 2020 is sure to be the most impactful year yet.”
Brockette became involved with woodworking when he took woodshop classes in junior high school. He developed his skills throughout the course of his life. When he moved to PVN, having access to a woodshop was very important to him, and he has led the community in maintaining one.
Brockette eventually spearheaded the relocation and remodel of the PVN woodshop. When the senior living community experienced a growth in population, he knew they needed to move the shop into a larger and more accessible space. With the help of Executive Director Bryan Cooper, a generous grant from the PVN Foundation and equipment contributions from fellow residents, they were able to renovate and outfit the former landscaping building with top-notch equipment.
The new woodshop opened in the beginning of 2018 and is a huge success. The result is a fun and safe place for residents to practice woodworking. However, before acquiring the privilege of working in the shop, residents must go through two orientations — one to see what equipment they are proficient with and where they need further instruction, and a second to go over safety. Ensuring that each resident knows what they are doing and that they are working safely is of the utmost importance. It is estimated that 20 to 30 residents visit the woodshop each month. Some work on philanthropic projects, while others work on personal projects or items on their “honey-do” lists.
Bryan Cooper, executive director of PVN, said, “We are really proud of their work and look forward to seeing what they produce next year.”