Woodwise and Hope Summer Woodshop

For the past seven weeks, a consistent group of eight teens have been building wooden stools with Andrew Mollenkof at Hope for the City, just down the road from Glass Street in the Avondale neighborhood in East Chattanooga. The summer project has been a partnership between local artist Zachary Reynolds of Woodwise and the career initiative and training side of the community programs offered at Hope. 


The program effectively met its goal of instilling confidence and skillfulness in the participants, most using power tools and following design instructions for the first time. As the guys proudly displayed their skills and asked detailed questions about this or that step or adjustment, it was clear they had come a long way toward developing marketable skills and camaraderie with their peers and mentors.

Reynolds and Mollenkof discussed the surprises involved in pioneering a new initiative. According to Mollenkof, the trust foundation has been a large part of the effort and investment. He reflected that at the beginning, they overestimated the amount of kids they wanted to train. “Now I’m so glad we had a smaller, more focused group. This size allows everyone to feel useful and included, minimizing lag time and boredom. It also makes it a little easier to build rapport, and with that, there aren’t any shortcuts.”


As for Reynolds, the experience has presented a bold picture of how to take an artistic and practical design, pair it with a generous grant, and watch what others’ energy and vision add to the mix. Glass House Collective sponsored Woodwise in officially processing Reynolds’ grant from the McKee Family, and together they sought out a wise fit in the community where his skills could make the most effective impact. Reynolds himself remains occupied most days at his studio on Glass Street as a full time artist, but has been by to work with the trainees. He hopes to find a strong customer base for the finished stools. “Now that we have built up some inventory, we can figure out the kind of finish or stain we want to use, and get these to interested buyers.”


As for the kids themselves, many now envision going into woodwork or larger-scale construction as a future career move, even approaching local businessmen for potential interviews. As for the immediate future, they are looking forward to attending summer camp together next week out in Golden, Missouri, as a fitting celebration after all they have achieved.


 Written by: Whitni McDonald

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