Whirling saws, pounding hammers, and the pungent smell of wood stain means it's another productive day at Riderwood, an Erickson Senior Living community in Silver Spring, Md. Specifically, Riderwood's ever-popular, on-campus woodshop.
With more than 80 members, the Riderwood Woodcrafters create and repair items for themselves, their neighbors, and the local community using an impressive range of hand and power tools - all provided by the community at no cost.
“Our group enjoys spending time together and working with our hands on a variety of projects,” says resident Tom Mertz, chairman of the Riderwood Woodcrafters.
Tom, a former builder and remodeler who moved to Riderwood with his wife Pam McGhee in the summer of 2019, says that working with his hands comes naturally.
“Joining the Woodcrafters was a perfect fit,” he says, with gratitude. “I immediately began meeting new people. It’s a great group that enjoys learning new skills and sharing personal experiences.”
Many of the most active Woodcrafters enjoy volunteering their time and talents toward efforts aimed at helping those in need.
“It’s so good to have a goal,” says Tom. “It gives us all a purpose.”
Nearly two decades ago, the Woodcrafters began working with local Habitat for Humanity chapters to construct kitchen cabinets, bathroom vanities, and chairs. All items are given to those with housing needs in the Washington, D.C., area and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.
In recent years, the Woodcrafters dedicated their time to purchasing and cutting lumber for the creation of Personal Energy Transportation (PET) vehicles. These three-wheeled, off-road carts, operated by a hand crank, provide life-changing convenience to mobility-impaired adults and children in developing countries. Funds for the project were donated by the Circle Fellowship Church Missions Ministry and Riderwood community members.
The wooden pieces constructed by the Woodcrafters were delivered to a plant where they were assembled into carts, then tested, boxed, and shipped. Over the course of two and a half years, the Woodcrafters provided more than 20,000 components that were used to construct 400 carts.
“Although I am not a craftsman, I am interested in doing small jobs or helping out with the day-to-day needs of the organization,” says David Bagwell, Riderwood resident and secretary of the Woodcrafters. “I enjoyed working with the group on the PET project. The carts we helped create allow those with mobility restraints to participate more fully in their communities.”
A place to study
In response to the exponential growth of remote learning among local schools that occurred during late 2020, the Woodcrafters began building desks for students to use at home.
“Pam saw a piece on the internet about dads building desks for kids learning at home,” says Tom. “She thought it would be a great project for the Woodcrafters. I polled our members and received positive responses. We found some plans for a fairly simple desk, and off we went.”
To help identify the most immediate need, the Woodcrafters reached out to local elementary schools. With materials purchased from local suppliers and funded by generous Riderwood residents, the Woodcrafters delivered 36 desks to local families.
Everyone is welcome
While some of the Woodcrafters’ busiest members bring extensive woodworking knowledge to the shop, others are just discovering a love for the skill.
“I only have a little background in woodworking,” says resident John McMahon. “Many of those in the shop have a much more extensive background than I do.”
As a former mechanical engineer, John puts his talents to use by taking on many of the maintenance and repair jobs that come into the shop.
“I worked on the PET project as well as the earlier cabinet-making for Habitat for Humanity,” he says. “Currently, I am involved with making replenishment birdhouses for Riderwood. I also assist in repairing furniture for Riderwood residents. Doing something for others just makes you feel good.”
This sentiment of good will is a driving force behind the continued growth of the Woodcrafters year after year.
“There is so much to learn from our members, all of whom are happy to teach and share their knowledge,” says Tom. “Joining the Woodcrafters is a great opportunity to learn a new skill.”
“We are one of the longest-running clubs at Riderwood,” adds Tom. “Our members enjoy sharing their love of woodworking. This year, we hope to attract new members and identify new ways to help others.”
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