Many in our community are familiar with our beautiful Orange Schools campus which sits on nearly 250 acres, ripe with picturesque paths and scenic leaf-infused umbrellas, with crisscrossed fallen trees dotting a local stream.
What most people are not familiar with is what becomes of those felled trees. Some would merely discard the dead trees as useless. But the students in teacher Aaron Mayer’s Wood Design class are using that wood to make a difference.
“We use that wood for a cause and it makes us all feel good,” noted junior Max Gordon who has been a fixture in the various wood design classes. “This class is a life lesson. We’re not just fixing something; we get to see the final outcome and how it’s being used to help others.”
Gordon has spent the last three years using the wood from the felled trees to create projects that are not only beautiful to behold but also serve others. Most recently, he and his classmates completed their latest project – two “Buddy Benches” for Moreland Hills Elementary School.
“The Buddy Bench is a creative and unique way to encourage our MHS students to assist and support one another in growing friendships by putting social skills like caring for others, including others, and finding common interests taught at home and here at school into action,” said MHS guidance counselor Lidia Frabotta.
After seeing a prototype for the Buddy Bench, Frabotta and fellow teachers and parents thought it would be a great asset for the Elementary School. In an effort to expand the project to be a collaborative effort within a larger community of Orange students, the committee chose to utilize the resources and talents within the high school woodshop program to construct the benches under Mayer’s direction…using the wood available from the campus.
Mayer knew right away it was a perfect project for his students.
“You have to make the students be a part of the project to help others. Once we come up with the ideas, we get them actively involved in the project. It’s all about what we can do to benefit others through the classroom projects and then go forth from there,” he said. “The students have to realize that their talents can be helpful to others, and hopefully they can see the connection beyond the classroom and how they’re going to use those skills later in life.”
The high school students saw the prototype and immediately went to work. The boxes holding flowers on either side of the bench were made from recycled pallets that would normally be discarded. The lumber directly from the campus was cut and dried and used to create the bench itself. Now the bench sits near the playground at the elementary school…and when a student is feeling lonely, he or she sits on the bench and a nearby student seeing this immediately comes to offer an opportunity for companionship.
“If you don’t know who is sitting on the bench, you can make a new friend,” said kindergartner Dora Russo, who was briefed along with her classmates on the purpose of the Buddy Bench by teachers and older students.
“If people are being left out of games, they could sit and talk and make new friends,” said third grader Andrew Leonard. “It’s great!”
The Buddy Benches are just the latest endeavor for the OHS Wood Design Class students. For a number of years the students have created original wooden pens for soldiers serving overseas. As part of the Freedom Pens Project, students use
their time, talent, and services to craft beautiful writing instruments for the military. Their efforts did not go unnoticed; students heard directly from many of those servicemen and women whose hearts were touched.
“Thanks for taking the time to make this (pen). You did a nice job on the workmanship. The ink is good quality, too…People look at it and say something like, ‘Cool pen! Where did you get it?’” wrote Major Neil J. Helbling, a Laboratory Flight Commander in the United States Air Force, serving in Afghanistan. “I tell them that a thoughtful student at a high school in Ohio made it for me. I like to share stories like this; it warms our hearts to know that people back home haven’t forgotten that there are still American troops who are over here serving in harm’s way.”
“It’s really cool to get letters and pictures back from the soldiers to show they received them and how happy they were to receive them,” said ninth grader Carney Blake. “It makes me want to do projects like this again and again.”
Sophomore Alex Macauda was so inspired that he asked for his own lathe (a wood-shaping machine) at home.
“After I started making a few pens, I found that it came easy to me. So after I got a lathe for my birthday, I started making pens for my friends and family,” he said. “I learned that you can express yourself through woodworking by putting your own flair on different kinds of things that you make.”
And there are many such projects to design. Students crafted beautiful flag memorial cases from the same wood harvested directly from the felled trees on campus. Those cases were then donated to families of servicemen killed in the line of duty.
When students saw a need for new podiums for the high school, the Board Room, and the New Directions facility, they did not hesitate for a moment. When special education teachers saw a need for an iPad holder for a student’s wheelchair, again the Wood Design students stood ready, willing and able. They came up with their own design that allowed the special needs students more independence and better focus….all by using materials right from their own backyard.
“We were able to use the Wood Design class to do something for the school and others,” said junior Talia Zaverdinos. “It helped us make a difference because it showed us that we can make stuff that could literally change other people’s lives.”
Mayer noted that some students will take the class initially as an outlet to get away from some of their high-stress classes. What he has found is that, for many of those students, the classroom becomes a home where students want to spend even more and more time.
“Initially I thought it would be cool to do something different than just art class, something I wouldn’t normally be able to do,” said Blake. “There are so many tools in this classroom. I have not only gained knowledge on how to fix basic things around the house and how to be smart about safety, but I have learned that we can help people by the skills we acquired here.”
According to Mayer, those skills will continue to be put to good use as students continue to design and build, limited only by their own creativity, the abundant natural resources they have right at their own fingertips...and time.
“It’s something I constantly think about,” said Mayer. “I wish we were even able to do more. It can be a rough balance, but it’s one of the overall goals of the shop: Do something for somebody else. Use your talents, and be the change.”