JCDC Woodworks: Providing Purpose Through Woodworking

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Disabilities do not define the individual. JCDC Woodworks in Ravenswood, West Virginia, demonstrates this daily by providing meaningful employment and learning opportunities—through woodworking—to individuals with intellectual, physical and emotional needs. Live edge tables and other household furnishings are carefully crafted one at a time, maintaining the natural edges and wood grain textures found in the Appalachian Mountains. Sales of these pieces help sustain the services offered.

Making sure the frame is square

“The furniture produced by the JCDC crew is top-notch,” said Woodcraft President and Chief Executive Officer Jack Bigger. “Part of our mission is to promote woodworking education, so Woodcraft and The Ross Foundation are glad to provide tools and assistance to this great program.”

EMPOWERING & EMPLOYING

Though JCDC (Jackson County Developmental Center) has been around since 1979, JCDC Woodworks didn’t exist a year ago. The not-for-profit group’s mission is to support people with disabilities, both in their daily lives and in employment. Whether it’s in sheltered employment or community-based occupations, JCDC helps individuals find, obtain and retain jobs in their communities. This also offers security to their families. JCDC provides a safe place during the day and helps each person grow into who they want to be.

Thanks in part to a donation from The Ross Foundation, some tools and advice from Woodcraft, and a lot of hard work by administration and employees, the Jackson County, West Virginia, furnituremaking business opened in August 2019 with five full-time employees.

According to JCDC’s Executive Director of 13 years, Craig Greening, “People with disabilities are capable of a lot of things.” By breaking down production jobs into tasks—either modified or repetitive, for instance—workers with varying degrees of disabilities are able to contribute to the creative process.

Craig has had a heart for the disadvantaged all of his life, particularly after seeing the impact his disabled sister had on their family when he was growing up. “I’m doing for other people what I couldn’t do for our family,” he shared. His teaching, woodworking and industrial arts backgrounds all combine to make him the perfect captain to “keep the ship going in the right direction.”  

INSPIRED BY GEORGE NAKASHIMA

Some of the pieces produced by JCDC Woodworks take inspiration from furniture designer and craftsman George Nakashima (1905-1990). His work embraced the unique qualities of wood, believing those qualities revealed the soul of the tree. He believed that the individuality of the wood should be celebrated, and that it was the role of the craftsman to bring it out.

That philosophy also translates to people. “We believe in celebrating uniqueness in life and in furniture!” Craig said.

For the furniture, that means a lot of live edges and natural wood tones showcased in functional, stylish and one-of-a-kind décor pieces. “We try to craft our furniture in a way that puts its natural beauty on display,” Craig said. Slab tables of various styles and sizes are popular offerings. Also offered for sale are charcuterie boards and cutting boards, especially around the holidays. “West Virginia state silhouettes have sold well too,” he said. Those incorporate modern CNC technology and sometimes epoxy but maintain the rustic look and functionality their customers love.

THE HEART OF THE BUSINESS

The JCDC employees share their talents in unique ways as well. The staff works with individuals who have survived a traumatic brain injury, are on the autism spectrum, have a developmental disability, or any number of other challenges to an independent lifestyle. But each one has something to offer. JCDC believes that everyone deserves a chance to make a difference in the world, and woodworking gives them that opportunity. “The disability is not the problem. The accessibility is the problem,” said Sara Rose, development and communications specialist for JCDC.

According to the Institute on Disability, if people with disabilities were a formally recognized minority group, at 19% of the population, they would be the largest minority group in the United States. “Society as a whole often doesn’t know what to do with people with disabilities,” Craig said. But JCDC aims to do their part by providing their employees with ways to contribute to society and their own wellbeing, in addition to sharing their works with the public.

Planing a board to thickness

“If you like your job and you’re happy to do it, you’re a happier person. You can say, ‘I had a hand in doing that.’ There is a sense of pride and accomplishment,” Craig said. Sara agrees. “We all want to have purpose. I can’t think of a better purpose than giving something the opportunity to find theirs.”

RESOURCEFUL USE OF MATERIALS

One of the many benefits of working with wood and creating unique pieces is the freedom to explore different ideas without a negative impact on the profit margin. “In fact, there are times the more creative the idea, the more valuable the product becomes,” according to Sara. “This provides a confidence boost to our employees, encouraging them to try new things and grow in their craft. This is a great way for them to experience the concept of ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained,’ with minimal negative impact.”

To maximize every learning and earning opportunity, JCDC fashions wood remnant pieces into cutting boards, award plaques, candleholders, clocks and serving trays. George Nakashima once said, “Each tree, each part of the tree, has its own particular destiny.” JCDC even provides the sawdust and chips to individuals who use them as bedding material for their animals. “We don't believe in ‘scrap’ wood here,” Craig said.

ROOTS AND WINGS

The employees at JCDC Woodworks are gaining valuable life and trade skills, along with a connection to their community through woodworking. Craig couldn’t be more pleased with the company’s first year of operation, knowing they have been able to sustain their operation while providing a better quality of life for its employees. “It’s a great sense of satisfaction to know that these people have somewhere to go, learn, grow and be. Not only do they earn their paychecks, but they are in an environment where they are secure, supported and cared for every day.”

To view JCDC Woodworks’ online store, visit jcdcwoodworks.com. Locally their pieces can be found in select retail locations in Ravenswood, W.Va., Charleston, W.Va., and St. Albans, W.Va. You can also follow them on Facebook at JCDC Woodworks.

We hope youll be inspired! 

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