Woodcraft Applauds AAW Youth Turning Program and Local Outreach

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A young turner shapes a Christmas tree on the lathe as an American Association of Woodturners volunteer watches during a Youth Turning Workshop at the AAW Symposium in July. (Photo by Andi Wolfe)

Thirty-seven young people, ages 10 to 18, participated in the Youth Turning Program classes at the American Association of Woodturners Symposium held in Raleigh, North Carolina, in July. Wounded veterans, high school students and the visually impaired also shared instructional space as part of this program sponsored by Woodcraft and 11 other woodworking companies.

When the AAW (American Association of Woodturners) launched the Youth Turning Program 15 years ago, the goal was to interest young people in woodturning by providing hands-on instruction. So far, 681 youth have participated at least once. If you include students who have attended multiple times, the number jumps to 824. There is no limit to the number of participants. Youth can register to take part as long as they have an adult registered at the annual symposium.

A few years ago, the Lighthouse for the Blind program founded by Andi Sullivan was invited to use the workshop space and equipment so the visually impaired could learn woodturning. This year two additional groups from the local community were invited for turning instruction: 15 veterans from a Wounded Warriors group and Cedar Ridge High School woodworking students.

“Woodcraft is pleased to support the AAW Youth Turning program and the additional opportunities for other groups to learn woodturning,” Vice President of Sales and Marketing Beth Coffey said. “Woodcraft is committed to providing educational options for woodworkers at all skill levels, so support for this program fits that goal.”

The 26 face shields Woodcraft donated became part of the 15 tool packages given to youth participants, 10 packages for the Educational Opportunity Grant (EOG) recipients, and one provided to the Lighthouse for the Blind program established in Raleigh in conjunction with the symposium.

Youth Turning Program

An AAW volunteer helps a young turner guide her woodturning tool to shape wood on the lathe. (Photo by Andi Wolfe)

This young woodturner concentrates on tool control as he shapes a project on the lathe, while an AAW volunteer observes. (Photo by Andi Wolfe)

The 37 youth participants, ranging in age from 10 to 18, could choose from a variety of small projects such as pens, key rings, a Christmas tree or ornament, a kaleidoscope, or a magic wand. Their creations were displayed in the AAW Instant Gallery, an open member show that features more than 1,000 wood-turned objects by woodturners attending the symposium.

Fifteen of the young turners went home with complete turning packages consisting of a mini lathe with stand, face shield, turning chuck, turning tools, and a safety drive. Names of youth who participated in at least one turning rotation were entered in a drawing for the packages.

Winners of the tool packages this year are Evan Butcher, Katie Cookman, Michael Crescenti, Jr., Nathan Douphrate, Casey Drees, Avery Gifford, Malia Larochelle, Jacob Philip, Julie Piotrowski, Jarrod Ray, Jr., Chip Raynor, Liam Reinhardt, Daniel Short, Thomas Slaten, Jaxson Strickland, and Lydia Terdik. (Casey Drees won a lathe but withdrew his name so his friend, Avery Gifford, who was an alternate, could have it).

Thank-you notes written by winners include this one from Evan Butcher:

Dear AAW and Sponsors,
Thank you for giving me and the other kids this opportunity to learn new things. Also thank you for putting the time and effort in the youth turning part of the symposium. Finally thank you very much for the opportunity to win a lathe and tools. It is greatly appreciated and will make lots of pens and snowmen and much more.

Educational Opportunity Grants 

Ten Educational Opportunity Grants are available each year to selected applicants for woodturning education, and applicants need not be members of AAW. Youth Program Chair Larry Miller said this year seven grants went to individuals and clubs and the other three to schools. Each grant provides a lathe and tool package.

Instructors Include Former Youth Participant & Blind Turner

Instructors for the nine Youth Turning Program classes included Kip Christensen, Katie Stofel, Andi Sullivan, Allen Miller, Amy Costello, Steve Cook, and Paul Carter. 

Katie Stofel – Anticipating a Career in Woodturning

Katie Stofel, a former Youth Turning Program participant, switched roles in 2019 and was the instructor at two sessions. (Photo courtesy of Kara Stofel)

“I absolutely love working with the youth; there’s nothing like seeing their faces light up after finishing a project!” Katie Stofel said. The Columbia, Tennessee, resident taught the youth to turn a Christmas ornament stand and a coffee scoop at the 2019 AAW Symposium.

“I participated one year in the youth program; if I had known about it sooner I would have been there,” Katie said.

Katie’s grandfather was a hobbyist woodworker, and he introduced Katie and her twin sister Kara to the craft. They needed a shop, but Katie said her grandfather was so busy she doubted he would ever build one. Then one day she looked out the kitchen window and saw a Frito-Lay 18-wheel truck come up the driveway and park. Thanks to their grandfather, they now had an instant shop. Although her sister finally opted to spend more time studying for school, 14-year-old Katie was “loving every minute” of her time in the shop.

“My grandfather began to teach me how to make cutting boards and a baseball bat on the lathe, and from there I was on my own,” Katie said. She began to watch YouTube videos as her interest in woodturning grew.

Today 19-year-old Katie is a student in marketing at the University of Tennessee. She hopes to make woodturning her full-time career after graduation – and build an actual shop! She already owns her own business, Frito Woodworking.

“I have been teaching kids and adults how to turn pens and coffee scoops for the past two years now,” Katie shared. “I love watching beginners turn and showing them some of the ins and outs of turning. This past November I took my JET mini lathe to the UTC and let about a dozen students turn pens for Christmas presents.”

Her advice to young people interested in woodworking or woodturning: “Don’t be afraid to reach out to other woodturners you see on Instagram or at symposiums; they’re all here to help!”

Andi Sullivan – Another “First” & a New Challenge: Finding a Corporate Sponsor

Andi Sullivan, who is visually impaired, was one of the instructors for the Youth Turning Program classes at the 2019 AAW Symposium. (Photo by Andi Wolfe)

A panel discussion at the 2013 AAW Symposium led Andi Sullivan to found the Lighthouse for the Blind program in Tampa, Florida, where the symposium was held that year. That in turn led to Sullivan and the AAW partnering to establish Lighthouse for the Blind programs in each city that has hosted a symposium – Tampa, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Kansas City, Missouri; Portland, Oregon; and now Raleigh, North Carolina.

Andi is passionate about the Lighthouse program and anything that will help the disabled.

“When you have challenges or disabilities, the world becomes a lot smaller. Woodturning opens it up. You come out with a pen or a key ring. It gives you confidence. It empowers you. You think, ‘If I can do this, I do something else too.’”

She speaks from personal experience. In addition to a genetic condition called cornea dystrophy, she has survived three strokes—the last one rendering her blind—and lives with a heart condition and lupus. Told she would never walk again, she went into the pool every day and did rehabilitation until she was able to walk. In 2010, Andi discovered woodturning and that has changed her life.

To learn more about Andi, read this Woodworking Adventures blog: Andi Sullivan - Opening Up the World of Woodturning to the Blind & Disabled.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Services for the Blind, referred the visually impaired clients who participated in the 2019 Lighthouse for the Blind turning sessions.

Malcolm Zander, who assists Andi Sullivan, said professional turner Alan Leland has agreed to teach the division’s staff to turn, using the tools donated through the program. The staff will then work with their visually handicapped clients going forward.

Participants in the Lighthouse for the Blind 2019 turning session show off the pens they turned – nine participants including staff. (Photo by Malcolm Zander)

Teaching the Youth – a First for Andi

Although she has been an instructor for the Lighthouse for the Blind workshops since they began, this was the first year Andi was asked to also teach youth workshop sessions – one for pens and key rings and a second for a kaleidoscope.

“The youth were terrific,” Andi said, “and we all worked together like we had been in class together for years. They would bring their items for me to feel.”

She said her husband, Dr. Allen Miller, helped with all the sessions. “He was our troubleshooter. He did a great job.”

In addition to teaching turning sessions, Andi also moderated one of the panel discussions, “Woodturning with Physical Limitations.”

“We had many questions concerning how to turn when you cannot stand long,” Andi explained.

“There are now sit-down stands that can be modified to many lathes. In fact, we have one at our school donated by Brent English with Robust Tools.” Andi said the panel session was taped and should be going up on the AAW website soon.

Andi describes her life as “always trying to break through some kind of ceiling.”  Her next “ceiling”: “I am hoping to find a corporate sponsor for the Lighthouse for the Blind programs. At present, the programs are funded by local woodturning clubs and private and corporate donations.”

She estimates it takes about $1,500 for supplies to operate a Lighthouse for the Blind program each year, which would be a total of $10,500 for the seven programs currently in operation.

Planning for each Lighthouse session takes Andi about a year, so she will begin soon looking for a school or group to participate in the local Lighthouse for the Blind program in Louisville, Kentucky, the site for the 2020 AWW symposium.

Andi will also be calling to check on the other seven programs as she continues her search for a corporate sponsor to keep the programs available to the disabled.

AWW volunteer John Buccioni helps turner Sarah Dodson guide her tool as she turns a pen in the Lighthouse for the Blind turning session. (Photo by Malcolm Zander)

Hats Off and a High Five to the American Association of Woodturners for supporting the Youth Turning Program, the Lighthouse for the Blind program, and for inviting Wounded Warriors and high school students to learn the satisfaction of transforming a piece of wood into something useful and/or a piece of art.

If you know anyone interested in learning to turn in between Symposiums, send them to the nearest Woodcraft store to check out the woodturning classes!


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