The Building Brighter Futures Luncheon by Kids Making It (KMI) is Thursday, May 10 at 11:00am at the First Baptist Church Activities Center on Independence Blvd. The guest speaker is Kevin O'Connor from This Old House-and Charlie Silva is coming from Boston as well.
Tickets are free and scarce; good luck. Listen to KMI's Founder and Executive Director Jimmy Pierce above and see our extended interview below. Another way to support this program now is through this online raffle.
Gina: Jimmy Pierce, what is going on at Kids Making It?
Jimmy: Wow. A lot is going on at Kids Making It. We are about to break ground on our new skill trades building to teach the basics of the skill trades; electrical, plumbing, HVAC, construction, carpentry, masonry. In the meantime, we are having our annual fundraising event and it's a luncheon. It will be next Thursday. As always, we don't charge anything to attend. We just ask people to see the program- it's an hour or so- and if they feel so moved at the end they can write a check. That's the nuts and bolts. There's a lot more to talk about, but that's basically it.
Gina: What is Kids Making It all about?
Jimmy: Kids Making It serves over 500 kids a year from ages seven all the way through early adulthood. We have a variety of programs all kind of geared towards helping kids connect work to income and learn to use their hands. Our goal is really for every child not to become a carpenter or woodworker, but basically to stay in school and stay out of trouble, graduate and go on to a successful adulthood through either jobs or college. So we start with an introductory classes for preteens where they get to build something that they get to keep and then we talk to them about when they become a teenager, how they can come every day or on a regular basis to our after school program. In that program it's not hand tools. We have hand tools and they use them, but it's also a complete power tool shop.
We also have an entrepreneurship. Part of that is they get to sell whatever they make, if they want to. When you come to our shop, you first come into our gift shop and it's all stuff made by our kids. We write checks every month. They earn all the profits on their sales. So it's a way for them to earn income when they're too young to really have a job. Thirteen years old and they're making money. Everything from cutting boards to handcrafted pins to bird houses. I have someone coming in this afternoon to pick up an octagonal table that one of our more advanced woodworkers built. In addition to that, we have a summer jobs program. We partner with the Blue Ribbon Commission on that and we put typically 30 to 40 kids a summer in paid jobs. We have a partnership with the city and some other funders and the county all helps us with that program.
It's is a way to give kids a paying job in the summer when otherwise you're kind of just doing whatever you can do as a teenager. So for kids who graduate- and we have a hundred percent graduation rate, which is great- but for those who are not going to go to college, we offer an apprenticeship program where they can become employees of Kids Making It. We do custom woodworking for the public. We make large quantities of things like cutting boards and plaques. We made the Martin Luther King commemoration plaque that is now hanging in Wilson commemorating the 50th anniversary of his death. That's a way to give kids a job, a paycheck and help them learn good work skills.
The program that I mentioned a few moments ago is our skilled trades program. We're going to be teaching the basics of the skill trades to kids and we'll place those who really strike an interest in plumbing or electrical or whatever it might be with a contractor in a summer job through the summer jobs program. We'll also be able to place them in eight week apprenticeships on contract with contractors on job sites through our partnership with another non-profit. We want the kids do the heavy lifting. They do the work, but we tell them when they first come in, "We're with you forever. We want you to succeed. We will help provide opportunities, help open doors, give you the tools to build your own life successfully.” Many come for years on end and I could talk for hours about success stories.
Gina: The thing about Kids Making It is it's doing lots of great things and there's not really anything else that's doing that work with our kids in the community.
Jimmy: No, there's not. In fact, I learned from a place in New England that just reached out to us- they've become an institutional partner with us- they did a national search for programs like ours to partner with and he said, "I only found you guys." So I think it's fairly unique, but I'll tell you it works. I do a lot of presentations to other communities to show them how they can do the same thing in their community.
Gina: Kids used to learn skills- how to use tools, how to use their hands- through programs in schools. That just doesn't happen anymore.
Jimmy: It has slacked off a lot. I don't want to say it doesn't happen, but when I was in high school way back in the day, you could take shop class or auto body repair, mechanics class and a lot of that's gone. We have some of it in New Hanover County, but I will tell you, I'm really excited about the new SEA Tech high school, the vocational high school that's coming on board and we're going to be partnering with them. So it's coming back. People are realizing the value of it, but the truth is, even if we had this available in school for every kid every day after 3:30, there is a time in there where if parents are working, what's your child doing? Well, they can come to Kids Making It and make money, have fun, learn skills.
Gina: Is it all boys?
Jimmy: Oh no, no. When I did the grant report not too long ago, it was something like 47 percent girls and 53 percent boys. Oh yeah, we got girls. The girls are often better than the boys because I think for some of them anyway, their attention span is a little better. They're not trying to rush it and push through it. They're taking the time.
Gina: Tell me about the luncheon.
Jimmy: It's Thursday, May 10th at the First Baptist Church Activities Center on Independence Boulevard, there behind the mall. We are very fortunate to have special guest speaker Kevin O'Connor, who is the host of This Old House, the PBS television show, along with Charlie Silva, who owns Silva Brothers Construction. They do all the renovations on all of the project houses on This Old House. They're both flying down from Boston to be with us. You may know one of our young men last year was chosen to be on the cast of This Old House. He spent the summer in Boston and was on the show all throughout the following winter. Austin Wilson, a wonderful young man. Started with us when he was 12, but very sadly, while he was in Orlando in January doing the international home builders show, he passed away.
He had a longstanding preexisting medical condition that was pretty benign, but unfortunately, it got the better of him. Austin was always a very strong role model for our younger kids and he continues to be, even though he's no longer with us. This Old House took to him and befriended him and took him under their wing all through the summer. He was just a very likable young man. Very genuine. They offered to come down to be part of our fundraiser and they'll be talking about the value of the skill trades and the need for construction workers. There's an electrician here in town I heard about recently, works by himself and does only service calls, he made over $300,000 last year just by himself. You can make a good living at it and that's what we're doing with our skill trades program where they're going to be talking about how Austin exemplified that work ethic and the value of that. Austin was a smart guy. He could have gone on to college and graduate school and gotten any job he wanted in this world, but he saw the value of building things and loved it and wanted to do that for his life.
Gina: A lot of people don't even like the idea of sitting down at a desk and staring at a computer screen for eight hours.
Jimmy: I did it for a long time and then I had a child and having that child back almost 30 years ago made me realize I wanted to rethink my life. Woodworking was a passion of mine and I thought, Boy, I don't want to do it as a living, but if I could somehow do it with kids what a wonderful thing that would be. I love working with my hands. Even though my tools in my shop are getting rusty because I don't have the time to do my own stuff anymore, I'll get back to that at some point. But it's great to see kids get the same wonderful feeling out of it and be able to see it as a pathway to a lifetime of success.
Gina: How long have you been doing Kids Making It?
Jimmy: Started in 1994. Just taking time away from my work and working with kids in my back yard shop and putting together a little summer camp one summer. Every time I did something with kids it was like, Wow, this is the real thing. So I started here in '97 with a pilot program and then got it going full time in 2000.
Gina: When you said earlier that you were breaking ground, what does that mean?
Jimmy: We are building a 4300 square foot addition onto our shop. We're at 617 Castle, which is at the corner of 7th and Castle. When we bought that building it came with the empty lot beside it. It's now our parking lot. We have spent the last two years raising money to build an extra 4300 square feet two story. The whole downstairs will be an open shop space where we will teach the skill trades. So we're ready to break ground. We are hoping to get our permit today from the county. The moment we have our permit, we're moving forward. It's going through the generosity of many folks in the community. Some of the foundations, many individuals.
A local sawmill is donating 14,000 board feet of ciphers timbers and Turbo lumber and Atlantic Barn and Timber, which is a timber frame company is going to erect it for free for us and then we will have PBC Design and Build come in get the structure built for us. A lot of people believe in the value of kids and it's all an investment in the kids. So we're excited. We're ready to roll. If we break ground in the next little bit of time, we should have it built by the end of the year. That's our goal. In the meantime, in our summer jobs program, we'll have what we call the KMI crew and we'll be doing construction at different places around town, doing public works, construction projects.
Gina: What time is the luncheon?
Jimmy: Good question. The luncheon is from 11 to 1. Doors open at 11. At 11:30 sharp we will begin the program and then we will make sure people are out the door by 1. We don't charge anybody anything to come. There will be great food, but even more impressive than the food will be being able to listen to the folks from This Old House talk about the value of kids learning these things. We'll have a video and I'll speak a little bit. Emphasis on “little bit.”
We have limited seating and we're actually getting close to having it full. If you are interested in coming, you don't need to put any money down, but just sign up. Go to kidsmakingit.org/events and that will take you to a link to get registered and then we'll add you to the list. We'd love to have you join.
Gina: And of course, donate to the program if it gets full.
Jimmy: My associate director would turn over if she realized I didn't make a pitch for sponsorships. We have sponsorships available and we have a number of sponsors already. Hagood Homes, RiverLights, the Oleander Company, certainly Turbo Lumber and Atlantic Barn and Timber and a number of others. We have all of those on the website and our Facebook page.
Transcription Assistance by Production Assistant, Lindsay Wright