Our favorite days of the month: Colorado Springs nonprofits work together to provide wood working classes to special needs adults

By Published On: August 1, 2023
A group of people in wheelchairs from Colorado Springs posing for a photo.

Aug 1, 2023, Colorado Springs, CO, By KELLY HAYES kelly.hayes@gazette.com: A Colorado Springs woodworking program is teaching more than carpentry skills. Luke Wrobleski, the director of service organization Love Your Neighbor, teaches woodworking classes for adults with special needs every second and fourth Wednesday of the month at Pulpit Rock Church.

“Those have become our favorite days of the month, because there’s just so much joy in the woodshop when they’re in here, and we have so much fun,” Wrobleski said.

The program started in February as a result of a partnership between the nonprofits Love Your Neighbor and Special Kids Special Families.

“It grew from sort of an idea to we can really do something with this,” said Derek Wilson, Director of Development for Special Kids Special Families.

The classes were designed for individuals in Special Kids Special Families’ Adult Day Care, but Wrobleski decided to expand the program to the public as it continued to grow in popularity.

“Honestly, we were a little bit nervous because we weren’t sure how that would go,” Wrobleski said. “But it was clear that after just a few classes that happened in the woodshop, we loved it.”

Like the classes with Special Kids Special Families, the public classes have room for eight participants of all ages. “We’ll see how it grows,” Wrobleski said.

The classes are held in the church’s woodworking studio, which is also used by Love Your Neighbor to build bed frames for children in foster care. Wrobleski hopes to have some program participants help with the bigger projects like the bed frames soon as they work on their skills.

“It’s a growth opportunity. They like to give back too, and that’s part of that changing the face of what having a disability looks like,” Wilson said. “They feel really good that what they’re doing is helping somebody else because they often receive a lot of help.”

The two organizations found each other through a mutual connection: a volunteer with the church, who told Wrobleski about the special needs nonprofit.

“It was pretty amazing because after I got done talking to her, I checked my email,” Wrobleski said. “I had an email from someone at Special Kids Special Families, who said, ‘Hey, we like what you guys do. Is there any way we can get our clients in your woodshop?’”

After sorting through different project ideas and safety protocols, Wrobleski hosted the first class.

“It grew from sort of just an idea to we can really do something with this,” Wilson said. “It’s really grown big and it became a multifaceted win.”

Each class is around an hour long, Wrobleski said. The participants complete different projects each class, along with learning safety skills and basic woodworking like sanding, gluing, painting and nailing.

“Every project, they’re using sandpaper and sanding the wood so they get a chance to get in the woodshop and do things that I don’t think they really get a chance to do,” Wrobleski said. “Just real basic, building things, but it’s stuff that is not regularly available to them.”

Everything the participants need to complete the project is set up ahead of time, so when they come in, they’re ready to go. The shop is also outfitted with accessible work stations to accommodate those who use wheelchairs and mobility aids so that everyone can participate.

“They just feel like they’re a part of the community too,” Wilson said. “They’ve kind of moved from a place of often dependency to independency, and so they’re feeling really good about that.”

One of the most fun projects the group has completed so far might just be the ladybug frame, Wrobleski said. For that project, the students had a Polaroid taken of them when they entered the class, and then painted a ladybug frame to put the photo into.

“It was so much fun to watch, and they got so excited,” Wrobleski said. “We got to ask them the next time they came in. They say, ‘Oh it’s in my room’ or ‘It’s sitting by my TV at home.’”

“Not only do the participants learn valuable skills through the program, but they also leave each class with more confidence,” Wilson said. “They build confidence. They learn how to follow instructions, and while that may be easy for many people, for those in this community, that’s a great skill,” Wilson said.

And the students are sure to let them know of their excitement.

“One of the clients we had in the special needs class a few weeks ago who was fairly nonverbal, several times he would just yell out, ‘I love it. I love it. I love it,’” Wrobleski said.

Both organizations are hoping to add volunteers to the program so that they can serve more people.

“It’s just neat to see their excitement in the woodshop, because I think a lot of times, the people in society that are sort of pushed in the margins, they don’t really have their own voice a lot of times. So it’s neat to see them kind of come out and do something they really enjoy,” Wrobleski said.

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