Photo by Danny Fulgencio
Fred Christen was fed up. Members of his church kept asking congregants for money to replace “broken” tables and chairs just because they had damaged legs. So Christen took matters into his own hands — literally. The handyman started a woodshop where he and other congregants repaired the church’s broken furniture, free of charge.
Decades later, Christen hasn’t outgrown his frugal, do-it-yourself approach to helping others. The 89-year-old leads a group of woodworkers, known as the Woodies, who assist residents and administrators with building projects at CC Young Senior Living.
“I’m very stingy,” Christen says. “I didn’t want to shell out $5 to repair things. We felt we could repair things there, and we felt the same way when we moved to CC Young. We primarily help people that have a leg broken. Hopefully on a table and not on themselves.”
When Christen moved to CC Young in 2011, residents stored their tools in a garage because there wasn’t room for a woodshop. Woodworkers petitioned President and CEO Russell Crews for an area of their own, and in spring 2014, he found space in an unused laundry room.
Christen shared his woodworking knowledge and formed the Woodies, which has grown to 13 members, including four women. Men perform the shop work, and women execute the painting, staining and finishing — if they don’t want to run the power tools.
The group is open to novice and experienced woodworkers who must complete a training course before they can join. It helps to have instructors like Fred Banes, who taught shop class at South Garland High School. During his seven-year tenure, he taught students to make cabinets, roll-top desks and other furniture — all without severing any fingers.
“We had some hooligans who would glue the devices together,” Banes says. “I tried to get those guys transferred to art class as soon as I found out about it.”
Not long after the Woodies formed, staff members began requesting items for the various buildings on campus. The Woodies made a rolling garden planter, a coat rack, a communion table and mail cubbies for every apartment building.
Although part of the group’s mission is to provide building maintenance, its first priority is to assist CC Young residents by fixing broken furniture or completing custom orders. One of the most unique projects involved building a chair with a moveable arm to help an amputee put on his pants. By putting the pant leg on the arm, the resident could pull it over his stump without having to sit on the floor.
The Woodies never charge for their services, but they do ask recipients to make a donation to the woodshop or the benevolence fund, which serves as a safety net for residents who outlive their savings. The fund is also boosted by sales from Woodies products at the CC Young gift shop and outside retailers, such as Davis Street Mercantile near Bishop Arts and Pinto Ranch at NorthPark Center.
Shoppers will find handmade products with Texas flair. Some of the most popular items include state-shaped side tables, cutting boards and paper towel holders. For those with less fervent state pride, there are two-tiered pistachio bowls, handheld prayer crosses and tables made out of tree trunks.
“When I get going on too much outside retail, I have to watch myself,” says Mindy Hail, director of development at CC Young. “We love the money for the benevolence fund, but then it becomes a job, and they’ve already had their careers. This is for fun.”
Woodworkers toil in their small shop in the center of campus. Large power tools are mounted on wheels so the Woodies can maneuver them around the space. Smaller tools hang on the walls, while nuts and bolts sit in containers on metal shelves. Every surface is covered with leftover wood and a thick coating of sawdust.
The Woodies spend up to 200 hours each month in the shop, making products primarily from reclaimed wood. The lumber is salvaged from construction sites or collected after storms down trees and large limbs in the neighborhood. The Woodies also scored mahogany tabletops when CC Young decided to replace the tables in one of the cafeterias.
Similarly, most tools are donated, creating an excess of supplies that is sold or donated to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore on Skillman Street. The overflow of materials in the cramped quarters has prompted CC Young to open a new woodshop in 2020. With more space, the Woodies hope to recruit additional members and expand their operations.
“We’ve had several go-rounds to figure out how to make each thing that we’ve made,” Christen says. “I’ve often made something that I felt needed to be turned over to the rest of the guys to make it better and faster. That’s really gratifying to be able to work in a group like that instead of working alone.”
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