Woodworking and Beyond

Kids Making It provides more than vocational skills

BY Taylor Hammeke

From left: AJ, Malik, Taveon, Myah, Lammar, Ashir, Danny and Shai-Li in the Kids Making It shop in June 2023. Steve McMillan
From left: AJ, Malik, Taveon, Myah, Lammar, Ashir, Danny and Shai-Li in the Kids Making It shop in June 2023. Steve McMillan

Kids Making It is a Wilmington nonprofit that does much more than provide space to do woodwork. The organization teaches valuable vocational, entrepreneurial and life skills to at-risk, low-income and disadvantaged youth.

Started by Jimmy Pierce in 1996, it has evolved and now has five woodworking programs and yearly serves 1,100 youths, ages 7-25.

Kids Making It has three main goals: to help youth stay in school, stay out of trouble, and transition to college or the workforce. The program is designed to be a positive influence in the participants’ lives and provide consistent mentorship.

In addition to life skills, participants can earn an income and learn financial skills. The organization has a storefront at 617 Castle St. that exhibits and sells the work. The youth earn 100 percent of the sales of their projects. In the past year, the store brought in more than $44,000.

Billy Phillips, apprenticeship manager and lead after-school instructor, with tablet and cellphone holders made by participants and available for sale. Steve McMillan

Kevin Blackburn started volunteering as a woodworking instructor in 2012 and is now the executive director.

“Woodworking is a huge part of what we do, but it is really the tool we use to connect with kids to help provide them with a positive experience, something we hope can build their confidence and belief in their abilities — they see a challenge and think they can tackle that,” Blackburn says.

The After School Entrepreneurial Woodworking Program, which currently consists of 15 youths, instructs participants in safe and efficient tool use. Once trained, they can make whatever they’d like.

From left: In the shop, staff and instructors Matt Garcia, Renee Mastrangelo, Laurie Wierse, Billy Phillips, Jerry Dominguez, Kevin Blackburn and Paul Bobotas. Steve McMillan

“I feel fortunate to be part of a program that teaches skills to kids, helping them go from insecure young teens to confident, capable young adults, ready to take on the world,” says program lead Billy Phillips.

The kids sell what they create in the store, which is fully stocked with cutting boards and other work.

The Skill Trades Program provides instruction in core trades to young adults. It specializes in teaching youth and young adults about construction carpentry, electrical, plumbing and HVAC, useful skills to help them become strong candidates to enter the workforce. 

“That’s something that’s exciting to see as a benefit,” Blackburn says. “They are gaining vocational skills — learning how to use tools, how to plan, think ahead, and on a small scale getting comfortable trying things out and adapting. If a project fails or a piece of wood breaks, it shows them they can adapt, roll with things, and make a success out of most challenges that come their way.”

The Apprenticeship Program consists of young adults over the age of 18 who are hired to do special projects. There are currently three apprentices who create woodwork for clients including area nonprofits, the District Attorney’s office, and the county. Businesses and individuals can place custom orders, such as cellphone holders, cutting boards, awards — anything that can be crafted of wood. All proceeds go back to the nonprofit.

Kids Making It also has an outreach program where employees go to public housing sites, the MLK center, YMCA, and community centers to teach an introduction to woodworking class to ages 7-12. Employees also host therapeutic woodworking in domestic violence shelters in six counties.

Additionally, Kids Making It offers a program in partnership with Voyage of Wilmington that connects teens with summer jobs. More than 100 youth were placed in jobs this year. It is the first job for many, and a great opportunity to enter the workforce and gain valuable skills.

Leave a Comment