Tots with Toolbelts: Building Community One Nail at a Time
BY Carolyn Maynard-Parisi | MONDAY, JUL 11, 2011
Usually a preschooler wielding a sharp-toothed saw would be cause for alarm, but it is par for the course at the Temple Sharey Tefilo Israel Iris Family Preschool (TSTI) in South Orange. Students there have the opportunity to participate in a unique program that uses woodworking skills to teach children about giving back to the community.
TSTI director Carol Paster launched the initiative several years ago. An experienced woodworker and a longtime volunteer with Habitat for Humanity Newark’s Women Build, Paster teaches woodworking skills to 3, 4 and 5 year-olds in the afterschool and camp program.
The children learn to use basic tools such as hammers, saws and drills to create simple woodworking projects. They hone their fine motor skills and are exposed to a skill set they do not get anywhere else. “They get very excited and proud that they made something themselves,” said Paster.
Paster then connects the program to real world community service by having students raise money for and participate in Habitat’s home-building efforts for Newark families.
“Most of our children live in an affluent area, and they get to see what it is like just a short distance from their community,” said Paster.
Throughout the year, the children help raise money for Habitat for Humanity by contributing coins as part of their weekly tzedakah (charity) in a house-shaped piggy bank. The money is used to buy tools, which are then donated to the organization.
The three-year-olds visit Paster’s “tool store” and are get tool tips from JoJo the Building Bear. They make snacks and lemonade for Habitat volunteers, which the four-year-old students personally deliver to a building site.
In May, the school holds an annual Habitat Week that culminates in a special Carol the Carpenter Building and Bagel Breakfast for children and their parents. All donations collected from the event go to sponsor a house currently being built for a Newark family.
A Habitat construction manager visits the school once a year to teach the four-year-olds to build a sheet-rock wall, to which they sign their names. The wall will eventually hang in the house they are sponsoring.
At the year’s end, children and parents take a field trip to see the house they have personally had a hand in building. They see their wall hanging as part of the new home.
“The children get so excited to see ‘their’ house,” Paster said. “If I know who it is being built for, I tell them and we do a shower for the family and send them housewarming gifts.”
Some parents are so moved by the project they decide to volunteer with Habitat, or they make donations in Paster’s honor in lieu of end-of-year teacher gifts.
Habitat has asked Paster to help them expand the program into other area schools. She is currently looking for local businesses who would be interested in partnering with her on the initiative.
Habitat’s Women Build group has already built over 70 houses in one small section of Newark. “That is a big impact,” said Paster. “To build that many houses in a four-block radius really makes a difference to a neighborhood. We are building a community.”