A sense of community
Local organization teaches handcrafting skills while building a family
By Kaity Coisman
GREEN BAY – “Hands on Deck” got its start in 2016 when a group of volunteers got together to build a boat in a library and has since grown into a community.
Today, they create a variety of opportunities to be creative for new and experienced woodworkers without one important element — power tools.
Hands on Deck Vice President Mark Hawkins said children as young as five years old take the Youth Green Woodworking class.
The “Hands on Deck” woodshop is filled with inclusivity for all ages and skill levels.
One of Hawkin’s students, Luke Wesolowski, has been with the program since 2016 when he was just 10 years old.
“We’ve had classes where we were making a Windsor chair and there was a 10-year-old and then there was a 60-year-old building one right next to him,” Wesolowski recalled.
Classes are filled with people interested in spending time together doing something they enjoy. “You learn a lot; you meet a lot of people… every mentor here had a completely different job, but they all come here and do the same thing. They all have different stories of what they did in their life, and they come here at night and share what they did,” Wesolowski added.
Hands on Deck not only supplies useful tips and tricks for woodworking; its goal is to foster creativity and a sense of community.
Hawkins asks, “What is woodworking? Is it social? Is it community? Is it a group? Is it problem-solving? It’s all of it… so community has always been in our mission statement and if you look around it’s really community first. And everything else kind of flows out of that.”
The team is focused on creating a fun and neutral environment to learn woodworking, and they focus those efforts on creating boats.
Hawkins explains, “because it’s the hardest thing you can make. You can make a ukulele, a violin, a guitar, a grandfather clock… those things are pretty difficult. [A] boat is the hardest thing.”
The workshop is filled with boats in various stages of construction — finished boats used for free boat tours and rowing competitions, boats in the restoration process and boats in first construction.
Boats are the focal point of Hands on Deck, but Hawkins has expanded into other classes including one-to-one shop and skills instruction, charcuterie board experience, paper-making class and “brush making class.”
“Who wouldn’t want to make one of these? People are going to walk out with an arm full of brushes, you don’t pay the money and get one brush,” Hawkins stated. “They hand sculpt; they do brass rings to add leather straps. Oh my God, such cool stuff.”
In addition to crafting and restoring boats, the Hands on Deck community also takes them out on the water.
The “Hands on Deck Dory Rowing Team” is a group of volunteers that row on the Fox River and bay in their hand-crafted boat named “The Dory,” led by Director John Seaman.
But at the heart of the organization is a sense of community.
“We grow, and we all grow together and so we are absolutely one family and that’s the really cool part of it,” Hawkins said.