By Samantha Haase
GREEN BAY – Rick’s Toybox is working to address mental health issues in the community in a creative way.
The nonprofit was started by Rick Brunner when he began to struggle with his health and felt depression setting in; that was when he realized he needed to make a change and refocus on something else.
Rick used his woodworking skills to start making birdhouses, but discovered something with more meaning.
He began making wooden toy cars in his basement until it grew into an actual shop in a Green Bay mall.
Rick’s Toybox now donates wooden car sets that come with crayons to redirect children’s attention during negative situations onto something positive.
“We distribute these toys to police, fire departments, medical field personnel and missionaries around the world. In the case of police officers/fire personnel/rescue personnel using these activity cars, they are not used so much as a toy but more as a tool where a child in a negative situation can receive the car and they can focus on something positive while the officer is doing his job in the situation,” he explained.
Through creating these wooden car sets, Rick connected with one volunteer specifically who was waiting to go into a recovery center.
This volunteer was known in the area for wandering around shops while waiting for the center located in the same mall as his shop to open.
He had been struggling with his mental health since he was six years old and would be waiting for hours at a time, even in the winter months.
Rick decided to invite him into his shop and suggested he help out with sanding the toy cars.
After a few months of regularly volunteering at Rick’s Toybox, the man discovered a talent for art.
Rick encouraged him to pursue this ability as an outlet for his anxiety and other mental health struggles.
He continues to create art for the shop as an outlet for his struggles and is now proudly displayed in the shop.
Brunner continues to encourage other youths like this volunteer to express themselves in the wooden cars.
“At the hand sanding tables we get to know the volunteers, people open up to each other, and friendships develop. I nicknamed that area of the shop ‘a place where we solve worldly problems,’” he stated.
Rick’s Toybox offers a place for people to come and learn about woodworking while also connecting with others who understand the struggles they are facing.
Recently, they have been getting involved with local elementary schools and public resource officers to continue reaching kids.
They also make surprise visits to local police and fire departments to drop off toy car sets for them to distribute.
“Our purpose is to benefit both the volunteers and also the people receiving the cars that we produce,” Rick says. “Even in the shop I see people getting more excited as they get more involved and bring their family members into the shop to show them what they are doing. You can hear their pride in the tone of their voice about their accomplishments.
“I have come to see and understand that just because you seek help at one place and it isn’t the right fit or doesn’t work, don’t give up. Try another. You need to find the right fit and team to work with,” Rick concludes. “Set goals, and take baby steps one day at a time.”
For more information or to help, visit rickstoyboxinc.com.
Pass It Forward™ editorial is sponsored by Packers Give Back and Nicolet Bank.