HOWELL – A group of local woodcrafters has been carving out time for children and adults as part of their charitable contributions to the community. The Atlantic Shore Woodturners (ASWT) work to create wood projects using a lathe, and in addition to sharing knowledge and advancing their craft, they make efforts to do a number of charity projects in the area.
Started in 1997 with just 16 members, they first met at each other’s homes before finding residence at the Holy Family School in 2000. While there are other woodturning groups in the state, the New Jersey chapter of the ASWT is part of a larger organization called the American Association of Woodturners (AAWT), and now holds their monthly meetings on the second Tuesday of each month at the Howell Community Church.
Comprised of men and women of all ages, the group has members as young as 13, and many who are retirees. In addition to having a passion for bringing forth creations from wood, many share a desire to give back to the community.
Suspended for two years due to COVID, the group recently hosted the Howell PAL, where local youth took turns creating a wooden keepsake that they could take home.
“It was just wonderful to see people again,” said ASWT President Bill Stewart. “When I said, ‘who’s been here before?’ I saw that it was about a third of them or so. It was great that they came back, but it was great also that so many new ones were there, and they all had this interest. I had several kids come up to me during the night and show me pens that they had made on the lathes, and these kids were just thrilled that they made something.”
Over the course of two hours, youngsters from the PAL group were given safety instructions, shown how to use the equipment, and were given the opportunity to construct bowls, wooden tops, and even functional pens.
One of the ASWT’s members, Ronnie Van Huss, is a former assistant pastor at the Howell Community Church and had worked with the Howell PAL in the past. After bringing the suggestion to his fellow woodturners, it was Van Huss who helped facilitate getting the two groups together.
But participating with the PAL is only one of several charitable and community programs the group gets involved with. While many of the members are locally based, their efforts reach out beyond the borders of Howell Township.
The group’s first charitable endeavor was the Beads of Courage program, which aims to improve the quality of life of youngsters coping with serious illnesses such as cancer. As the children progress through their treatment, they receive different beads for the type of treatment they undergo, such as transfusions, rounds of chemotherapy, and the like. Since treatments may go on for years, the children may accrue hundreds of beads, and that’s where the ASWT gets involved.
“The way it got started was one of the members of the club came in to our regular monthly meeting,” explained ASWT member Bob Donohue. “He mentioned the Beads of Courage and I just went on their website and was pleased with what I saw.” Donohue then approached the charity with an inquiry to their website, and upon getting a positive response, he next sought to get the others in the group to participate by creating ornate wooden vessels that could hold the many beads that the children collected.
By contributing to the Beads of Courage charity, Donohue received a number of beads back that had the charity’s logo on them. Those beads are then incorporated into the vessels carefully made by members of the association. Referred to as “Dream Bowls” by the charity, the finished products are hand delivered to the Bristol-Myers Squibb Children’s Hospital at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick. Since initiating the program, Donohue estimates that the group has made and donated approximately 45 of the vessels.
Donohue is currently looking for other hospitals in New Jersey that may also wish to receive the containers crafted by the ASWT members.
“I’m willing to make the deliveries,” Donohue said, regarding the finished pieces. This not only saves the club on the cost of shipping the items, but ensures that the pieces arrive undamaged.
But the group doesn’t just use their time and talent on children afflicted by cancer, either. In addition to their participation in the Beads of Courage charity, the members have associated themselves with the Breast Cancer Resource Center (BCRC) in Princeton.
Beginning in 2021, members of the ASWT began crafting wig stands for women who had lost their hair during chemotherapy. Partnering with the BCRC, the woodturning club has produced more than 70 wig stands for that organization.
“Some of the wig stands that we made were like works of art in and of themselves,” said Stewart of the on-going program. “That’s something that we’re probably going to do on an annual basis. We’re planning it again for this fall.”
The group’s efforts reach not only New Jersey, but nationally and potentially internationally, as well. The ACWT also produces pens for active service men and women through the Turning for Troops initiative. Under this program, the association first receives donations of internal parts from Arizona Silhouette pen supply company. Members of the group then fashion the pen’s external casing by turning and sculpting the wood on a lathe.
“For me, personally, it’s something that I can do to give back to someone who is representing our country,” said Norman Friedman, who serves as the club’s Vice President. “I get a very good feeling knowing that this is something which they may appreciate.”
The ASWT used to participate in the New Jersey Wood Show in Secaucus, but that has ceased due to COVID-19. The group still gives demonstrations at the Monmouth County Fair, and also participates in the Howell Day festivities, where they will create wooden tops for children as they and their parents look on.
“We’re giving back to the community,” said Friedman. “We love to do that.”
The group broadcasts their meetings online to club members, and have had Zoom demonstrations with guest speakers who explain new tools and new techniques. They even partner with other woodturning groups in different states and countries to share information and teach each other about new technologies.
The association’s members now total 65, and of the most recent club members to join, Stewart estimates that close to fifty percent are women. In the future, the group hopes to hold certification and safety courses for members, and reach out to other community groups, such as the Boy Scouts, for participation.
“It is a group of individuals who are focused on turning,” said Friedman. “We are not political; we are not cliquish. We focus on learning from each other, enjoying what we do, and welcoming others.”