KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The East Tennessee Technology Access Center is looking for a few good woodworkers.
Why? To make a few more.
The South Knoxville nonprofit, which serves people with various disabilities, wants to start a community program based on one in the Netherlands, where older people who have skills in danger of being lost teach those skills to younger people.
But at ETTAC, said former director Lois Symington, the people learning would be young adults who are aging out of the school system but still aren't prepared to have a full-time job or to live completely independently. She plans for the older woodworkers to mentor the younger ones, passing on not only new skills, but also confidence and life advice.
"It's a space, time some youth need just to develop those thinking skills," Symington said.
ETTAC has long made and given away several items for elderly people or those with disabilities. There's a modified clipboard, with a paper guide and an adjustable clip that can be easily maneuvered with one hand.
There's a small wooden stepstool, building maintenance man Tommy Millsaps explains, to help elderly people more easily get into a car or bed (a bright yellow tape border helps ensure they don't misstep and lose their balance or flip the stool).
Then there's the "potato board." A simple wooden square, it has a handle on one side and two nails driven through, points up. The idea is to spear a potato - or anything else you want to cut or peel - so you need only one hand.
Lately, Millsaps has been making transfer boards, which help people slide from wheelchairs onto a bed, a shower chair or a car seat, for example, and back. The wooden boards, curved and polished to a shine, are wider than most commercially available ones - not to mention cheaper.
Millsaps oversees ETTAC's new wood shop, which he converted from a storage room in the basement of the building that formerly housed a construction company. Thanks to some donations of large power tools and some grants from the city of Knoxville and the Tennessee Disability Coalition, it's fully stocked with tools, although ETTAC can always use more wood.
Now Symington hopes to find enough "mentor" woodworkers to open the shop to young adults. She's having an informational meeting for woodworking volunteers on Thursday, March 26.
"If they're uncomfortable with the idea of working with people with disabilities, we'll provide that training," she said.
Symington calls the program the Repair Café and hopes ultimately to offer a day each month when community members can bring in items for the young adults and their mentors to fix, free of charge. She'd read about this type of community exchange several years ago and, since turning the executive director reins over to Patrick Bowden, now has time to help build it, she said.
"It's about recycling skills that might be lost," she said. "It's also about helping people understand the value of people with disabilities. If someone only ever learns to use a hammer, that hammer can be used to build a home for someone with Habitat for Humanity."
Millsaps said young adults he's worked with have quickly learned to help repair durable medical equipment donated to ETTAC's "loaner closet," or to prepare it for recycling if it can't be fixed. Parts are often used to adapt items for people with disabilities.
With the Repair Café, he hopes, "people just need to say, 'I need something to help me do this,' and maybe we can make something to help."