Local students earn wooden toys for following Golden Rule


Lunchtime at Margaret R. Brown Elementary School typically isn’t very quiet, but on a recent day, students all paid attention and were quiet.

During the first nine-week grading period, kids at the Seymour school who had displayed good behavior, helped others or done something unexpected — anything that follows the Golden Rule — received golden tickets to redeem at a store near Counselor Karen Munson’s office.

“It’s a fun little store with all kinds of trinkets and fun things that kids absolutely love,” Assistant Principal Becky Davis said.

Treating the tickets like money, the students — from kindergarten to fifth grade — turned them in and picked a prize.

“We order some of it. A majority of it is donated. We have a lot of families that will donate to this,” Davis said of the prizes in the large wooden display case in the hallway.

At the end of the grading period, all of the tickets were placed in buckets. At lunchtime Nov. 5, kids gathered in the cafeteria hoping their name would be chosen to come back at 2 p.m. to pick out a wooden toy to take home.

“Just because they knew they were going to be possibly winning a wooden toy, they were so excited. You can see the excitement as they come in and whisper. So much fun,” Davis said.

In the end, 60 kids’ names were randomly drawn. The teachers were then emailed the list of names.

“It was suspenseful,” Davis said. “We had somebody from just about every class. It was so much fun.”

With the kids sitting at the cafeteria tables, Davis told them they had five wooden toy options: A train, a dog, a heart-shaped box, a helicopter or a bulldozer.

Then she pointed out the people sitting nearby who made the toys. Most are members of Central Indiana Woodworkers Inc., while a few also are members of the Seymour Evening Lions Club, which funds the project locally at Brown and Seymour-Redding elementary schools.

“It’s amazing, isn’t it?” Davis said to the kids after noting all of the toys were handmade. “They spent hours and hours making these toys from pieces of wood — just pieces of wood. But they are very, very talented to have this ability to do that.”

Before Munson called one name at a time for students to walk to a table to make their selection, she told the kids to take a minute to say “Thank you,” which they did in unison and made the clubs’ members smile.

The woodworkers group was founded in 1948 as Home Craftsmen Forum for those with a common interest in fabricating from wood and giving back to the community, and the initial meeting was at Vonnegut Hardware Store in Indianapolis just after World War II to help veterans learn about home renovation, according to ciww.clubexpress.com.

Since then, members have been meeting each month to learn from professionals, hear about new technologies and supplies and watch demonstrations of tools and jigs to help make better projects. Each month, members are given parts and instructions to take home and build toys for underprivileged children.

“At some point in the early ’50s, they started making toys for their neighbors,” President-Elect Jim Chrena said. “Then they had some left, so they started distributing them to churches, charitable and other organizations, and we’ve just grown every year. … Every year, we have increased the toy budget, we have increased the number of toys that we have produced and we’re constantly adding agencies, as well, as we have more toys.”

The monthly meeting allows for club business and distribution of materials and plans for the Toy of the Month project. Guest presentations on woodworking topics (finishing, turning, jigs, tools, marquetry, veneering, etc.) help members advance their skills, and a show-and-tell time allows them to share recently completed projects.

Club membership also includes access to a broad range of workshops given by professionals who offer hands-on, practical lessons for beginner-, intermediate- and advanced-level woodworkers. In addition, special interest groups for furniture making, turning and scroll saw work meet monthly to learn and work on projects.

The yearly focus for the club is the commitment to crafting thousands of toys and projects that are given to children and families in partnership with more than 40 social service agencies. Members, neighborhood shops, special interest groups and partner organizations all join in to give back to the community.

The club received 501(c)(3) status in 2004 and established its name as Central Indiana Woodworkers in 2009.

Twenty-one years ago, Ruel West of Seymour joined the group. It had about 130 members then, but that has grown to nearly 320.

Realizing most of the toys were going to counties surrounding Indianapolis, West invited President Mick Keller to a Seymour Evening Lions Club meeting five years ago.

Following Keller’s presentation, a club member made a motion to give $500 with the note that Brown Elementary students had to get some benefit from it. That motion was approved.

West, fellow Lion Bob McElhany and Keller then met with Brown Principal Tony Hack to get the program started. When Redding learned about that, school officials contacted West to get it going there, too. His wife worked there at the time.

Knowing they would need to make a lot of toys each nine weeks for both schools, West and McElhany recruited some fellow members of the woodworking group and the Lions Club to help.

Today, eight men, including one who isn’t in either club, make the toys for the local students. There are 60 toys made for each school for each nine weeks.

During the recent distribution at Brown, first-grader Ava Duran said she picked the heart-shaped box to keep her jewelry together in a safe place.

Third-grader Alex Robbins said he selected a bulldozer so he could put his toy characters in front to sit.

“I thank them a lot,” he said of his message to the toy makers. “There’s a lot of work in this.”

While he likes being a part of the yearlong project because he enjoys woodworking, West said the best part is seeing the kids’ reactions as they pick out the handmade toys.

“I cry,” he said, smiling. “I can’t even explain what it does to me to see them get it, the excitement of them getting a toy.”

It’s rewarding to all involved.

“We feel we’re supporting the youth that way,” Lion Bob Kamman said. “It’s a part of our mission.”

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