4/15/2012 11:35:00 PM Sawdust therapy Wooden toys cheer young cancer patients
Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier
Mike Foster works on a wooden toy car at Yavapai College in Prescott. A few members of the Advanced Woodworking class are making wooden toys to be donated to children with cancer at hospitals in Phoenix.
Men in a Yavapai College woodworking class are bringing smiles to young cancer patients in Phoenix.
A project to make wooden toys for these children was the inspiration of Ed Harrison, who had done some research on the numbers of children being treated for cancer across the country.
"I was stunned and saddened," he said of what he discovered. He also knew of a woodworkers' club in San Diego, Calif., that had been involved in such a project for many years. "After realizing the immensity of the need, I determined this was the project for me," he said.
Harrison's instructor at the college granted his request to craft toys for youngsters fighting cancer for the entire semester, and many of his classmates volunteered to help, too. "They are donating, making toys at home, finding wood and buying tools - each one critical to the program."
Youngsters who are being treated for cancer at Phoenix Children's Hospital received the first load of 100 wooden toys for 3- to 6-year olds this past Friday. Harrison had sent samples of his designs for small dinosaurs, automobiles, cars, horses, trucks and rabbits to hospital officials and "they were happy" with what he crafted, he said.
Cathy Sherwin, a corporate development officer for the Phoenix Children's Hospital Foundation, said the tiny toys are "fabulous."
"The children love anything you give them," and these particular unfinished toys fit in with the hospital's Art Project, the largest fundraiser for children with cancer and blood disorders, she said. For reasons of safety, the wooden toys that the college woodworkers sent to the hospital are not finished with any kind of paint, and they have no sharp edges.
Because they are unfinished, "the kids can do the art themselves, so it's a form of art therapy" at the same time, Sherwin said.
The toys "are a perfect fit for our cancer patients. No gift is too small, and no gift goes unnoticed. We are so grateful."
Sherwin called the woodworkers "Santa's little helpers up in the wood shop." For kids, "an unexpected surprise lifts their spirits."
The woodworkers' toys for children with cancer, which is the students' project and not the college's, has brought satisfaction to the men creating the toys, too.
When Harrison introduced the idea of making the toys to his classmates, the number of those interested continued to grow, said Dave Lazeau, whose chief responsibility is to gather wood for the project. The contractor building the new Carl's Jr. restaurant on Highway 69 has been generous by giving Lazeau wood scraps for the men to use.
Darrell Waite, another of the woodworkers, said class projects "usually go way beyond little toys."
But, in the last couple of years, the class members have become interested in charity projects for other groups, he said, and when Harrison brought his idea up in class, "I just jumped on it and feel it is worthwhile and a way to help the community, especially children in need."
This particular Yavapai College class is advanced woodworking, Harrison said. He, himself, has crafted a bedroom set, end tables and bookcases.
"I just work in my garage," he said. Some classmates have indicated they willl continue to make toys for the young patients after the class ends in early May.
"We are having lots of fun, knowing the toys are going to a worthy cause," Harrison said. "Since this is an ongoing program we are on the look-out for woodworkers in the community who would enjoy being a part of the program and for builders and lumber companies who would donate 2x6s. We're very happy with 'cutoffs,'" he said, adding that the group would appreciate donations of tools and various sundry items - and even more volunteer woodworkers. Anyone who wants to help out can call him at 928-776-9193.
Harrison sees no end in sight for his toy making for the children at Phoenix Children's Hospital.
"I will be doing this until they drop me down in a box," he said.