There is an unmistakable connection between local communities and the businesses that call them home. Just as a tree cannot grow without the sun and rain, it is difficult for one to thrive without the other.
Since 2018, Timber Products has donated plywood materials every year to Talent Maker City in Talent, Oregon, a non-profit organization founded to provide STEAM-based learning and hands-on creative experiences to build a more connected, diverse community.
“We established Talent Maker City in 2016 built around the idea of the maker’s space platform,” said Ryan Wilcoxson, Executive Director of Talent Maker City. “The mission is to build a connected community by giving people a space to come together for cross-generational, cross-cultural learning with workshops where they build things such as desks, bed frames, bird houses, and more.”
After a “moment of serendipity,” Ryan Wilcoxson and Alli French, Programs Director, discovered both had been thinking over ways they could help their communities come together in a different, positive way. Thus, the idea of a maker’s space in Talent was born with Talent Maker City.
Operating out of a 3,600 sq. ft. facility in downtown Talent, the maker space offers a variety of wood saws, drills, lathes and sanders, besides 3D printers, laser cutters and other tools for fiber arts and ceramics. The class workshops focus on STEAM-based learning, which follows programming around the subjects of science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics.
As of now, Talent Maker City works with local youth in elementary, middle and high schools in three counties: Jackson, Josephine, and some in Klamath. They also worked with the youth prison in Grants Pass, Oregon to provide programming on-site before Covid-19 restrictions were put in place.
“Our partnerships with local schools is essential because of the age groups we’re working with,” said Alli French. “I worked at the Phoenix-Talent school district previously, so having that bridge helped in forming a relationship with the school districts and building programming.”
With the advent of Covid-19, the in-person workshops had to be stopped for some time for safety reasons. To accommodate this change, in the summer of 2020, Talent Maker City built a video studio in their shop to record and produce 24 hours of distance learning content.
“It is important to maintain the connection with students with this learning process to keep them on a line of sight to CTE careers or other education pathways,” said Wilcoxson.
As restrictions have eased over the last months, small in-person workshops have been able to return to the maker space. They still offer online distance learning classes as well.
Talent Maker City’s location in downtown Talent positions them in a prime area near schools and other businesses. Before Covid-19 closed schools for a time, students at Talent Middle walked directly to the workshop. The shop location is also positioned on a bus line, giving other elementary, middle and high schools students direct access.
They recently partnered with Girls Build, another non-profit, located in Portland, Oregon for some workshop events. Both organizations share the mission to engage young girls and women to learn building and trades knowledge. Partnering with other local non-profits is another way Talent Maker City is expanding their reach to encourage diverse representation in the trades.
In addition, Talent Marker City offers workshops for adults in the community who want to learn a new skill, such as their introduction to carpentry for women course. The adult programs are offered in the evenings and they plan to expand their offerings in the future. Providing more adult programs, at their location, provides benefits to businesses other than their own.
“It was very important to us to be in downtown Talent from the start to be a sort of anchor to the area,” said Wilcoxson. “We also wanted to capture regional interest to support other small business around us. There is not a ton of traffic through Talent, but if we’re able to offer a workshop where 10 people can make something from 6-8 p.m. at night and then go across the street or next door for some food or drink – that buoys our entire economy in Talent.”
The instructors for their workshops have various trade backgrounds and work as independent contractors. There are also some volunteers who teach classes.
“For example, we have a mechanical engineer that teaches coding with our CNC machine and the students love it,” said French.
Talent Maker City relies upon grant funding and donations from community partners and businesses to operate. The relationship between Timber Products and Talent Maker City began in 2018 when a now retired Timber Products employee met Ryan and Alli. Donations from Timber Products to Talent Maker City are now overseen by Brent Siegel, Timber Products’ Medford Plywood mill manager.
“There is a great, immediate local impact by donating to their organization. Their outreach has done so much good for the region by bringing people together and educating the public in the trades,” said Siegel. “We at Timber enjoy supporting them because of this reason.”
Both Wilcoxson and French expressed immense gratitude for the partnership with Timber Products over the years.
“When we first moved into our facility, we had to build from scratch inside. The skeleton and bones of our building are made out of Timber Products plywood,” said French. “Almost our entire workshops are made from Timber Products plywood – the work benches, shelving, and framing!”
Plywood materials donated by Timber Products go into several workshops where youth and adults build a variety of items. Examples include students building skateboards from scratch, desks, sewing tables, drops boxes, bed frames and more. The studio built for them to record distance learning videos was also built out of Timber Products plywood.
Before donating materials, Siegel asks what the instructors plan to build with their groups.
“I ask and try to cater to their needs based on if they’re building a bed, shelving or tables. For example, the disposable drop boxes could be made with a ½” panel instead of a ¾” panel,” said Siegel.
One project in 2020 included building desks for students. Siegel was able to donate a higher end cut of walnut plywood for the desks to give a finer, sturdier look. Within a year, Timber Products typically donates 90-120 pieces of plywood, but in 2020 went beyond due to increased need from the local wildfires that swept through town.
“We have done a ton of disaster response in 2020 between starting emergency PPE with other business when there was no PPE in the valley to, of course, the wildfires that destroyed a third of Talent,” said Wilcoxson.
The wildfire Wilcoxson refers to is the Almeda fire that ravaged the areas of Phoenix, Talent and Ashland, Oregon in September 2020. When it was over, 2,800 structures had been destroyed and 3,200 acres burned.
“The devastation from the fire is pervasive. There is nothing that hasn’t been affected,” said Wilcoxson. “We went into support mode right away just as we did when Covid-19 first struck.”
In response to the wildfires, Talent Maker City opened fire support aid stations, built with donated Timber Products plywood, with another non-profit organization. For three weeks, they provided 24/7 aid to the community including many people who were previous or current students in their workshops.
“It was devastating to see the impact this fire had on those families,” said Wilcoxson. “It forced them to leave town as they had no other options. When people leave, we lose the character and culture of our town.”
Even in the face of immense hardship, both Wilcoxson and French see an opportunity for the Talent community to come back stronger and they want Talent Maker City to be a part of it. The workshop space downtown survived the fire with minimal roof damage for which both equate to “pure luck.”
“It’s going to be a 10-year process of rebuilding the town,” said French. “But we want to turn this aftermath into motivating students to consider construction and building trades for the idea that they can contribute to rebuilding their own community, which I think is really powerful.”
Talent Maker City has hosted a number of workshops recently to build items like bed frames and tables for families displaced by the fire. Students have learned tool safety, how to use table saws, drills, but also how they can positively support their community.
Timber Products once again aided in donating plywood for the bed slats. In total, 55 bed frames were completed for the community. They also built various sized tables for people to use in their temporary living conditions to make the space feel homier.
“It might seem basic [to build a bed or table], but until those comforts are gone, you don’t realize how much you miss them,” said Wilcoxson.
Now with the bed frames complete, the Talent Maker City team is turning their attention to the next big project: transforming two school buses into housing. They plan to work with students across multiple school districts to do so and will be generously supported by Timber Products again.
“We have abundant gratitude towards Timber Products,” said Wilcoxson. “We wouldn’t be here doing things in the capacity we are without Timber Products support and generosity. When we didn’t have the resources to purchase plywood, they came to the rescue. It’s huge to have a community partner like you and it ratifies the work we do every day.”
“Timber Products has the values in place to help their community and it makes all of us stronger,” expressed French. “Having a healthy community allows us to give back to one another and help in times of need. We were able to help the community during Covid-19 and the wildfires because we had been helped already by community partners like Timber Products.”
To learn more or how you can donate to Talent Maker City, visit https://www.talentmakercity.org/