Pathway's Furnishing a Future Program Collaborations Broadening Woodworking Skills
By: ST. CLAIRE DONAGHY
Since 2014, Greenwood Pathway House has provided food, shelter and support for the area’s homeless population.
The nonprofit’s Furnishing a Future program — started with help from United Way — has also been a key component of Pathway House clients learning job readiness through developing woodworking skills.
Bruce Fifer, 57, a retired Army captain and a former professor at Piedmont Technical College, teaches woodworking skills to Pathway House Furnishing a Future participants. They refurbish old furniture, build new furniture and create other items.
Some of the refurbished furniture is sold through local businesses, including Home Consignment of Greenwood and Home by Kelly and Co. of Greenwood. Furnishing a Future participants also handcraft ornaments for a fully decorated Christmas tree to be auctioned each December during HospiceCare of the Piedmont’s Festival of Trees.
Since March 2017, Furnishing a Future participants have also been crafting handmade wooden serving and bread boards available for purchase at Main and Maxwell, a retail and gallery shop in Uptown Greenwood. Their instructor, Fifer, also makes wooden pens that are sold at Main and Maxwell.
Learn more about Greenwood Pathway House and the Furnishing a Future program, during a free reception 5:30-7 p.m. Thursday at Main and Maxwell, 210 Main St.
“It has been a great partnership,” said Main and Maxwell gallery manager Debbie Britt Tackett. “People come here looking for things made in Greenwood and these fit the bill, beautifully. They make wonderful house-warming and wedding gifts.”
Laura Bachinski, Main and Maxwell owner, said Pathway House is now a member of the gallery.
“The bread boards are beautifully made, with such care and skill,” Bachinski said. “The story behind them is inspiring to everyone.”
The Christmas season was especially busy for Furnishing a Future participants making several bread boards a day, with 40 to 50 being sold at Main and Maxwell.
“We try to make them interesting, using a variety of woods and designs,” Fifer said, noting some feature inlays of an outline of the state of South Carolina, with a crescent moon and Palmetto tree. “We’ve also sold a little bit of scroll saw work at Main and Maxwell, too. How I train people on the scroll saw is by working on smaller pieces, such as Christmas ornaments.”
With its various retail business collaborations, Fifer said Pathway House receives a portion of proceeds from each piece sold that is part of the Furnishing a Future program. Plus, those businesses help spread the word about Pathway House.
Ken Kelly, Pathway House executive director, said Furnishing a Future started with the idea of a wood-working shop.
Lara Hudson, Uptown Greenwood manager, said Pathway House is partnering with Uptown and the City of Greenwood to create awards for winning teams for the South Carolina Festival of Discovery Kansas City Barbeque Society competition in July.
“We first saw their wooden pig-shaped bread boards at Main and Maxwell and thought they would be a perfect fit for our event,” Hudson said. “Working with a local business is always our goal. We think this is a win-win for all of us and we know our competition teams will love them.”
Jamey Lee Trent, 27, has been at Greenwood Pathway House for nearly a month. He is involved with Furnishing a Future.
“Instead of having nowhere to stay, I came here,” Trent said. “I do a lot of the sanding work for the bread boards, making them as smooth as possible. When I’m sanding, that’s all I think about.”
Kelly said the job-readiness aspect of Furnishing a Future is working. Five Pathway House clients have gone on to receive their GEDs, with three of those being in the past year.
Those three, Kelly said, are currently enrolled at Piedmont Technical College where they are studying computers, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning and construction.
“We’ve also had a man who was here go on to become an over-the-road truck driver,” Kelly said.
Furnishing a Future, Kelly said, teaches people they have skill sets they might not know they have.
“You do things you didn’t think you could do,” Kelly said. “You learn time management. How to get along with others and how to follow through on a project.
“Because addiction can be an issue within homeless populations, some might not have completed much in life,” Kelly said. “Every time you complete a project, it shows you that you can.”
Fifer had a 20-year career in the Army and said he got into woodworking as a hobby during years of moving around from one assignment to another.
Instructing Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadets at Lander University, Newberry College and Presbyterian College brought Fifer to the Greenwood area during the late 1990s.
Fifer met members of the Council of Lakelands Area Woodworkers, including retired physician Dr. Jack Parham, who founded Greenwood Pathway House. Parham introduced Fifer to Ken Kelly.
“Furnishing a Future was already started when I got here, so I kind of took over from that point,” Fifer said. “Seeing guys go on to better jobs and school and things progressing is nice for me. Plus, I get to come to work every day and enjoy my hobby.”
Three to five people are enrolled in Furnishing a Future at a time, Fifer said, noting it’s a 30- to 90-day job-readiness program.
“Anybody willing to try, I’m willing to show you how to use any of the tools in this woodworking shop,” Fifer said.
Pathway has a 30-bed facility for men and an 18-bed facility for women and mothers with children, available 365 days a year. The campus, on Panola Avenue, includes 11 acres and started on property previously owned by Abney Memorial Baptist Church.
“Our hope, over the next two to three years, is that we can convert the former Davis Buick property that we own into a thrift store, where we can sell what we make, as well as thrift store items,” Kelly said. “We would also like to expand facilities for women and children to a 40-bed facility.”