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Imagine attending virtual classes in a walk-in closet, doing homework on a laptop perched on your bed, or trying to study in a crowded apartment. To remedy this, Seniors4Students, a group of elder volunteers, is building desks and donating them to children of essential workers in the Santa Rosa area, enabling students to learn more easily from home. Started by two couples who live in the Oakmont retirement community, the project has provided more than 100 desks and chairs since it began in November.
A Rotary Club and a local Lowe’s have joined the effort, providing donated materials. And dozens of other people, including Rotary Club members, have donated their time, building desks in their garages or backyards. The largest single contributor has been a good Samaritan who purchased brand new chairs for the students.
“We’ve watched people come out of the woodwork because they want to help,” said Ed Biglin, former English professor and administrator at Saint Mary’s College of California. Biglin and his wife Mary Rychly, a former Montessori teacher and radiology technician, joined neighbors Joe Brewer, a retired teacher and school superintendent, and his wife Chris Nota, who spent her career at the U.S. Forest Service and ended up a regional manager. Binglin and Brewer build the desks in the Brewer’s garage, while Rychly and Nota do the finish work outside on their deck.
After the first set of desks was donated to Luther Burbank Elementary School, The Press Democrat did an article on the effort and the project took off. Brewer, who had connections with several local schools, set up a GoFundMe page, and more than $7,000 has poured in.
Once two professional woodworkers joined the project, they were able to create a streamlined design and develop a kit so that volunteer builders could do the builds more easily. The four neighbors developed a Zoom training on how to build desks using the newly designed kits and offered it to Valley of the Moon Rotary Club members, who quickly built and delivered 20 new desks.
With COVID-19 precautions in place, the desks are delivered to local elementary schools so that school administrators can identify the children who need desks the most and coordinate with their families.
“It’s so inspiring when we get to go to school sites and watch the kids choose their own desks and chairs,” said Nota. “We’ve been very impressed by how much these school principals and teachers care about their students.”
So far, the volunteers have presented desks and chairs to kids at Brook Hill, Steele Lane, Luther Burbank and Helen Lehman schools in Santa Rosa, and to Kenwood and Dunbar elementary schools in Kenwood and Glen Ellen.
Most of the families who have received desks are essential workers who have to keep working during the pandemic.
“The added burden of trying to help their children learn at home has not been easy for them,” said Biglin. “One principal told us how important it was for the students to know that the surrounding community cares about them.”
An additional benefit for the project’s organizers has been realizing how many people are eager to help. “We realized we’re surrounded by so many positive people,” said Rychly. “People have been so helpful and caring.”