Adding to the already evolving landscape of the western end of Castle Street, the nonprofit Kids Making It woodworking organization is busy renovating a space at the corner of Castle and Seventh streets to serve as its new headquarters.
Kids Making It became a full-time job for North Carolina native Jimmy Pierce in 2000 after he left the life of a lawyer behind in Louisiana and moved to Wilmington. The idea for the organization came to Pierce in 1989 during a long road trip to North Carolina with his wife and infant son.
“It was around 2 a.m., everyone was asleep and I kept driving to get some more quiet time so I kept myself up by thinking about what I would do if I was not practicing law,” Pierce said. “The money was great, and it was always enjoyable, but there is nothing like having a kid to reorient your priorities. So I got this idea into my head about doing something with kids and woodworking.”
Now Kids Making It provides woodworking lessons, camps and apprenticeships for more than 370 kids, most of whom live in the inner city. The afterschool program usually serves around 100 kids every school year and is designed to provide a creative outlet and a place to interact with others. The program also provides the kids with an income as well with the sales of the crafts they make in the Kids Making It retail shop and through the new apprenticeship program.
For years the Kids Making It workshop has been located in the Jacobi-Lewis Company building on Water Street in downtown Wilmington, but about two years ago Pierce began searching for a new home for the growing number of kids his organization was serving.
“We were trying to buy the old Taste of Country restaurant building, but it just needed way too much restoration work, and the renovation costs were so huge that we had to abandon that,” he said. “In January, one of our board members discovered the new building was on the market and on foreclosure, so the price was much more affordable and it was a usable space.”
The new headquarters is around 2,000 square feet larger than the Water Street space, and it was a blank canvas with no rooms or partitions when the organization purchased it.
Now, the outlines of multiple rooms are clearly defined in the space with recently installed sheet rock. The building will feature a retail space up front with large glass windows looking into the workshop areas. In the workshop, spaces will be designated for woodturning, saws, sanding, an art room, the apprenticeship workshop and offices for the volunteers and staff.
Kids Making It apprenticeship team supervisor James Halls has served as the primary coordinator for the new building’s renovation, and said the space will be much more user-friendly for the kids.
“Really, we wanted to design a space that could house more kids and one that would flow better for what we do and provide space for growing,” Halls said. “We are pretty much on top of one another now but we have found a way to make it work.”
In addition to being able to serve more kids with the larger space, Halls said the new location will be much more accessible for the large number of their students at Williston Middle School.
“I think this is going to be a really positive move for us, not just because of the size and serving more kids, but the location is going to be great,” he said. “For a lot of our kids that walk, ride their bikes or ride the bus, where we are now is more of a destination and they have to find a way to get there. Here they can stay within the neighborhoods.”
After-school instructor John Bryan said the move would help the organization better the lives of more inner city kids.
“A lot of the students are really reserved for various reasons when they start, but they get more comfortable,” Bryan said. “That is the biggest change to me, you see that level of confidence and forming relationships with other people.”
With the organization being a nonprofit, Pierce said the move has been made possible by multiple private donors and partners in the construction industry.
“Bob Warwick took us under his wing and helped us to reach out into the community for support to buy the building,” Pierce said. “Through his help, we have received significant contributions from the Cape Fear Memorial Foundation, the Bruce Barclay Cameron Foundation, Live Oak Bank, First Bank and PPD.”
Most of the construction materials for the renovation have been donated by local businesses. Halls said the organization still needs moving trucks to relocate equipment, computers and flat screen televisions for the retail space.