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Sawhorse Revolution teaching construction, building community at same time

By Josh Kerns, KIRO Radio Reporter


A student works with her mentor in the non-profit Sawhorse Revolution, which teaches high school students construction skills while building structures for the community.


We hear all the time about how underprivileged young people badly need job skills, and community groups working on homelessness and other issues need help.


One Seattle nonprofit has come up with a unique way to do both.


Micah Stanovsky and his friends Sarah Smith and Adam Nishimura always wanted to help people and significantly overhaul education. After working a summer construction job before starting medical school, Nishimura came up with a simple but revolutionary idea — and the Sawhorse Revolution was born.


“We do construction and architecture programs in Seattle for high school students and we partner with a lot of professionals to provide guidance and teaching,” Stanovsky said.


It started as a summer project with a handful of underprivileged students who’d never used a table saw or other tools and built a beautiful treehouse at Smoke Farm in Arlington, a rural retreat run by the nonprofit Rubicon Foundation.


After a few successful summers, they expanded into to a full-fledged nonprofit.

“Between you and me and the world, we didn’t know a damn thing about that, so we’ve been learning that as a necessity to try and make this cool thing happen,” Stanovsky laughed.


It is indeed happening, and on an ever-growing scale.


For the students, it’s an opportunity to gain valuable construction skills with tools and materials they might otherwise ever be exposed to.


And it’s about far more than just cutting two-by-fours.


“It’s an amazing opportunity for learning and feeling your own strength and your own power. And then also sort of struggling through the process of becoming a critical thinker and a creative problem solver,” Stanovsky said.


Failure is a huge part of that process. But many of the kids have experienced only the consequences of failure, often getting kicked out of school or in trouble at home and elsewhere.

Some of the projects are done in partnership with Seattle’s Interagency Academy — the city’s last-chance public school for students facing expulsion or worse.  And Stanovsky says they get a clean slate at Sawhorse.


“Their past lives are what they are,” he said. “As long as they’re here they’re with us, they’re safe. It’s all about this face-to-face personal accountability. And by the end of a program you really see people taking pride in work that they were afraid of.”


And that work is making a huge difference in the community as well.  The students aren’t just building birdhouses like many of us did in shop class.


“Our students have built tiny homes for homeless encampments in Seattle, they’ve built sheds and arbors for P-patches and community gardens, they’ve built expansions for hands-on learning spaces in the Central District,” Stanovsky said.


That not only gives them valuable job skills, it gives them a sense of purpose — fulfilling Sawhorse Revolution’s two-fold mission of educating students and contributing something of lasting meaning to the community.


“It’s basically a motivating factor to students and allows us to make a greater impact,” he said.


But Micah, Sarah and Adam can’t do it alone.


They rely on volunteers and partners to do everything from mentoring kids and bring them projects. And they could use your help.  Sawhorse Revolution is always seeking skilled trades-persons from carpenters to concrete specialists to even computer skills to help out in the office.


And like all nascent non-profits, they could use donations.


“Some of our programs are stipend-based for students who need economic opportunities.  Regardless, every program has a serious cost to it because we’re building these structures,” Stanovsky said.


“We have an ongoing need for financial contributions to make it possible for more youth in Seattle to get a hands-on education and begin to see themselves as valuable community members.”


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