Chuck Oliver shares how woodworking can bring so many small but wonderful things that matter to kids on the childhood cancer and blood disorder journey. From building something they can use forever to making memories and learning how capable they are, Chuck describes why woodworking is magical.
A little bit about me
Woodworking brings out the kid in me. I started woodworking when I was seven years old. My father passed away when I was very young, and one of the most wonderful things my mom did was to let me use his old tools. Even things like his circular saw. I was never academic, but I always enjoyed building things. I’m great at critical thinking and problem solving, and woodworking brought that out in me.
I always enjoy the challenge of when someone asks me “Chuck, could you build this?” or “Chuck, could you fix this?” Most times, I find a way to do it. I get such a feeling of satisfaction from creating or mending something. When my kids were younger, they would always say I was in my best mood when something was broken and needed fixed!
How I started helping families
23 years ago, I was coaching minor junior hockey. Along with teaching skills and tactics, I would try to instill a sense of community in the kids. One year, I had this most amazing group of 13-14 year-olds, and one of the kids’ parents was Diane, a nurse on the oncology ward at BC Children’s Hospital. When I spoke with the parents about ways to support the community, she got us involved with Balding for Dollars.
It was an education for me to realize some of the kids had never had the chance to be kids because they’d been on treatment for so long. After that experience, I was sold. My son was on that hockey team, and the two of us have been part of Balding ever since.
Now I’m on the Board for Balding for Dollars, supporting the programs and events throughout the year. It’s so satisfying to see all of the different groups helping and wanting to support families. What a great community of people we have.
How I joined WCK
Several years ago, I saw a WCK booth at a Balding for Dollars event and I was intrigued to find out more. The Executive Director Shannon was there and I got to chat with her. She explained what it was all about and it sounded great. I shared my details, and away we went from there to do woodworking at WCK City Camp!
I volunteer at each City Camp to run the woodworking activities. This involves discussing ideas for projects with Kelsey, creating lesson plans, preparing all the materials, and safely running the sessions with the kids.
The hardest part can be the lesson planning to figure out how the kids can do as much of the building as possible.
Building valuable things from scratch
I’m all about helping the kids to build things that have value, things they will actually get to use. I get lots of ideas from my four grandsons – could you guess that the catapult was their idea! The kids have also built candy dispensers, basketball hoop games, toolboxes, hockey games, and more.
During the sessions, the kids always use as many of the tools and do as much of the work as possible. They’re involved at every step, from the shaping to the drilling, to putting the screws in. They truly did build their item and completed a challenging project! Using the power tools is completely safe, but so exciting for the children.
After the sessions, I see City Camp photos of the kids having contests with their catapults, playing with their games, or painting their projects. It’s so great to see them making use of the things they built.
Woodworking makes memories
Getting to see the project through from start to finish is something that sticks with the kids.
This year, we were building benches at City Camp and the children did virtually every step of it. When I was carrying the tools back to my car, I heard one boy’s parents picking him up from camp and asking him what he built. They were so shocked to see that he had made the bench. It made me feel so good that he was challenged to do something like that and he was able to complete it. The family felt good, too – his dad came over and gave me a high five!
It’s such a tangible sense of achievement to say: “I built this.” They’ll remember what that felt like.
Woodworking builds confidence
Many people – kids and adults alike – don’t feel like they’re creative or capable at making things. The woodworking activities show them that they can create something brilliant with their own hands. I think of woodworking as an artform because it involves designing something from thin air, so they have created a piece of art as well as something useful.
The kids I meet often think that woodworking and using power tools is something only adults do. It’s so thrilling to them to get to use the tools themselves and build something real. I see their sense of accomplishment, and I enjoy giving them that opportunity.
The importance of play
For the time I’m with the kids, I’m not analyzing what they might be going through or making assumptions about their lives. Instead, I see the fun and empowering space they get to be in while they’re at City Camp.
I know that many of the kids are in treatment for a long time, so it’s become the norm for them. The fact that they get to do such fun things even when they’re not well means a lot. They get to just be kids, and they get to be excited by woodworking!
City Camp is extraordinary. When I describe to other people how kids can come and go from appointments and join in even while on treatment, they are amazed. The normalcy that this program brings to kids who’ve had a far from normal experience is precious.
What keeps me going
So many things keep me involved in supporting families affected by childhood cancer and blood disorders. The people I get to meet through my volunteering – the kids, their parents, incredible staff, and other volunteers. I love kids. I’ve loved kids ever since I was a kid!
Woodworking for WCK has become a family affair. My grandson Hayden came to City Camp this year as my assistant. I was so impressed with how he jumped in and helped the kids. My other grandson Evan is really comfortable in the workshop, so he helped to cut all the kits that Kelsey sent to families’ homes.
Nothing about childhood cancer is fair. That’s why I feel these families deserve all the support they could possibly get. I like to give whatever I can offer to make life just a little easier for them.
Hey! I'm Jill.
Ready to be part of the WCK community or take on a new opportunity with us? Reach out to Volunteer Coordinator Jill Leddy at volunteer[at]wckfoundation.ca.