Hope is Here: Authentic Relationships and Unique Experiences make for a Transformative Summer

Every year youth apply to apprentice in Nehemiah’s Workshop, CHAT’s woodworking shop that is a part of our Work Leadership Institute. Traditionally this program attracts young men, until last summer when Nehemiah’s Workshop welcomed three new apprentices; two were the program’s first girls.  

Read on to see how Erika was transformed in Nehemiahs's Workshop...

Erika, a freshman at Franklin Military Academy, was hesitant to apply to be an apprentice in the workshop, not because she was joining the guys in woodworking and carpentry, but because she struggled with math. As Erika began working in Nehemiah’s Workshop she needed to use math for precision and accuracy in her trade. Asking for help in front of peers can be tough for any young person to do, but that’s the challenge Erika encountered and overcame. She asked for help when she needed clarity or direction, and she kept trying until she mastered the math she needed to succeed. “I felt confident asking for help in the workshop because I was comfortable there. It was a small group, where everyone was nice, open, and friendly - I can work with that,” said Erika.

The new workshop dynamic proved to be successful as Erika and her peers, Imani and Jaden, built picnic tables, corn holes sets, and tables for the Front Porch Cafe. Their work over the summer, brought in more than $3,000 in revenue for Nehemiah’s Workshop. CHAT’s Small Business Manager, Steve Trivett, had the honor of teaching, encouraging, and working alongside all three teens. Giving young people something positive to do with their hands, minds, and time is the best job Steve has ever had. When working with youth Steve emphasizes respect, accuracy, problem solving, and follow through. “If students understand these things, along with integrity and faith, it can set them up for life.”

Authentic relationships rooted in the Gospel was the foundation of success for CHAT’s summer apprentices. Before work began, the group would pray over each other, the neighborhood, and the tasks for the day. Erika says this time built her confidence and relationships within the team.  “We shared very emotional things, and it pushed me to do better than what I was doing….My confidence grew a lot and I am better at communicating and working with people.”

 (From right to left) Erica, Jaden, Imani, and Steve in the Workshop last summer

(From right to left) Erica, Jaden, Imani, and Steve in the Workshop last summer

These strong relationships extended to CHAT's community of volunteers as well. Kevin Zeeger and his wife Becky travel from Pennsylvania every year to spend a week at CHAT. After visiting Work Leadership Institute Director Chris Whiting in 2010, they felt called to serve at CHAT. "We were immediately taken by the sense of community the CHAT engendered and saw how important their work was to Church Hill." Says Kevin.

 Imani, Erika, and Volunteer Kevin install table at the Front Porch Cafe

Imani, Erika, and Volunteer Kevin install table at the Front Porch Cafe

Last summer Kevin worked with Erika, Imani, and Jaden on tables for the Front Porch Cafe and was impressed with the level of skill and pride Erika and the team exhibited. "Erika epitomizes the finest qualities I have come to expect from the Workshop kids. I appreciated her attention to detail, pride in her work, and ability to work well with her peers - and me, a complete stranger from Pennsylvania" says Kevin.

Carpentry work in the humid Richmond Summer can be exhausting but volunteering at CHAT is still an uplifting experience for Kevin. "The aches and the pains are short-lived while the power of the experience stays with us for the entire year. We love being a small part of a group that so faithfully mirrors God's grace to each other and everyone they serve."
It is genuine relationships like these that empower our students to be trusted, confident, and creative.

Steve’s high expectations supported by a caring hand had lasting effects on Erika, Imani, and Jaden. So much so that they gifted Steve with a hand made token of their appreciation at the end of the summer. “The gift symbolized what Steve means to us. He opened up his space to us and made it feel like our space.” says Erika.

The relationships in Nehemiah’s Workshop are reciprocal. “We save each other, we look out for each other” Steve says “I show them that everyone makes mistakes, including me. They are empowered by that.”

Erika is hopeful for the future. She's decided that she wants to be an engineer, and she knows that this unique experience will be in her background. She has learned to adapt to her environment and problem solve, soft skills that will be key to her future success.  Hope is Here. It's in Nehemiah’s workshop in the encouragement of leaders like Steve and in the transformation of Erika and her peers.

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