- Associated Press - Sunday, January 22, 2017

NEW HOPE, Miss. (AP) - It’s not uncommon to hear the muted whir of bandsaws and sanders coming from Shawn Stone’s workshop on a Sunday evening. What is unusual is that the mechanical medley is likely to be sometimes punctuated by laughter, or prayer.

Stone’s passion for woodworking - something he came by almost accidentally - has evolved into an outlet for sharing hands-on skills and “doing life” with teens who attend Mt. Vernon Baptist Church. Through a church ministry known as life groups, or MTVGroups, Stone mentors small groups of high schoolers interested in woodcraft. The courses, open to boys in ninth- through 12-grade, last about six weeks each, meeting on Sunday nights. Every session begins with a devotional video and discussion, followed by time in fellowship, building projects.

“I think it’s helpful for kids to get their hands dirty, so to speak, to start ‘doing’ instead of just sitting around,” says Stone in his Stone & Sons Workshop behind the family home in a quiet New Hope neighborhood. He’s surrounded by lumber and tools of all shapes and sizes, everything neatly in place. His sons - J.T., 6, Thax, 4, and Sam, 2 - have just finished “helping” dad and scurry, giggling, back to the house.

The woodworking, the shop, the MTVGroup - his sons are the drive behind it all, Stone says. For his three boys, he wants to lead by example.

“I wanted to start it while they were young. I think it’s important that they can use their hands, use their minds and creativity, not just be behind a video game all afternoon. I want to instill a craft they can use the rest of their lives.”

A remodel lights the fire

Stone’s own interest in working with wood was fueled in 2009 when he converted a breakfast room at home into a mudroom outfitted with benches, cubbies and coat rack. At the time, he took to the Internet to supplement his how-to skills and hasn’t looked back too often since.

“I love woodworking,” he smiles. He loves sharing it, too.

In 2013, Stone began posting tutorials himself on his Stone & Sons Workshop YouTube channel. He has about 12,000 subscribers and growing. After retiring in December from a near-20-year-career with a telephone company, he’s hoping to now be able to produce new videos about once a week. He’s also developing online courses, including “Start Your Woodworking Journey” and “Woodworking Basics for Kids.”

Stone has developed a following as well on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. And he has begun teaching small, private classes for homeschool students, in addition to leading the Mt. Vernon Church group.

Doing life

MTVGroups are a key aspect of the church community. Most meet weekly in the home of the leader or a participant. Woodworking is one of several offered.

“Some are very mission-oriented,” says Jerry Mitchell, Mt. Vernon’s equipping pastor. Others include a crafts group, a grief-share group and a veterans group that supports other veterans and their families, especially veterans struggling with PTSD.

Group participants “do life” together, Mitchell says. They encourage and support one another. Some, like Stone’s group, are born out of a specific common interest.

Shawn’s gifted and passionate about woodworking, and he took that and uses that opportunity to teach high school boys something that could be perhaps a trade,” Mitchell continues. “He’s mentoring those young men, helping them grow as Christians.”

Working with machinery was novel for New Hope High School junior Christian Hedge, who moved to Mississippi from Chicago about two years ago.

Shawn basically taught me everything and helped me learn about the tools,” says the 16-year-old. In the workshop, Hedge got to use a table saw, bandsaw and mechanical sander for his projects, one a cutting board for his mom, a Christmas gift.

“I’ve got more confidence now,” Hedge says. “He taught us different techniques, how to properly cut things and measuring so it’s symmetrical.”

Like Hedge, Dalton Moody, 16, counts camaraderie among the benefits of the MTVGroup, where members can talk about what’s on their mind.

“Just being around the group of guys … just being more connected with them,” says the New Hope High sophomore. “And Shawn’s a good guy. He’s cool and fun to be around.”

Other than minor jobs around the house with his dad, Moody hadn’t worked extensively with power tools much before making a bandsaw box in Stone’s workshop.

“Now that I’ve made something like that, it just helps,” he said of his rising level of comfort with machinery.

Watching a young man’s confidence grow is one of the rewards of the ministry for Stone, who first got involved with the groups because his wife, Callie, is director of Mt. Vernon’s KidZone ministry.

“I look at them and I see that if they get out here and work with their hands to create something that didn’t exist, they know they can make something of this wood,” says Stone. “That just sparks creativity, and it develops skills and talents they don’t even know they have yet.”

It really comes down to the legacy one hopes to leave. One day we should all look back and ask ourselves, “What have I done to make a difference?” he believes. His hope is that the MTVGroup is a lasting positive influence on the boys, part of what Mt. Vernon Church calls “creating contagious communities of hope.” Everyone can have a role.

“Woodworking is what I’m passionate about,” Stone says. “This is what I know how to do. I can start where I am, with what I am and what I know, and pass it along.”

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Information from: The Commercial Dispatch, http://www.cdispatch.com

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