- Associated Press - Monday, July 20, 2015

BATESVILLE, Ark. (AP) - Realizing for some time they needed a project to “give back” to others, the Ozark Woodturners club jumped at the chance to help a new veterans woodturning program being started at the Central Arkansas Veterans Hospital, otherwise known as Fort Roots, as a means of therapy for veterans.

When the leader of this new project, recreational therapist Alyssa Welch, put out a call on social media that the project had only limited funding for purchasing supplies and blank wood for making ballpoint pens, word got out to a member of the club, Raymond Drew, himself a veteran, The Batesville Daily Guard (https://bit.ly/1I1oX5d ) reported.

“He came through with a very generous donation of pen blanks and raw wood,” Welch said. “We are a new program and his donation really helped us get started.”

Drew, in turn, talked to other club members about the new program’s needs and the general consensus, after a few phone conversations with Welch, was that the club could help.

A team, comprised of Drew and Ken Higgins, then visited the central Arkansas veterans hospital facility to learn of the soldiers’ needs.

After meeting with Welch and learning of the program’s needs, Drew and Higgins invited Welch to speak at a recent club meeting.

“In our facility the vets aren’t permanent residents and we want them to take home a skill they can use as a hobby the rest of their life,” Welch told the group. “They are so happy to get to do something productive.” Welch said.

“They only get to make one pen for themselves to keep. The others are passed on to the many hospital volunteers and donors who support veterans programs. Each pen comes with a note saying it was “handmade by a U.S. Veteran.”

Welch went on to say that at some point the group hopes to find other simple woodturning projects the vets can do and was immediately flooded with ideas from club members.

Among participants in the program are both men and women who are at the facility for either short- or long-term treatment. “Some are wheelchair bound, as is one determined vet who has physical limitations to his hands but has learned to adapt everyday pliers to hold his shaping tool,” Welch said. “He is also challenged because the lathe table doesn’t adjust to fit his wheelchair.

“We’ve only been in operation since April and have just one small lathe and one turning tool. We were able to buy a few pen blanks, but the program got to be so popular we started running out pretty quick.”

After thanking the club for its hospitality and interest in supporting the veterans’ efforts, club members asked a few questions and then discussed Welch’s program needs among themselves.

Before adjournment club members had not only promised to support her wood needs, but had donated another lathe; one member volunteered to custom build an adjustable lathe table to accommodate wheelchairs and hold up to two lathes.

Another helped her carry out a new, portable air filtration system designed to collect dust from lathes or sanding machines. There was also discussion of club members possibly volunteering on a regular basis to assist in the program.

“Your generosity is very much appreciated,” Welch humbly said, “not just by me, but by every veteran that will get to participate in our program.”

With members from all over northern Arkansas and southern Missouri, Ozark Woodturners, based out of Lakeview, Arkansas, is a group of creative men and women who take a piece of raw wood, put it on a turning lathe and create works of art in the form of bowls, bottles, ballpoint pen bodies, ornaments and even hummingbird houses.

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Information from: Batesville Guard, https://www.guardonline.com/

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