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The Guest House woodshop churns out crafts and teamwork

POSTED: November 8, 2011 1:30 a.m.

Dorothy Morgan paints a craft project in the woodshop at The Guest House in Gainesville.

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Santa’s elves may get to work at the end of the year, but the busy bees in The Guest House Woodshop are busy all year long.

Since the late ’90s, a dedicated crew of workers have been creating a steady supply of hand-crafted goodies at the facility on Tower Heights Road in Gainesville.

"It started inside in the Joy Room," said Judy McNeilly, a volunteer at The Guest House since 1996. "Some of the crafts we did just didn’t appeal to the guys. They wanted something more to do. (Former staff member) Robin Callahan came up with the idea that we would do woodworking.

"I didn’t know anything about it, but the guys taught me."

The Guest House is a nonprofit, non-residential adult health care center. The day center offers a variety of daily activities that are "designed to gently stimulate clients’ minds, bodies and spirits."

After interest continued to grow, The Guest House staff and volunteers decided the activity needed its own dedicated space. In 2002, West Hall High School students constructed a building to hold all of the woodworkers and their tools. The red building behind the main facility is large enough to accommodate 10 or 12 woodworkers around a big work table.

The workshop is open for about two hours every Tuesday. The activities are planned almost entirely by volunteers Judy McNeilly, her husband David McNeilly and Larry Little.

"They have made everything from furniture-type things to decorative things for the wall," Judy McNeilly said. "Larry (Little) is a construction kind of person. He knows how to do things. He has helped us do a table that went behind a sofa in The Guest House, and the nurses have a new book shelf in their area that we built."

Although the McNeillys and Little cut out the shapes for the various projects in advance, The Guest House clients construct and finish the projects.

"We do a lot of seasonal things," Judy McNeilly said.

"Some of the participants love to paint and it’s soothing to them. Some — like Larry (Plants) — cannot stand it."

"That’s true," said Plants, who was one of the original Guest House woodworkers.

"What I really like to do is sand."

Over the years, Plants and the other woodworkers have completed a number of projects. From bread racks to toy boats that will propel across water with the help of a rubber band, the crafters have built it all.

Overall, their assembly line works well, but they have hit a snag or two occasionally.

"One of our projects, a little stool, took all of our patience. There were no nails, it was all just pegged together and it was collapsible," Judy McNeilly said.

"Everybody was working on different parts. When we started putting them together, we found our mistake was not letting one person do one stool. We had parts from this person and parts from that person, and they didn’t go together.

"We had to redo that a bunch of times. It turned into a long project, but we learned from our error."

Although they corrected that mistake, other times they just work around them.

"Larry (Little) is excellent about cutting out things in his shop. And David is pretty good too," Judy McNeilly said.

"I can cut it out, but I don’t always do it right. I don’t measure twice and cut once. I measure once and cut several times.

"Sometimes our projects end up pretty small."

No matter how small their projects, the group has used them to make a big impact in the community. They took a batch of their birdhouses and hung them up throughout local parks, and most recently, they donated a bunch of their hand-crafted toys to Challenged Child and Friends Development Center.

The workers have also sold some of their wares at the Mule Camp Market Festival in downtown Gainesville and even donated a few for Calabash, the annual fundraiser for The Guest House.

Mostly, they make the crafts for their own enjoyment.

"It’s very therapeutic for them," David McNeilly said.

"And they always have fun together," Judy McNeilly added. "They crack a lot of jokes. Mostly at me, but it’s all in fun."

As enjoyable as their time is together, the woodworkers can only get together once a week.

"They would come more often if there were volunteers to help," David McNeilly said.

"If there are volunteers out there that know a little bit about woodworking, they sure would appreciate the help. You need at least three volunteers to work together."

The woodworkers are also appreciative of donations of wood, paint and other supplies.


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