Carpenters union’s free workshops a hit with kids

Luca LaFerla puts the finishing touches on his treasure box during a Kids Build workshop at the Carpenters training center in St. Paul.

Luca LaFerla puts the finishing touches on his treasure box during a Kids Build workshop at the Carpenters training center in St. Paul.

Jim Hendricks clapped his hand five times, and the room bustling with more than 30 busy children Saturday morning fell silent. Everyone turned to face Hendricks, a business representative for the Carpenters union, awaiting his instructions.

Holding up two pre-cut pieces of wood, Hendricks demonstrated the method for fashioning them into the sides of a “treasure box,” the carpentry project for this month’s Kids Build workshop in St. Paul.

Some looked puzzled, others determined; but for Hendricks, the young faces staring back at him from the floor of his union’s training center made it worth spending a Saturday morning at the office.

“There are a lot of ups and downs through the week of work, but you always walk out of here with a smile,” Hendricks said. “I don’t know a kid who doesn’t like to build things.”

Launched locally in September by the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters, Kids Build has become wildly popular with both families, who fill up the available space within an hour of registration opening, and volunteers, including retired and apprentice carpenters.

Nick Vevea retired in June, but he returns to the training hall on the second Saturday of each month to assist with the two-hour workshops.

“I love working with the kids,” Vevea said. “It’s a great opportunity to share your knowledge.”

“We’re encouraging the spark in the next generation that’s going to come into the career of carpentry,” Local 322 apprentice Jarid Freund said. “But it’s also great to be able to see kids enjoying this work.”

Open to children ages 5 to 12, Kids Build has been so popular in St. Paul that the Carpenters council has spun off workshops at training centers across its jurisdiction, including in Papillion, Neb., Fargo, N.D., Madison, Wis. and Rochester.

The workshops offer the public an introduction to “who carpenters are and how we help our communities,” apprenticeship director Paul Trudeau said. Kids Build is also an opportunity for the union to show off its world-class training facility and, potentially, recruit new workers to the trade.

“All our members are trained here,” Hendricks said. “That’s why we’re able to build projects like the new stadium. We take pride in the training and safety of our members.”

The events are always free, with materials and tools provided by the union, and the project changes each month, so families are encouraged to return. Previous and future projects include bookends, a birdhouse, soapbox derby cars and more.

“We’re not on a computer – this is hands-on,” Trudeau said. “And when they go home, these kids have something to show their grandparents, their siblings, their neighbors.” Trudeau said.

As Avery Kaneakua, 8, and Mina Howitz, 7, added glitter glue and paint to their treasure boxes, they agreed they’d had fun completing the project, and said they planned to use the boxes to store their electronics.

“And as much pride as every one of those kids has right now, we do too,” Trudeau said.

For more information on Kids Build, go to

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