Woodcrafts defy warriors' limitations
SFC Ira Blair, left, creates a bowl with Charles Estes Monday.

When MAJ(R) Nina Saeli injured her spine and neck during training exercises, it limited the use of her hands, feet, arms and legs. She wasn't sure she would ever be able to participate in any productive activities. Then, her life was changed by a visit to the home of Dawson McLemore, president of the Bi-City Woodturners.

"I can't even describe the difference this has made in my life," she said. "I went from being depressed and discouraged, thinking I'd never be able to do anything productive, to being able to make something with my own hands and feeling good about myself. Wood turning showed me there are things I can do despite my physical limitations that are enjoyable and productive."

Saeli, formerly assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion, was one of the first Soldiers to participate in a partnership between the battalion and the Bi-City Woodturners, a group for wood lathe enthusiasts. Since autumn 2008, the battalion has brought Soldiers to McLemore's wood turning shop in Fortson, Ga., about once or twice a month to learn the craft of woodturning.

"They love it," said Karen Nichols, an occupational therapy assistant. "They seem absolutely proud of what they make. It's an outlet from what's going on in their everyday world, it's a way to get away from it all, and it's a way to fellowship and learn a new skill. It's just a win-win situation."

The partnership grew out of a project where club members created 50 wooden canes to donate to members of the WTB, said Bob Ingram, vice-president of the Bi-City Woodturners.

"We were trying to find a project - what could we give to a Soldier to say 'Thank you''" he said. "And we came up with the idea of giving something practical."
To make the canes, which McLemore estimates are worth at least $100 each, club members donated more than 150 hours of their time over more than four months.

"We're giving back to veterans because we appreciate their sacrifices," Ingram said. "It's a way to show them they can still do something."

SFC Ira Blair participated in his second wood turning session Monday.

"It's exciting - fantastic, really," he said. "It takes your mind off everything, and that's why I like doing it."

The club holds a "mentoring Monday," an open wood turning session for those who want to learn and improve, at McLemore's house every week.

"There's no competition here, and that's what's great about it," said Saeli, who joined the club in February. "Their entire focus (on Mondays) is helping people like me who are just starting out. Nobody's trying to be better than anybody else. Everybody is out here trying to help the other person be good at what they do. My skill has improved without a doubt, and it's because of the other club members.

"Now I'm on the other side. I get to help other Soldiers do things they probably never thought they could do and feel better about themselves. And I know they will because I know I did."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16