Vermont retirees build work spaces for students learning from home

Local News

Age is just a number – that’s what a few retirees are saying and exemplifying in the Green Mountain State. This, as members from the Wake Robin Life Plan Retirement Community got out their saws, sanders and power drills.

With 30 years of industrial experience under his belt, Jerry Friant, a former volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, is building something new: desks.

“The old duffers might be retired but they haven’t lost there pizazz for life and their interest in the future, and let’s face it, the kids are the future,” said Friant.

After hearing about similar desk-making efforts around the country, Jerry, his friends, and family got to work, all to help students who are learning from home and in need of a proper work space.

“Throughout my industrial career, I noticed that productivity was a lot higher when people had a good work space – not a big work space – a convenient work space for what they were doing,” said Friant.

For the past few weeks, Friant and his wood-working crew have been utilizing the woodshop at Wake Robin, sawing, drilling, and sanding.

“It costs about $28 dollars per desk to make. And the labor, of course, is free because, as retirees, we enjoy making our days be occupied by doing something useful,” said Friant.

Other members involved in Friant’s desk-endeavor include his daughter Wendy, who helped deliver the first five to interested families and even those new to the state. 

“I’ve lived in Texas, Nebraska, Missouri – everywhere – South Carolina, and I’ve never seen that much of a heartwarming welcoming community,” said Sophie Schimke.

Schimke and her family moved to Vermont in the fall and instantly felt a sense of community. She explained how useful Facebook groups have been to adjust to the area, which is how she came across the desks.

Now, her eldest daughter Yuri, a Kindergartener at Essex Elementary School, attends class from her new work space every Wednesday.

“She absolutely loves it. It was a big surprise and a welcoming gift for her,” said Schimke.

Already, Wake Robin’s wood workers are making 10 more desks, thanks his team and a little help from Lowe’s in South Burlington who donated half of the materials.

“What I’ve learned is community cooperation breeds success,” said Friant.

Friant turns 90-years-old next month. He said he plans to be in the shop, making a difference in the lives of young students. 

“It turns out retirees have a lot of gas left in the tank,” said Friant.

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