Renovations at The Woodland Demonstrate Wide Variety of Fresh Start Team Skills
It was almost two years ago when Anne O’Brien, managing director of The ArtFitters, was
awarded the job of renovating the main lobby of The Woodland in Hartford. The intent was to restore the lobby to its original mid-century origins. “I know just the people to call that can do this type of work,” Anne said, and the rest is now history.
The lobby boasts a massive original two-story wood wall plus open space. This wall, dirty and
parched from age, was painstakingly cleaned and refurbished by our workers and volunteers.
Along with the wall was an original banister overlooking the balcony. That too, came down and was restored to match its original finish.
The next areas to be touched by Fresh Start hands were the furnishings. The Woodland Board of Directors wanted to create a space that was inviting and upscale with unique pieces that captured interest, while keeping to the mid-century style and period.
The design team at Fresh Start went to work. The result? A beautiful array of unique pieces was created to integrate with the existing furniture. First, they crafted a mid-century seamless oak cube table with “waterfall” sides. Fresh Start workers Mohammed and Waseem took
painstaking effort to match up the grain of the wood on top to flow down the sides creating a waterfall effect. “The piece is quite incredible,” said Fresh Start Shop Supervisor Colin Green. “It’s nice to see the results of the skills that they have learned by being part of Fresh Start.”
Along with the table, a mid-century pattern for additional wood furnishings was designed
specifically for The Woodland. This pattern was used to create planters and pedestals for the
lobby. The Board was so pleased that it will soon have Fresh Start use this pattern to create
other accessories throughout the building. Lastly, the team created a beautiful transom light
from the 1920 base of a surveyor’s transit from India.
The end results? A win-win situation. Resident and Board satisfaction with the lobby restoration has attracted more business for Fresh Start. To date, many residents have hired Fresh Start to do custom work in their homes. Fresh Start continues its mission to provide meaningful work and training for those who could not obtain the opportunity anywhere else.
Fresh Offers Nantucket Chairs
Fresh Start is now pleased to offer attractive and comfortable new products—Nantucket
chairs. They are similar in design to Adirondack chairs, but our customers report they are much easier to get in and out of.
We build them out of Douglas Fir, painted in a range of colors, with a base price of $350.
For an additional charge, we offer the chairs in sapele, a great wood for outdoor furniture from the mahogany family. A high-quality finish permits Fresh Start chairs to be used inside and outside. The hardware is corrosion-resistant and the feet have an epoxy coating to prevent moisture wicking and damage. (Inside winter storage is recommended, as well as annual maintenance to keep the chairs in top condition.)
Ken Johnson and NINA
Ken Johnson, the executive director of Northside Institutions Neighborhood (NINA), is now
partnering with Fresh Start to produce custom Victorian-style trim to either replace or repair
damaged trim in restoration projects or to provide architecturally authentic reproductions for new homes. Ken, who has been executive director of NINA since its inception in 2003, is also the creator of 28 owner-occupied homes, with more to come.
Ken proposed this partnership when he found a design from Hamilton, Ontario, that he
especially liked, and Fresh Start was quick to respond with an investment in the equipment
needed to do the work. Now, Fresh Start workers have acquired yet another valuable
skill for the broader marketplace and NINA has four new town homes on Hawthorn Street, all sold to and occupied by Asylum Hill homeowners.
Fresh Start Upcycles Pews from the Church of St. Patrick (Farmington)
In the summer of 2019, The Church of Saint Patrick unveiled long discussed plans for a new
addition to the structure of the church. A capital campaign primarily funded by the parishioners would include: classrooms, hallways, meeting areas and a social hall. In addition to the new construction, a revitalization within the church would happen as well.
A contemporary update to the interior of the worship space would include new color p
alettes, flooring, a quiet room and a significant update to the altar area. In celebrating its 100th anniversary in October of 2021, another big change would also be necessary - the pews of the church.
During a Sunday mass homily in December of 2021, Monsignor Thomas J. Barry announced St. Patrick would be switching out their old pews to coordinate with the other interior design renovations. The plan was for the current pews to be donated and recycled to a local scrap yard. Given the historical nature of the pews, he asked the congregation to think of other possible solutions. Fresh Start became aware of this request through a parishioner and reached out to the church immediately. In working with Monsignor Barry, Fresh Start successfully removed a total of 53 pews and relocated them to our shop. In honoring the legacy of the pews, Fresh Start will upcycle the oak and make a variety of products. Already, St. Patrick parishioners have commissioned special items from Fresh Start, made with that wood.
Fresh Start Academy Continues Growth
Since it was established in 2015, Fresh Start has been focused on its primary mission, “Building Furniture–Rebuilding Lives.” However, another opportunity presented itself in 2020, when several contract clients expressed frustration with the difficulty they had in finding qualified employees to perform woodworking, carpentry, and other tasks.
Out of this feedback, the Fresh Start Board of Directors approved the formation of a training component of our organization to be known as Fresh Start Academy. The training classrooms and shop would be in Veeder Place, where the workplace is located. The program was formalized through a 10-module custom curriculum, specifically tailored to the expressed needs of the construction and building community. The training begins with workplace safety, basic measuring and cutting, wood selection, fabrication techniques, finishing and framing. The shop was well suited for the challenge of training unskilled individuals, but the volunteer leadership lacked depth in the instruction of techniques. A paid faculty position was necessary before launching the Academy.
Through a generous grant from the MJB corporation, former owner of Veeder place, the
position was created and the initial salary dollars were allocated. A uniquely qualified
individual, Colin Green, was recruited as the first paid shop supervisor and academy faculty
member. At a time when there was recognition of a national shortage of certain skilled
employees, federal and state dollars were made available for training. Working through Capital Workforce Partners, the North Central Connecticut premier workforce development program, application for funding was made in collaboration with Best Chance, led by veteran advocate, Yolanda Rivera. The initial program was funded with state and federal dollars for as many as four to six Academy trainees. Best Chance also became the channel for identifying potential Academy trainees.
Continuation funding through combined state and federal programs was obtained and a second class of six completed the program. The current class has eight trainees who spend time in the Academy classroom, onsite training on various equipment, and offsite on client projects. At the conclusion of the eight-week program each student selects a personal project to complete, utilizing the skills learned.
As Fresh Start Academy matures, additional skilled members of the faculty have volunteered or been hired to enable the recruitment of larger classes in the future. It is anticipated that job training funding will be available for the foreseeable future assuring the continuity of this
Fresh Start has been able to hire several graduates and local partners have expressed a
willingness to hire as well.
The Fresh Start Academy continues to meet a community need while adhering to the original mission of “Building Furniture-Rebuilding Lives.”
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