Teens' pew project

Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Members of the Southside Explorers Mikey Jones, 12, and sister Tanesha Jones, 15, used power sanders to remove the finish from an old church pew as Pat King supervised. The pews are being converted to be sold as benches by the Southside Explorers, a youth group at the Family Resource Center on South Sprigg Street in Cape Girardeau. (AARON EISENHAUER ~aeisenhauer@semissourian.com)

A different kind of chop shop is in an old church on the corner of South Sprigg and Hickory streets in Cape Girardeau. Instead of stripping cars and selling parts, teens are splitting church pews.

A youth group from the Cape Area Family Resource Center began a new project last week to make smaller benches out of 12-foot pews that will eventually be sold to raise money for the organization.

Center director Denise Lincoln said she'd tried to find something constructive to do with the pews since she joined the not-for-profit organization two-and-a-half years ago.

"It just occurred to me one night to use what we got and make a project out of it," she said. She named it the "pew chop shop," which she said made the teens smile.

When the Family Resource Center acquired the old church building in 2001, the 14 pews were part of the deal. The pews were unbolted and pushed off to the side of the almost 60-year-old building, which was the former location of the First Assembly of God and First Pentecostal Church.

Sawdust covered the hands of James Lane, 14, as he and fellow volunteer Kyro Haynes, 14, paused from sanding the finish from an old church pew. Once the pews have been converted to benches, they will be sold to support the group's activities. (AARON EISENHAUER ~aeisenhauer@semissourian.com)

In the last few years, Lincoln tried to sell the pews to other churches in bulk or one by one, to no avail. She said she thinks they will be more marketable in portable sizes.

But the benefits go beyond sales.

"If the kids learn how to work with wood, that'll be a skill they'll find useful all their life," she said. "I thought I'd help them navigate a system that puts an entrepreneur spirit in them."

The Family Resource Center is a neighborhood service center designed to give families of the southeast quarter of the city access to a variety of educational, recreational and support services.

"Folks here seem to feel a little isolated," Lincoln said. "There's not a lot of services in this area, like parks and businesses, and some of the residents are challenged with transportation needs and don't have the options to go to other parts of town."

Besides the after-school program, the Family Resource Center offers a senior adult program and parent education programs.

The River Corridor Task Force, another not-for-profit group dedicated to improving the lives of youths in the area, donated $1,000 to the youth group to buy equipment for the project.

Tuesday night the group practiced sanding a 4-foot bench with their new electric sanders and safety goggles.

The profits from the project, which doesn't yet have a deadline, will fund activities and purchase new chairs for the old church building.

Last week Joel Hatchett, a Cape Girardeau carpenter, cut some of the pews into smaller pieces and discussed what it would take to complete the operation. "We're trying to give the kids some kind of idea of accomplishment," he said, adding that he's going to buy one of the benches when they're finished so he can put it in his yard.

Hatchett said he used to go to the First Assembly of God when it was in the building on South Sprigg Street and he lived in the neighborhood.

The group of about 10 teens, who call themselves the Southside Explorers, have been meeting each Tuesday evening since April.

"We're hoping to raise some money and explore new things," said 15-year-old Lateria Flye. "Maybe people will want a part of church in their home."

"It's getting hot," 15-year-old Tanesha Jones added. "They could sit in the shade or use them if they're having a barbecue or something."

tkrakowiak@semissourian.com

Kevin Moore, 13 and James Lane, 14, joked with each other as they removed the finish from a pew outside the Family Resource Center.
AARON EISENHAUER
aeisenhauer@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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