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The timing was perfect. Filling in the Blanks needed a new desk and storage space, and Dean Ambrose wanted to help local nonprofits by building anything they needed.
“For Filling in the Blanks, it was perfect timing to help us fulfill our vision,” said Tina Kramer, co-founder and co-president of the Norwalk organization with Shawnee Knight.
The desk for Filling in the Blanks was the first project completed by the Building for Nonprofits club, a student organization founded by Ambrose at St. Luke’s School. The junior spent the summer reaching out to nonprofits across Fairfield County and offering building services.
The idea for the club came to Ambrose after he completed his Eagle Scout project, which was building convertible benches for Grassroots Tennis & Education in Norwalk. He wanted to bring that opportunity of community service to his school, which requires its students complete 80 hours of volunteer service before graduating.
Building for Nonprofits is the only club at St. Luke’s where students’ time working on a club project can be logged as community service hours. About a dozen students amassed over 100 hours working on the project for Filling in the Blanks. Ambrose has 11 students working on their next project — building 20 birdhouses for the Darien Land Trust.
“We decided to partner with Dean and his club because we believe in the importance of building relationships in the broader community, not just within Darien, and we believe this will raise awareness about the DLT and the importance of providing habitats for birds right in your own backyard,” Beth Harmon, executive director of the Darien Land Trust, said in an email.
The club takes advantage of the school’s designLab with access to 3D printers and a laser cutter. Ambrose is also looking forward to using the CNC routers on future projects.
In addition to his nonprofit outreach, Ambrose also worked with lumber retailer Ring’s End to secure materials for the projects. The club made small, wooden ornaments using 3D software and a laser cutter, and sold them at the school’s annual holiday boutique to raise more funds.
“A large part of the project is fundraising,” said Ambrose, who personally funded the club’s first project.
Beyond helping others, Ambrose and his classmates are also learning about different building tools, what materials work best for each project, and how to fix their mistakes without leaving any evidence on the final product.
“The trial and error nature of our projects has been amazing. Looking back on what we've created is awesome, and all of the challenges and mistakes made along the way make our projects personal and unique,” said Harrison Bennett, who knew he wanted to be a part the new club as soon as Dean pitched it to him. “I would be fine just building various things in the Design Lab with my friends, but being able to give our creations back to the community makes the whole process that much more gratifying.”
Building for Nonprofits constructed the desk for Filling in the Blanks at the school then transported it the organization’s building in the back of a pickup truck. The desk will serve as the point of contact for FITB volunteers and store waiver forms, name tags, masks and gloves. It also has a cut out for a large whiteboard, a shelf to hold a laptop computer, and a cupboard to store water bottles. It replaces a folding table.
“Everything is now in one organize place,” Kramer said. “The unit is beautifully constructed. It came out better than we had envisioned.”
Kramer and Harmon were impressed with Ambrose and the club’s volunteers for their professionalism on the projects and attention to detail.
“I personally know several club members. They are all scholar athletes and have perfectly paired building and having fun while attaining service hours. You can tell by their smiles this is fun work,” Harmon said.
Ambrose is looking forward to their next project: Building picnic tables for the Boys & Girls Club of Ridgefield.
“I love tables. They’re a great challenge because wood bends which is not helpful when you’re trying to make a 90-degree angle,” he said.
Ambrose said his goal is to keep the Buildings for Nonprofits club running long after he graduates. He’s recruiting freshmen and sophomores to join the club so he can teach them the ropes and looking for more non-profits to work with on future projects.