Small Desks Make a Big Difference

Lions discover that a lot of kids need a place to study

When the Agawam Lions in Massachusetts authorized funds to build 20 desks for students schooling from home, cautious members wondered if they’d be lucky to give that many away.

Workshop full of small desks build by Lions Club members
Dick Lanier’s workshop was full of desks for children, all made by Lions, in Agawam, Mass.

But even an experienced Lion can under-estimate the power of a good service project.

That was Dec. 8, 2020. Three months later, 231 desks have been built and delivered to children, and the Lions wrapped up their successful No-Cost Student Desk Program.

“The demand for them really blew us away,” says Lion Dick Lanier who has a home workshop and inadvertently became project leader and spokesman. “We opened a can of worms.”

After the December meeting, Lanier’s daughter, Lion Cheryl Terramagra, posted the club’s new project on their Facebook page, asking if someone had a child who needed a desk for remote learning. By the next morning she had 157 requests.

Lanier began putting in eight-hour days in his wood working shop building desks of pine and plywood.

Closeup of a school desk made for kids by Lions.
Crete, Illinois Lions built 50 Lion desks for children learning from home.

Others, including inspired non-Lions, did the same, spending hours alone in their shops under COVID gathering restrictions, but confident they were helping children who might otherwise be studying at the kitchen table, a coffee table, their bed, or on the floor.

“We feel really good about the project,” says Lanier. “It was a boon to our students who are in remote and hybrid learning. Feedback from educators and parents clearly states that these desks were transformational to so many students in their sometimes chaotic learning experiences. The change has been dramatic for some who were really struggling.

”This project also has really increased the awareness in our community as to what our club does – especially for our youth.”

The Agawam Lions got the idea for desks from a former member who moved to California and saw on TV that an Auburn Host Lion was building desks for kids. She shared the news with her old club.

Agawam Lions pose in front of the desks they built.
Crete volunteers at their first desk build event: Lion Barb Innes, Lion Sandi Smigel, Lion Bob Lee, Bill Smigel, Lion Bill Innes, and Lion Mike Hakenjos.

Lion Mike Hakenjos, president of the Crete, Illinois Lions, also saw the news and decided to support his community by building desks in his workshop. With help from fellow Lions and non-Lion friends, they built 50 desks for local schoolchildren.

Hakenjos and Lanier connected online to swap design ideas, and Agawam Lion Frank Terramagra optimized the design so builders could get four desks from one sheet of 4-by-8 plywood and five 2-by-4s with little or no waste. Those plans are now posted on the Agawam Lions’ and the Crete Lions’ Facebook pages.

Although labor was free, materials are not. The Agawam Lions received financial support from numerous private donors as well as a US$3,800 donation from Home Depot to cover the cost of wood, says Lanier, who stresses the importance of getting the community involved in projects.

Kindergarten teacher Cindy Yaverski in Crete has seen the same need for community support. A teacher for 30 years at the Crete Elementary School, she has watched families struggle through the pandemic, and six or more of her students joyfully received desks in Crete, she says. Not only were the children grateful, but their parents and grandparents were. One woman was caring for six grandchildren who each needed a quiet place to study.

“It’s an amazing idea and it keeps getting bigger and bigger,” Yaverski said. “It’s really important.”

In Agawam, Lanier says club members were so moved by the project that they are now establishing their district’s first branch club to focus exclusively on children and their families.

“We will be picking up many new members who wish to be part of our culture to better serve our community, especially our younger population,” says Lanier.

“These are very exciting times for us, all a result of the success of the desk project and our newfound focus on the needs of our community. Don’t know where all this is going, but we are on a roll!”