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Shepherdstown Rotary Club builds, donates desks to fill educational needs

By Tabitha Johnston - Chronicle Staff | Aug 6, 2021

Shepherdstown Day Care Center Director Melissa Holman supervises students, as they try out using the newly donated desks from the Shepherdstown Rotary Club on July 22. Tabitha Johnston

SHEPHERDSTOWN — In Nov. 2020, Shepherdstown Rotary Club Secretary Rick Caruso saw a CBS News broadcast, featuring the work of a Howard County, Md.-based interfaith charitable organization. Almost immediately, he knew that the work DreamBuilders had taken up, because of the COVID-19 Pandemic, would be the perfect, practical service project for his club to complete.

“The group [DreamBuilders] was relegated from homebuilding for those in need, to indoor jobs, due to the pandemic,” Caruso said. “Then, they came up with the idea to build portable desks that could fold out of the way and then open up when [underprivileged kids] need to do work at home.”

The idea for the club to produce a similar project for youth-based organizations in the Eastern Panhandle was approved under the leadership of then-club president Terry Anderson in Dec. 2020. Proceeds from the club’s 2019 fundraiser with the Harlem Wizards Basketball Team at Jefferson High School, also under Anderson’s direction, were enough to fund the desk production costs of $4,230.

“Terry Anderson, our president, and our club were so supportive. Any money the Rotary Club gets in, we put back into the community,” said club member Walt Eifert.

Due to his position as Youth Services Chair, as well as over 50 years of carpentry experience, Eifert became the project’s cornerstone. He improved on DreamBuilders’ original desk design, price negotiated with the lumber mill where the club got their precut lumber from (Hicksville Planing Mill), housed the project in his barn and held multiple weekend desk-building work sessions for the club. While during those work sessions Eifert believes all of the club’s members dedicated hours of their time, he and his wife were even more devoted to the task.

“I worked probably about 490 hours. My wife put in another 100. It was probably about 1,500 volunteer hours that went into the project, total,” Eifert said. “We built the desks for a cost of $45 a desk. Each one is unique! They’re all handmade.”

While Eifert’s professional career was in hydrology, his wife’s has been spent as a Berkeley County school teacher. Through his wife’s experience as a teacher during the pandemic, Eifert became aware of the importance of the project, for underprivileged children and nonprofit organizations needing desks suitable for online learning, regardless of limited space.

“We knew there was a need out there,” Eifert said.

The club finished building the 94 desks in June, and presented 20 desks to the Shepherdstown Day Care Center on July 22. The desks will be used by students undergoing online learning this school year, said teacher Amber Siles.

“It will be such a help to the children, and it’s so nice that they’ll fold up!” Siles said, mentioning the center helped about 20 students, from kindergarten through fifth grade, with online learning last school year. “It was a challenge to ensure kids were learning and not communicating. Now, if they need a quieter space to work, I can just move their desk to a new area.”

Forty-five desks have been donated to Jefferson County Schools, for distribution to students. Twenty-five desks will be given to the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Eastern Panhandle this month. The final four desks will be auctioned off by the Shepherdstown Rotary Club at the club’s annual Holiday Gala in December to raise funds for the club’s youth activities.