God’s Work for Man
● By Style
Photos by Dante Fontana
Ask anyone if God still gives people visions and you’re apt to start a lively discussion.
Ask Robert Thresher, and you’ll simply get the facts. “I was just relaxing on my porch and this image came to me like a painting,” he says. “I saw an old woodworking craftsman teaching his skills to others so they could earn a living.”
Robert, a tech company owner who already worked 60-hour weeks and hadn’t done any woodworking in two decades, had no doubt about what he was seeing and what it meant. He and his wife Mary set about building an organization that would teach woodworking skills to the unemployed – primarily parolees, veterans and the homeless – and empower them back to independence. That’s a lot of work to take on based on a vision, but the speed and ease with which things fell into place was extraordinary. They obtained a slew of equipment at no cost from a house fire, established a lumber Free Trade Agreement, and met a craftsman who trained Robert – at no cost – to build high-quality hardwood rocking chairs.
Those rockers became the centerpiece of God’s Work for Man when it launched in mid-2009. They sold the first one before it was even built while they were overheard talking about the idea. Currently, they produce about one chair every month. Each one fetches a nice price (about $4,000), which goes right back into the organization.
That’s a hefty sum for a rocking chair, but these are more than just furniture. Each is an original work of fine art – that also happens to be very comfortable – and an heirloom-quality piece that can be enjoyed for generations. Similar chairs regularly sell for $10,000 or more across the country. “The more chairs we sell, the more jobs we can provide for people who want to learn the craft and earn a living,” Mary says. “So many people want to work and be busy and productive. Every chair creates more opportunities for that.” Robert adds: “This is a gratifying craft. It takes a lot of time, and when you’re done you have something very beautiful that you made with your own hands. The self-esteem that comes with that, and realizing you can earn a living at it is something special.”
This year the organization will expand into a larger commercial space and the Threshers plan to grow to a staff of 10 by the end of 2012. Of course, chair sales alone can’t meet the organization’s budget needs. Mary is working on several options for corporate grants and donations, and volunteers are always needed to help with maintenance, office work, sales and marketing, and driving apprentices to and from work.
To test drive one of the famous chairs, visit Placerville’s Cary House Hotel, where a rocker is on display and touching is allowed. Mary and Robert are also hosting an open house event this spring.
For more information, including how to become an apprentice or volunteer, visit gw4m.org.