By Michelle Burchard
Residents from all over Oakland County have discovered a new way to enjoy time with others while learning a new skill.
Independence Township Senior Center and Waterford Senior Center have active wood carving groups, offering many in-person classes over the years. Last fall, they offered their first online version via Zoom.
Now, Brandon Township, Lake Orion, and Oxford have joined the list. With so many Oakland county residents staying home, the mandatory closures of the physical facilities and a dearth of opportunities online, centers are looking for ways to help fill the growing need for social interaction and R&R.
Oxford Township Parks and Recreation Senior Center interviewed the instructor, Oxford resident Gerry Burchard, in the December 21 episode of Senior Break on Oxford ONTV to raise awareness of virtual opportunities.
“Anyone who has a desire to create and access to email can join the class,” says Gerry, a GM retiree who admits to being daunted at first by having to learn the new technology.
Participants click on the link in their email to see live step-by-step demonstrations and direct feedback. “You can do it with your computer, tablet, or even a smartphone,” he says.
Gerry already had been seeking a way to share his love for wood carving with newcomers who had transportation or mobility issues when his Introduction to Woodcarving class at the Independence Township Senior Center was shut down by the pandemic.
“My main goal was to introduce wood carving to all generations – to help the art survive and thrive,” explains Gerry, an avid wood carver for more than seven years. “But then I saw that a lot of people who would enjoy carving were struggling to make it to the Center each week. That’s when I started looking into doing online videos.”
He was mid-way through a face-to-face course he was teaching when the pandemic closed the Center. He noticed that a lot of churches were holding remote services through Zoom and followed suit.
Last fall, he held his first Zoom woodcarving class, breaking the 12-week class into 3 segments with a week break in between. “That way it was more affordable and someone new to carving could decide if they liked it before sinking a lot of money into it.” If a participant misses one of the classes, he emails a video recording.
“It’s my sanctioned carving time,” says one participant, mother of two teenagers who works from home.
“Structure has been a struggle. I find that the day just melts away; my home life and work life are no longer separate, so hobbies fall off the to-do list completely.”
With the regular Monday carving sessions, she was finally able to complete her projects and take time out to socialize with other adults.
A surprising outcome was how quickly the class was spreading beyond Oakland County borders. One participant not only signed up for the January class, but brought with him three of his family members from Pennsylvania and Florida.
“I realized pretty quickly that we could offer the class to other Centers,” Gerry remarked, “but now I see that it’s a good way to connect with family members from all over, doing something together that you enjoy.”
With no set date on when the centers will reopen and the cold weather forcing more people indoors, Gerry has added two more wood carving classes: a 4-week introductory course to create a Comfort Bird beginning April 8 and a 12-week intermediate course to create Eagle Head canes for the veterans through the Michigan Wood Carvers Association Lean On Me Program scheduled for May 3.
And if we ever return to normal? “I think I’ll keep doing online classes,” Gerry says. “It’s a lot like a real group session and actually easier – I don’t have to lug around all my tools and participants can do it from the comfort of their homes.”
By Michelle Burchard