Students build a toolbox… and for some, a future


By Marlene McTigue

Capital Region Independent Media

Students from Scott M. Ellis Elementary School tried their hand at the building trades thanks to a program spearheaded by GNH Lumber. Marlene McTigue/Capital Region Independent Media

GREENVILLE — Warm sun shone down upon the pavilion behind Scott M. Ellis Elementary School in Greenville as fourth graders filed out of their classrooms to participate in a little engineering and building recently.

The program, simply called the Build-a-Toolbox program, allows students to gain an appreciation of the skills needed to succeed in the building trades through hands-on experience. With the help of some community volunteers, the kids were introduced to a variety of building skills in a fun and safe environment.

On this day, the mission was for each child to assemble their own toolbox and have a little fun while they were at it.

Starting out with premade kits prepared by team members from GNH Lumber, the kids received important safety instructions on using tools and practicing good listening skills before they started in. And once they did… you can imagine the cacophony as nearly 50 fourth-graders brought hammer to nail all at the same time. 

A pair of students show off their handiwork. Marlene McTigue/Capital Region Independent Media

Helpers from GNH and B&B Forest Products worked with the kids at each table. By the time each student had their completed project in hand, smiles of pride spread across their faces.

The Build-a-Toolbox program is a passion project for GNH Lumber President, John Ingalls.


“I was invited to an event last year,” Ingalls said as he explained how he got involved. “Prior to attending the event I thought that there is a problem (of kids not considering careers in the trades) that needs to be fixed. My thought was that this is a problem with the guidance counselors or the educators, the school system.” 

Ingalls’ views were challenged during that seminar. The speaker suggested an alternate viewpoint that Ingalls hadn’t considered. 

“The speaker said that it’s not the fault of the schools if kids aren’t considering the trades — ‘if you’re not involved, it’s your fault.’ I took that message quite powerfully and decided that I was going to take a part in becoming involved and offer this to the school systems,” said Ingalls. 

“I joined the coalition (Northeast Construction Trades Workforce Coalition) and went to a toolbox-build in East Greenbush and learned how to do it, and then I asked Jim (Church of Questar III) to start getting the schools in Greene County involved,” Ingalls said. “It is my desire to have every school in Greene County be able to participate.”

As for the Greenville fourth graders, they approve of his decision.

Winter Wilkinson from Westerlo said she had fun, but it was kind of hard to build her toolbox as she held her completed project aloft for all to see.

Arianna Ford was all smiles as she displayed her brand-new toolbox that she built.

“I loved that we got to have the experience of nailing things and having fun,” said Arianna.

Students worked alongside volunteers to put hammer to nail and built their own toolbox. Marlene McTigue/Capital Region Independent Media

Jim Church, director of Strategic Initiatives for Questar III BOCES, was there to facilitate the program.

“The coalition was created last year,” said Church. “It was started by Curtis Lumber and an offshoot of the Saratoga Building Association. It was created because there was an understanding that there needed to be an effort to raise awareness about careers and the building trades. So this coalition, which is made up of businesses like GNH Lumber, contractors, higher education, K-12 education and workforce development organizations around the region, works together raising awareness with students and adults about rewarding careers in building trades.”

“As you can imagine, at Questar III BOCES, this aligns nicely with our programs,” said Church. “John Ingalls has been great from GNH Lumber because when he found out about it, he got involved and he and I began to have conversations about spreading these opportunities down in Greene County and through John, we were able to connect with some contractors who are his customers.”

One of those customers is Jen DeFrancesco of B&B Forest Products of Cairo. DeFrancesco was excited to join the effort.

“It’s really about raising awareness through a fun activity where kids are both learning and doing it hands on,” DeFrancesco said. “Because of John and the businesses that he has been able to recruit who are donating their time and materials to putting on an activity like this, kids are learning.”

Greenville Superintendent of Schools Michael Bennett was on hand to watch the progress and believes in the mission.

“This is a great opportunity for these kids,” said Bennett. “We are constantly looking for that pathway for kids, whether it will be with a four-year school, a two-year school or the trades. And this has become a real need, not just here in Greenville but across the state and across the nation. We need to expose kids to more opportunities. And something like this is great because this is also a life skill for a lot of these kids that may not get into a trade. This is stuff they can use around the house and to help with their parents, so it’s a really great opportunity for our kids to be exposed to something they normally wouldn’t be exposed to.”

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