Youth program turning discarded pallets into furniture

Joel Kissel, left, lead furniture fabricator with Upcycle Inc., a project of the Institute for Workforce Innovation, watches as, left to right, Jeremy Whitehead, 19, Johnathan Davis, 20, Greg Sercey, 23, and Ronaldo Rawls, 18, use scrapped wood pallets to build furniture with Project YouthBuild Americorps to be sold at Wednesdays' Farmer Markets.

Erica Brough/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Wednesday, November 13, 2013 at 2:50 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 13, 2013 at 2:50 p.m.

The youth involved in a project called Upcycle Inc. have begun selling their line of furniture and other items at the Union Street Farmers Market in Bo Diddley Community Plaza from 4-7 p.m. on Wednesdays.

The products include Adirondack chairs, wine racks, shelves, and garden and seasonal signs that are all made from reclaimed pallets and building materials.

Upcycle is part of the Institute for Workforce Innovation’s Project YouthBuild program for 16- to 24-year-olds who come from low-income households and have not earned a high school diploma or GED.

“(Upcycle) really accomplishes the goals of our organization and also helps the environment,” said Jonathan Leslie, the institute’s executive director and CEO.

Under the direction of furniture fabricator Joel Kissel and other staff, the young people turn discarded pallets made of wood such as pine and oak into home décor inside the Boys & Girls Club Mentor Center on Southeast 17th Drive.

Proceeds from the sale of Upcycle items go toward the institute’s programs and allow the organization to not have to rely on state and federal grants, Leslie said.

Some of the Project YouthBuild students and alumni participate in Upcycle, which teaches them the principles of entrepreneurship and manufacturing, according to the institute.

Johnathan[a] Davis, 20, graduated from Project YouthBuild in August but returned to the mentor center a few weeks ago to help build the furniture and other products.

Davis said the program gave him a “second chance.”

After studying his new craft from textbooks, Davis said the hands-on work is what he enjoys most.

YouthBuild USA is the umbrella organization for the nationwide network of programs.

Locally, 17 students currently participate in the 40-hour-a-week program for seven months.

Upon graduation, the students have at least five certifications, including CPR and the National Center for Construction Education and Research’s “Your Role in the Green Environment,” said Jessica Baker, the institute’s director of development and special projects.

Seventy-five percent of the students enroll in school, join the military or become employed within the first quarter after graduation, Baker said.

The Upcycle participants saw the demand for their products before their first farmers’ market, she said.

“We’ve already had some of our staff placing orders,” she said.

In addition, the owner of the new Cymply Fresh café, Brad Brooks, purchased four tables and 16 chairs from Upcycle, and the café also will carry its products for sale. Cymply Fresh is located next to CYM Coffee Company at the corner of Newberry Road and Eighth Avenue.

Upcycle participants also plan to make additional products and open an online store on the Etsy website.

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