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While surfing woodworking videos on YouTube, 70-year-old Ralph Kemptner came across one about an organization building desks for homeschooled children.
The Vancouver, Washington, resident knew his church often partnered on projects with nearby Marrion Elementary School, which has been teaching remotely because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and wondered whether he could use his carpentry know-how for a higher purpose.
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He checked with his pastor, Matt Daniells, who has three children at the school. Daniells checked with the school — and the answer was a resounding yes.
Not everyone has a space of their own at home to focus on schoolwork. So Kemptner built 10 desks — painted red and black in the school colors. As soon as they were delivered, the school had a waiting list with requests for 10 more.
So Kemptner went back to work.
"This is a way for me to use the skills God gave me to help people right now,” he says.
'This helps me believe in humanity'
It can be difficult under the best of circumstances for children to concentrate during virtual classes, especially when surrounded by toys and other comforts of home.
Factor in economic inequities, or parents working from home who need workspace as well, and the challenges become even greater.
"A lot of kids are engaging in school on their bed under the covers, at the dining room table, on a couch in their living room — just various places they can find around their home,” says Marrion Principal Matt Hill. “However, it's not necessarily a space set up for real successful learning."
Third-grader Stephen Laabs and his sister, second-grader Olivia, attended class and did homework in their kitchen or on TV trays before receiving one of Kemptner's desks. Their mom, Jill Cook, had searched for a desk they could share, but after she had to stop working to be home with her children, she couldn't afford one — and she didn't feel right taking money from her mother for “something that wasn't absolutely necessary."