The teen turned his budding hobby into an act of goodwill with nothing more than the resources available to him on the internet and the help of his dad.
It took Henry Sowells just three months to go from knowing absolutely nothing about woodworking to being a renowned craftsman whose pieces are flying off the shelves. This 16-year-old became a prime example of how one can make the most of an unfortunate situation after he took up woodworking during the lockdown and used his newly acquired skills to help the homeless. A rising junior at Walt Whitman High in Bethesda, Maryland, Sowells turned his budding hobby into an act of goodwill with nothing more than the resources available to him on the internet and the help of his dad David.
According to The Washington Post, after schools shut down in the Washington region in mid-March due to the growing number of coronavirus cases, Sowells and his dad decided to enroll in YouTuber Steve Ramsey's six-week online woodworking course. During this time, the family also noticed that as classes moved online, the school district was making it a priority to ensure students with free and reduced-price meals still had access to regular meals. As the Sowellses' dinner table conversations often touched upon the wealth disparity in the United States, Henry decided to use his new skill to make a difference.
The teen began selling the pieces of furniture he built by hand and donating all the proceeds to a local nonprofit, Bethesda Cares, which serves those experiencing homelessness in Montgomery County. "I'm shocked that — in 2020 in the richest country in the world — around 40 million Americans (including 16 [million] kids) struggle with hunger. I want to do something to help," Sowells wrote on his Woodworking For Food website. Currently, he has listed seven different products for a variety of prices on his website, including a small bench for $100, wooden crates priced at $35, and a patio table for $85.
Every listing also details a cost breakdown for the parts and how much money would go to the nonprofit from the sale. The $100 bench, for example, cost the teen $60 for the parts and the remaining $40 will go towards feeding those fighting hunger. Sowells revealed that some of his customers have even paid more than the asking price and that the extra money will also be donated to Bethesda Cares. While most of his products are based on designs he learned with his dad, he also created his own design for a raised planter bed to fulfill a custom order.
All the pieces can be stained, lacquered, or painted based on customers' preference and Sowells also offers to build the same products using other types of wood at an extra cost. "It's very satisfying to make stuff for people," the teen said. "I just enjoy making these products." He has raised more than $830 for the nonprofit in the four weeks since he began selling his pieces and credits YouTube for helping him learn the required skills. "We wouldn’t have learned how to do any of this stuff if there wasn’t this online YouTube course," he said.
Although David learned the basics of woodworking along with his son, he explained that the teen runs the show. David merely helps out by driving three times a week to Home Depot to stock up on wood and other supplies. So far, Sowells has received 50 orders of which he has built 20. He estimates that it will take him until late July or early August to complete the current backlog of orders. Depending on how the school year goes, he plans to continue his woodwork for charity and is already cooking up ideas to make cutting boards or other gifts around the holidays.