Roanoke's Maker Mart opening doors to more people to serve more schoolchildren

Maker Mart offering adult classes for first time to reach more people

ROANOKE, Va. – The Making Foundation in Roanoke started three years ago as a way to get city school kids thinking about trade jobs. It grew into a maker space where you can use professional tools and learn, and now the program is morphing into its next phase.

These kinds of spaces are popping up all over the country. They're places you can use your hands and work with metal and wood with a very low barrier to entry. Roanoke's own Maker Mart is continuing to grow, and while it's opening its doors to more people, it's all to help the original goal.

Precisely imperfect sounds like an oxymoron. But in Roanoke's Maker Mart, that's exactly what it's all about.

"I've always enjoyed making stuff, I just don't always have the resources at the house to do it," student Chris Foutz said.

He jumped at the opportunity when the Maker Mart announced its first adult work sessions earlier this year. He shows up with the idea and the determination, and the space provides the tools and the expertise to get it done.

"It's just different. Of course, I went to college, graduated, you always learned out of a textbook," Foutz said. "Some things you just have to learn on your own. You make a mistake, you fix it."

Aaron Ray Dykstra is the executive director of the foundation who created the woodworking space in Roanoke's West End neighborhood.

"I was a complete novice to the nonprofit world, I was a complete novice to the education world, but I really feel like that kind of played as an advantage for me," Ray Dykstra said.

The Making Foundation and the Maker Mart started as a way to give select city school kids a path to woodworking. Others caught wind of the space and wanted to get in, but Ray Dykstra was primarily focused on serving the select students he could with a grant in hand.

Now in its third year, the foundation is opening the Maker Mart to anyone who wants to use it. It's finishing up its first adult term and is offering summer camps to kids from any school who want to join.

"We've got the equipment to make just about anything in wood that you would need, and it all goes to support the kids' programming during the day, which is really key for us," Ray Dykstra said.

LIke the reclaimed wood they work with, the path to getting here has been precisely imperfect.

"We're really excited about expanding out," Ray Dykstra said.

Foutz is working on a small custom table, using wood that he and his father picked out. Although he's been tinkering with projects all his life, he didn't find out about the space until he literally stumbled upon its front door. Foutz is a teacher at Woodrow Wilson Middle School in Roanoke and volunteered to bring students to the space, not knowing what it was about.

Now he's all in on the program and couldn't think of any better way to support the space than making in it.

"My kids just love it. They love coming here and the math and science behind it, it definitely ties into the curriculum," Foutz said.

The Making Foundation hopes to expand its program to serve even more people. It says it would like to open a few more Maker Marts, too.


About the Author: