Friday, August 1, 2014

Not theatre, but the art of real living

The Dulcitar project – Camp Goodtimes -- June and July, 2104
by Michael Dresdner

In a heartwarming scene worthy of a well-scripted movie, eager high school students plop down on the ground, matched up with much younger campers, with a kit of what looks like guitar parts in front of them. Then, with the patience and care of classic big brothers/big sisters, they adroitly guide the youngsters’ hands into building their own little musical classics.

It’s “build day” at Camp Goodtimes, a refuge for children affected by cancer, and the team of students from Rogers High School in Puyallup has already been at it since 6 am.

What is Camp Goodtimes? To quote The Goodtimes Project website, “Camp Goodtimes was established in 1984 to provide a no-cost camp environment for children affected by cancer where they can recapture the joys of childhood.” More accurately, it is a special haven, a hallowed ground that goes a long way toward helping the afflicted rebuild and restore what’s been lost. 

Once at the Vashon Island campground, eight or nine high school student volunteers pile out of a school-provided van loaded with instrument parts, and explode onto camp. They unload the van, set up all the tools and parts, stage the work area, and wait for the campers to arrive. It will be a long day; they’ll be hard at it for about 12 hours, but today is only the finale. For them, work started on this project many months earlier.

This is the the third straight year that a team of woodshop students from Rogers High School, working with a small cluster of like-minded adults, helped almost 100 youngsters per year at Camp Goodtimes build a musical instrument. This time it was a child-size travel dulcimer with a guitar-shaped body; a Dulcitar, if you would. The pictures should give you a good idea of what both the kit, and the finished instrument each one gets to take home, looks like.

After some design and prototyping, things take off at the school’s shop, where students under the guidance of Jon Cerio and his brother David use standard woodworking tools, specialized equipment, CNC tooling, and even lasers to make hundreds of parts. They do a production run to create enough pieces to form about 110 instruments, with the excess to allow for glitches during assembly. Operations that require equipment the school lacks are done outside, in my shop or that of Warmoth Guitars. Strings, tuners, wood, and other needed items are bought with money donated by soft-hearted locals, including my own local woodworking club, the Evergreen Woodworker’s Guild.

When it is over, a batch of delighted campers is “rocking out” on the instruments they themselves made, and a weary but elated gaggle of some of our finest high school students is heading home, replete with a handful of fond memories and well-deserved accolades.

All photos courtesy of The Goodtimes Project