Three years ago Jessica Pickett built a kayak from a kit. An impressed colleague recommended she connect with area boat building enthusiast Roger Pinholster.
Coincidentally, Pickett was already well acquainted with Pinholster. He was her middle school principal during his time as a school administrator. She began working with him at the Big Bend Maritime Center in Panacea which he had run for 10 years. Little did she know, he was grooming her to take over after his retirement.
For the past two years, Pickett has managed the Big Bend Maritime Center’s summer camps which teach the art of boatbuilding. “A lot of people think it’s model boats,” laughed Pickett. “No, these kids are building boat-boats; boats that float and go out on the water and can hold people.”
The all-volunteer staff offers instruction to campers and area businesses like Posey’s and Mineral Springs provide lunch. Support from individual community members, Wakulla County, the Panacea Waterfronts Board and the Florida Paddling Trails Association provides the physical space, scholarship funds for many campers and also allows for the acquisition of tools and materials.
Pickett is appreciative because “we run kids camps and kids aren’t great with tools.” She explained that even though some volunteers are adept at tool maintenance, “we do replace things pretty regularly. A lot of the stuff here has been donated or we go to garage sales and we get tools super cheap. We don’t need the fanciest stuff.”
The first thing campers learn is tool safety and they aren’t allowed to use any power tools with a moving blade. The only exception is the miter saw because it has a built in blade guard. Regardless, any camper using power tools must have adult supervision.
Dorothy Palmer, 11, explained best practices include “wearing closed toed shoes and no running in the work area. Put your hair up and when you’re working with a tool that shoots wood around you should wear eye protection. When you’re working with something that’s loud, put ear protection on.”
Pickett says even though Dorothy is a year younger than the advertised minimum age requirement, “she is so mature, she’s holding these tools like a champ, she’s totally killing it so we let her in.”
Over the course of five days, campers gain a deeper sense of self-regulation and responsibility. Pickett said “they learn to respect the shop. They know they need to be aware of their surroundings. Mindfulness is definitely something we want them to get out of this.”
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