Kids Making It founder to retire after almost three decades as executive director

The man behind a program helping kids for nearly three decades is retiring.
Published: Feb. 23, 2022 at 5:45 AM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - The man behind a program helping kids for close to three decades is retiring.

The non-profit Kids Making It seeks to prevent youth delinquency by providing opportunities for inner-city and at-risk youth through woodworking and other trades.

Founder Jimmy Pierce, who is retiring as the executive director, got the idea after his first child was born in 1989.

“It occurred to me that if I could do anything in the world — I would teach woodworking to kids because woodworking was my passion and I thought if I really enjoyed it kids would too,” Pierce said. “I just started rethinking my life after I had a child.”

At the time, Pierce was a lawyer. He started taking Fridays off work in 1994 to teach the trade to a foster teenager in his garage. Eventually, Pierce closed his successful law practice and officially started the Kids Making It program.

It was small in the beginning.

“We started with five hand saws that Tools Plus gave us and some hammers and some tape measurers and a couple cordless drills and we were in a space that was serving kids in all the Housing Authority neighborhoods,” Pierce said.

However, Kids Making It has since evolved into a robust after-school program that operates out of a facility on Castle Street.

Kids Making It has several programs that teach teenagers and young adults skilled trades like plumbing and masonry, but the after-school woodworking program, where kids make and sell things, has provided opportunities for thousands of students here in the Wilmington area for decades.

“That whole model of connecting work to income for kids has proven transformational,” Pierce said.

Tyrell Brockington, also known as ‘Pop,’ started in the program when he was just 14 years old and even became one of the non-profit’s first employees.

“It was an opportunity to learn trades and working with my hands — something that I love doing to work and it was free,” Brockington said. “If I didn’t have that opportunity I don’t know where I’d be now.”

He now does woodworking in his professional career.

Tevin Boone found the program as a teenager in foster care. He now works for an architecture firm in Downtown Wilmington.

“I went from, you know, not really having allowance to, ‘hey I got 150 bucks, 200 bucks a month,’ I mean that wasn’t bad at all,” Boone said. “Kind of just helped me fulfill a lot of my dreams, you know, I didn’t even know.”

Pierce has played an integral role not just in Boone and Brockington’s lives, but thousands of other students who came up through the program.

“I see a lot of kids working, I see a lot of kids not in jail, they’re doing something positive. They got the skill that they can take wherever they go if they want to move out and go to college,” Brockington said. “It’s just he gave them an opportunity to do something with their lives — to change it — and that’s what they did they took advantage of it and made a difference.”

Pierce said there’s nothing magic about woodworking — anyone can help young people in our community.

“You can do this with anything,” he said. “The secret is spending time with kids. And I think if it’s something they can do with their hands, work with their hands — whether its woodworking or its quilting or sewing — I think kids are going to succeed. But the main thing is that they know you care about them and they know you’re there for them.”

Through the years, Kids Making It has not gone unnoticed, receiving a number of accolades and awards. For example, the non-profit was recommended as a National Model Program with the Federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Kevin Blackburn, the organization’s associate director, will take over as the new executive director.

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