I met Paul Ramsour in about 1996. At the time, Paul was a member of the Minneapolis Jaycees, and was working with kids making birdfeeders in small workshops with groups all over the city. Meanwhile, I was running a small business I call Prairie Woods in an old lumberyard in White, SD, commuting between Minneapolis and White. Prairie Woods was trying to make a for-profit business profitable by building products made out of old barn wood, a manufacturing company's waste redwood pieces, old fence boards, pallets and any other waste and recycled wood we could get our hands on. I saw raw materials everywhere I went.
Paul was buying pine boards to make the birdfeeders, and I asked him why he would buy new wood when there were so many raw materials out there, free for the taking? Now, he uses cedar cutoffs from fence companies, and old cedar fences people give us when they tear down an old fence and build a new one. Elpis Enterprises is the result of countless hours of work on Paul's part, along with several other people who have made a commitment to helping young people in Minneapolis.
We now have a shop in an old building in St. Paul. I say, "We" because I'm now a board member trying to do my part in helping with the mission of building hope for youth. Besides the woodshop, we also run a screen-printing business. If you ever need any T-shirts silk screened, give us a call, or send us an email and we'll give you an estimate. We can work with your design, or help you design a shirt you can be proud to use.
I have been helping to run a few workshops lately and have been working mostly with Jessyca, a young woman who is actually coming to work as a staff member for Elpis. We conducted one workshop last week that stands out for me. We had about ten young people involved in a summer recreation program at a Minneapolis park and recreation center. The two young women who were their leaders were excellent and helped Jessyca and me assist these children each build their own small birdfeeder.
It was a fun experience for everyone but one young boy. He was giving up because it was too hard. He just couldn't get the nails pounded in and was very frustrated. I tried to get him to keep trying to no avail. One of the leaders told him he couldn’t take part in their next activity if he didn’t build a birdfeeder. He made a birdfeeder.
Afterwards, I talked to the group and asked them a few questions. My first question was, “Did you learn anything from this experience?”
After a couple of answers like, “I learned how to make a birdfeeder,” and “I learned nails bend pretty easily,” and “I learned how to hold a hammer.” My little friend then replied, “I learned never to do this again.”
I said, “Wait a minute. I hope you didn’t learn that. I hope you learned if you give up, you wouldn’t accomplish your goal. I hope you learned just because a problem is hard, doesn’t mean we should give up. I hope you learned you can accomplish things you never thought possible if you put your mind to it.”
Then I quoted Henry Ford and said, “No job is too great if you break it down into a number of small tasks.”
I told them they started with five pieces of wood, and made them into two pieces, the base and the roof. Then they had Jessyca add a small brace, help them drill some holes, put the pieces together, inserted two pieces of plexiglas, added a bag of birdseed, and before you knew it, your project was complete.
I hope my little friend learned he is capable of doing all kinds of things, and he’ll never accomplish anything if he doesn’t try.
Michael Jordon, the great basketball player once said, “I missed every shot I didn’t take.”