Ravalli County Coverage

Jun 25, 2014 10:07 AM by Russ Thonas - KPAX News

Stevensville business offering different kind of camp

STEVENSVILLE - A connection between an inner-city Oregon High School and a Stevensville woodworking school may seem a bit unusual, but it's one that is paying dividends for everyone involved.

While on the surface it may look like little more than a woodworking camp, when you dig beneath the surface, it's much more than meets the eye. "I'll be clear, I was a brat, a trouble-maker, on the wrong path," Christopher Harding admitted.

He's just one of five North Salem High School students awarded a scholarship to attend a Furniture Building Camp offered by The Chidwick School of Fine Woodworking in Stevensville.

Dean Mattson became the Director of Wood Manufacturing and Cabinet Making at the Oregon High School five years ago. He made a commitment to helping kids like Harding, who were falling between the cracks to find direction.

Mattson wanted to offer an alternative to kids who were dropping out of school, and did so by showing students that there was a need for a talent they possessed - working with wood.

"All of a sudden, their eyes began to open and then we have employers come in and they say 'you're valuable, we want you', so we keep enforcing how valuable they are, and that they're not trash," Mattson said.

A long-standing friendship between Andy Chidwick and Dean Mattson led the two to an agreement to hold a camp at Chidwick's school to reward those high school students that showed the most progress and vision.

"What we offer to the kids is a scholarship to come out to a wood-working vacation," Chidwick said.

But it's more than just a vacation. Chiswick's woodworking school is considered one of the premier schools of his kind in the country, and the guidance he provides are invaluable for these scholarship recipients.

"There's a massive known skills gap. These employers are out there who need skilled employees," Chidwick said.

The goal of Chidwick and Mattson is to fill that gap, with hard-working, skilled employees. After talking to students attending this week's furniture camp, it's clear that Chidwick has made an impression.

"I was stunned by the art Andy has made, so I was like this guy's going to teach me something. The first day I was here he blew my mind!" Mattson told us.

Chidwick says he is happy just knowing he's making a difference in these young students lives.

Mattson says there are currently 38 employers working with his program that are offering students jobs at over $50,000 a year once they complete the program.

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