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MOUNT MORRIS — Young men shrugged on green, self-extinguishing cotton jackets, pumped their hands full of Uline Tuff Scrub industrial-strength hand cleaner, slid gloves over their callouses and then tugged welding masks down tight over tanned faces, shielding their eyes from an inevitable flurry of sparks — and all of it for a good cause.
Come June 2, the many “stunning” sculptures created by those same BOCES metal trades students and brightened by the careful, painted brush strokes of Perry High artists will be auctioned off to the public and will, hopefully, bring plenty of funds to the Suzanne’s Comfort Care Home.
“We collaborate every year with a different school,” Executive Principal Matt Flowers said of the annual auction through the clank of hammer on metal and murmuring of excited media preview day attendees Tuesday morning. “They’ll start the process in September or October, we’ll decide who we’re going to have as a benefactor this year and the students will start designing their projects. Most of our projects come from scrap metal, which is kind of the neat part of our program. We create all of this beautiful artwork from scrap metal and the students use their imagination to come up with these things.”
Things like banged-up sea serpents that play off legends of an ancient, scaly, sinister thing snaking its way through the depths of Silver Lake, or of bears seeking honey from the beehive — or what’s really a repurposed exhaust system from an old tractor — all of which will be displayed at The Club at Silver Lake, 3820 Club Road, and then auctioned off at 6 p.m. that same Saturday, with proceeds benefitting Suzanne’s Comfort Care. Ten dollar tickets are available now — they can be purchased at the Club, at Suzanne’s, at Tompkins Bank of Castile and at The Lumberyard, too.
As for the sculptures, well, they’re really not anything special, the 60 students from schools in Livingston and Wyoming counties said, just the fruits of a year spent inside classroom C-118 at the Mount Morris Career and Technical Education Center.
But the BOCES metal trades instructor Olie Olson, aide Rory Brinkleman, local administrators and Suzanne Koson-Schuster, founder of Suzanne’s Comfort Care Home, beg to differ — “It’s absolutely amazing what goes on here,” they said, and as they maneuvered through a sea of sparks and scrap metal to admire student renderings of corn stalks, a life-size horse made from old horseshoes and twisting sail boat creations that will soon benefit the two-bed home for the terminally ill, their awe only deepened.
“Just look at these flowers — they’re made using old railroad spikes, I think,” Koson-Schuster said. “I don’t even know what parts are what, but it’s just amazing to me what they can do.”
She didn’t have enough adjectives to describe how she felt — “glad,” “proud,” and “honored,” were just a few — to be part of the collaborative effort.
“This has been one of the most exciting and rewarding projects that I’ve ever been involved in,” Koson-Schuster said. “Working with Olie Olson and his students has been a very enlightening experience for all of us at Suzanne’s Comfort Care Home.”
It’s enlightening for Flowers, too, he said — each and every year he falls in love with the program just a little bit more as he sees what it does for his students.
“For the students, having the ability to work with metal in this fashion on a project like this is fantastic,” he said. “The whole time that they’re doing it, they’re learning the skill or learning the trade, and a lot of times it sneaks up on them because they’re so engulfed in a project. Sometimes they don’t think of it as, ‘Well, I’m practicing welding.’ Instead, they’re building artwork, they’re building sculptures, and maybe even the bigger thing is that they’re giving back to the community at the same time.”
Beyond honing their metal-working, welding and machining skills, there are still more fruits to reap, Olson, who was instrumental in the development of the partnership that, since begun in 2010, has raised almost $210,000 to benefit local profits and charities, he said.
“Sure, it’s a means of being able to teach the program, of being able to teach the trade,” he offered. “You can teach them the trade, but you can’t teach them to take pride in their work. This is a way to let that component in.”
Today you saw the students here and the pride — you can see it when they’re talking about the sculpture pieces that they’ve done. You can’t teach that.”
And though the culmination of several months’ worth of work is nearing its much-anticipated completion, the students haven’t tired of it yet, they said — it’s mostly just fun to get their hands dirty.
Over in his corner of the workshop, Warsaw senior Mark Green clutched a 30-pound sculpted flower in each hand as he spoke about his future plans — he hopes to follow in the family footsteps and pursue a career in welding — something he’s done nearly every day since the tenth grade — when he graduates.
“I like it a lot,” Green said. “With the sculptures, you take recycled materials and you get to make beautiful art out of it. You get to be creative — it’s a lot of fun.”
And though he admitted it’s frustrating, at times, when a piece of metal won’t form the way he wants it to or when something he’d hoped would only take a few days turned into a few weeks, learning as much as he has has made it all worth it, he said.
“It’s a good life skill to learn,” Green said. “I wasn’t really good at it when I started and now I am.”
That’s really all Olson can hope for, he said, besides instilling in his students a strong work ethic centered around timeliness, attendance, positivity and skill.
He wants his students to be comfortable enough that when they graduate from his program, they feel ready to step into a shop and show an employer what they can do, he said, and prove that they’re willing to put the work in to get the job done.
“If you’re here for a half-day, I expect you to stay in the game for the duration,” Olson said. “Working with your hands, doing something that you love to do — it’s not a job. My students realize that they’re good at this. They can step right through here into the industry.”
And now they know the thrill that comes from making a difference, too — Olson hopes that’s another transferable skill to add to the resume.