Turn for Troops program sends handcrafted pens overseasWritten by Kevin Moore | | email@example.com
When soldiers are deployed overseas, they are often away from home for nine months at a time or longer. One of the things they value most is the ability to write to friends and family back home, especially during the holidays.
Woodcraft, a national retailer of woodworking tools and supplies for professional and hobbyist woodcarvers, identified a need for pens among soldiers stationed abroad during the holiday season. It partnered with the Pentagon in 2004 to create the Turn for Troops program.
Turn for Troops allows volunteers to turn a wooden pen casing on a lathe, which is then assembled to form a quality ballpoint pen. They host the National Turn-a-Thon around Veterans Day so the pens will reach the troops in time for Christmas.
John and Carroll Nystrom opened a Woodcraft franchise in Toledo in December 2006 after moving to Northwest Ohio from Wisconsin. There, both of the Nystroms worked for Kimberly-Clark, a global corporation that manufactures paper products like Kleenex and Huggies. John received notice in 2005 that the engineering department in which he worked would be downsized.
“John was too young to retire, so he took an early retirement package which gave us a year to figure out what he would enjoy doing,” Carroll said. “He’s been a woodworker most of his life and he liked the idea of running a small business, so we decided to open a Woodcraft franchise because we would at least have some corporate support. The next step was to find a location.”
With the next closest Woodcraft locations in Columbus, Oakwood Village, Ohio, and Canton, Mich., the Nystroms saw Toledo as an excellent location to open a store. John moved here in 2006, with Carroll also taking an early retirement in advance of future downsizing and following a few months later.
As a company-wide initiative for Woodcraft, Turn for Troops has sent approximately 98,000 pens overseas in the past nine years. In 2012, the company sent 12,000 pens, of which the Nystroms’ Toledo store contributed 212.
“Our goal has historically been between 100 and 200 pens,” Carroll said, “but this year our target is 250.”
When someone comes to Woodcraft to turn a pen, they get to choose one four-inch “blank” made from excess wood donated by the business’ customers.
“The blanks come from all kinds of woods, including exotics,” Carroll said. “For example, there is a wood called Purple Heart that we used last year to make pens for wounded soldiers.”
The volunteer turns the blank on a lathe into a pen casing, and a staff member then assembles the casing with parts to form a working pen. Anyone who makes a pen is encouraged to write a soldier a note, either signed or anonymously, which serves to test the pen and let the soldier know the pen was made especially for them. The process takes about 30-60 minutes to complete and is free.
There are staff and volunteers on hand to instruct non-woodworkers how to turn their pen.
Rick Toda, a 16-year veteran who joined the Air Force in 1974 before transferring to the Army in 1980, said he has volunteered for the Turn for Troops program as much as possible in the past five years.
“It means a lot to me to be a part of this,” Toda said. “They didn’t have anything like this when I was in the service. I know it makes the soldiers feel good being recognized and knowing they’re thought of. I’d like to see them send a lot more pens this year.”
The National Turn-a-Thon will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 9 and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 10. Woodcraft is located at 5311 Airport Hwy. in Toledo. For more information, call (419) 389-0560.
Tags: Canton, Columbus, Huggies, John and Carroll Nystrom, Kimberly-Clark, Kleenex, national retailer of woodworking tools and supplies for professional and hobbyist woodcarvers, National Turn-a-Thon, Oakwood Village, Veterans Day, Woodcraft