JCDC Woodworks is a natural fit for Craig Greening.
He inherited a love of woodcraft from his woodworker grandfather. He learned compassionate respect for people with disabilities from his sister who had Downs Syndrome.
Greening has been working with individuals with disabilities for 37 years. He now serves as the executive director for the not-for-profit Jackson County Developmental Center (JCDC), headquartered in Millwood. JCDC’s mission is to support and employ people with disabilities.
In 2019, the organization added a new skills and employment facility: JCDC Woodworks in Ravenswood. The woodworking enterprise creates high quality wood furniture and home furnishings, and gift items.
“The purpose of JCDC Woodworks is to showcase what people with disabilities can do,” Greening said. “We want everyone to know people with disabilities can and do make a worthwhile contribution to their community, and they can do it by making high end furniture.”
Greening’s journey to JCDC began in his home state of Michigan. He earned degrees from Northern Michigan University and the University of New Mexico. He taught high school woodshop and drafting in Michigan and in the Navajo Nation in New Mexico.
He moved to West Virginia, where he worked with vocational rehabilitation and began his long career with Community Rehabilitation Centers that serve people with disabilities, such as JCDC which he joined in 2007.
Greening looked for a way to create needed, meaningful jobs for JCDC’s clients.
“As we worked on our business plan to develop a new business line, we had several goals in mind,” he said. “Among them was the need to create something that would draw attention to our products and that can be sold to a national audience. At the same time, we needed something unique and one-of-a-kind. As the British say, something ‘bespoke.’”
Naturally, he thought of wood; more specifically, he thought of the innovative wood creations of furniture designer and architect George Nakashima. The American-born Nakashima is recognized as one of the leading innovators of the American craft movement. Nakashima’s approach focused on studying and working with the wood, its patterns, features and imperfections, to draw out its natural beauty. The style often includes a “live” or natural edge of the wood as part of the design.
“Live edge is part of the modern industrial and rustic interior design styles that continue to be popular across the country,” Greening said.
That natural, individual look would become part of the signature style of JCDC Woodworks.
Greening attended a business fundamentals workshop hosted by Marsa Myers, a business coach with the West Virginia Small Business Development Center (WV SBDC). After the class, Greening enlisted Myers’ expertise.
A Certified Business Advisor, Myers is a member in the WV SBDC statewide network of business coaches. The WV SBDC coaches provide free, confidential guidance in areas such as exporting, innovation, technology and economic development, finance, management, cybersecurity, and marketing.
The Jackson County Development Authority provided support as Greening searched for a building in which to making furniture and creating jobs for JCDC’s clients. He selected the former Ravenswood Post Office Building.
Separating the nonprofit JCDC from the hopefully profitable furniture enterprise added a layer of complexity. Myers suggested partnering with another WV SBDC business coach, Matthew Cummings, who had more experience working with nonprofits. The WV SBDC statewide network enables coaches to collaborate with other coaches to better serve their clients.
“Marsa and I have collaborated on other service efforts before,” said Cummings. “In my former career in banking, I had the opportunity to work with several nonprofit entities.”
Greening drafted a business plan and invited the WV SBDC coaches to provide feedback.
“One of my early mentors said confirmation is good for the soul,” he said. “They confirmed we were on the right track and offered suggestions in how to clarify and improve the plan.”
Other experts were enlisted as well.
“We brought in Tres Ross from the Ross Foundation, and Bob Boone from the McDonough Foundation,” said Myers. “Bob has spent 35 years working in the wood industry. It’s been a big part of McDonough. Ross’s family business is Woodcraft and Simonton Windows. Both made suggestions. Both were impressed with the JCDC facility.”
Representatives from the West Virginia Development Office and First Microloan of West Virginia also joined the conversation. The team discussed West Virginia hardwoods, options to acquire lumber, and market venue opportunities.
JCDC Woodworks is now crafting living edge coffee and dining tables. To maximize utility, JCDC Woodworks fashions the wood remnants into cutting boards, award plaques, candle holders and serving trays. Sawdust and chips go to individuals that use it as bedding material for their animals.
Information on WV SBDC services is available here: wvsbdc.com.
Information on JCDC Woodworks and the collection is available here.