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Clinton’s Robert “Woody” Wilkins founded Dances with Wood more tan two decades ago and continues to expand the mission of helping improve lives through hand-crafted projects. (Photo courtesy of Woody Wilkins )
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Nearly everyone’s life has been touched in some way by cancer. Those who have seen the fight up close know how valuable it can be to have something to look forward to that takes your mind off the disease. In an effort to provide some measure of comfort and joy to children and adults battling cancer, Clinton resident Robert “Woody” Wilkins started Dances with Wood in 1998.
After reading an essay about a child with a brain tumor, Woody was inspired to find a way to help others.
“It really moved me,” says Woody.
Since he was a young child living in Wales, Woody had always been interested in woodworking. He trained in England as a cabinetmaker and wood-carver and wanted to incorporate the joy and empowerment he felt in that endeavour into helping others.
“When you build something with hands and with wood it shows you how creative and strong you are. It takes you on a journey, on an adventure,” Woody says.
Woody says the program allows the children battling life threatening disease a way to take that adventure as well. Participants are given kits with different projects pieces and instructions inside. The projects promote independent thought, reading, and writing and offer encouragement.
“You get that sense of ‘Wow, I did that,’” Woody says of the participants.
There are 25 different woodworking projects people can choose from. When Woody started the program, it was only available in one hospital. More than 20 years later, the program is now available in hospitals in 40 states and more than 40,000 people have been helped.
A New Direction
To battle the coronavirus pandemic, Dances with Wood (www.danceswithwood.org/) is offering free virtual programs to help battle the fear and anxiety that have become part of the pandemic. One such program is called the Heart Butterfly Project. The project allows for people to print and color or design their own butterflies, which can be pinned on one’s mask or clothing to brighten people’s day.
Woody says he was inspired to do the project because now that everyone is encouraged to wear a mask people can no longer see each other’s smiles.
“It’s hard to communicate without smiling, but maybe we can communicate love to one another with the butterfly,” says Woody.
“When a ship is in a storm, it is important for the ship to keep a compass bearing on the new horizon, new opportunities that await, and a safe harbor. The coronavirus is like a big storm in which we are all caught,” he says. “It’s important to keep focused beyond this current storm and with our hopes, dreams and love, knowing that we are sailing to an albeit different, but potentially more beautiful world. For this we need to know and grow our hopes and dreams.
“We are the captains of our own ships. What we focus on, we become. Focusing on fear and anxiety will grow fear and anxiety. Focusing on hopes, dreams, and love with grow these,” Woody continues.
Woody hopes people will feel better about themselves and the world in which they’re living by participating in the program.
“You can’t push out the darkness, but you can light a candle,” says Woody.
Another program near and dear to Woody’s heart is one called Heart to Heart, and it helps both veterans with PTSD and hospitalized children. The program works by having veterans build and paint wooden cars, which are then donated to children in the hospital.
Woody says that the Heart to Heart name symbolizes the mission of the program of linking two different sets of people who need help.
“It really helps people going thought hard times. It helps people reclaim their lives,” says Woody.
Woody was inspired to help veterans for a number of reasons, one of which was witnessing his father struggling after his time in the armed services.
“I felt the challenges servicemen and -women go through,” he says.
By running the program, Woody says he sees it as a way to give back to the men and women who have fought for freedom and given so much to their country.
Volunteering is something to which Woody says he’s always been drawn.
“It gives me the chance to help but also to learn,” he says.
Woody credits his mother, a nurse, with instilling in him the importance of volunteering.
“The privilege if getting to work with these wonderful people” is the best part, he says. “I think I’m the lucky one.”
After spending several years in Guilford, Woody has called Clinon home for the last 14 years.
“I love the nature and I love the people. They’re very straightforward.”
When not working as executive director on Dances with Wood projects, Woody can be found writing or reading poems, exercising, or sending time with friends. Woody is also an avid fan of ships and sailing and sees life like a sailing a boat.
“We all sail boats and not always in a straight line. You work with weather, but always remembering who the captain is and where I want to go,” says Woody.
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