Max Smith concentrates on his job at the bandsaw.

Editor’s Note: Choose Life Toymakers produces small wooden toys with wheels to give away to kids who need a smile.

Max Smith and I worked together at The Chaffee County Times for about 3 years. After I left the newspaper and started Choose Life Toymakers, he was helping me load some papers into my car and asked how the toy business was going. I told him it was going great.

“Are you interested in helping?” I asked.

“Well, I’m not disinterested in it,” he answered.

That was months ago. He came for a tour of the toy workshop with his camera and recorder. He had never worked with wood or any of the tools in the shop.

We each started with a block of wood and after I demonstrated each step, he tried each tool by making a toy along with me. He also took photos.

“I assume you asked me here to show that if I could do this, anybody could,” he said.

I laughed at the idea.

He interviewed me about Choose Life Toymakers and wrote a front page feature for The Times.

He also became a dedicated weekly volunteer.

There was a huge learning curve, but he kept coming each week for two hours.

While Max has now learned all aspects of the toymaking process and helps with whatever is needed, but when given the option he usually chooses cutting the shapes out on the bandsaw.

He started out on basic blocky vehicle shapes. One day I asked if he wanted wanted to try a puppy.

“I don’t think I’m ready for animals yet.”

I’m here to tell you that he now not only does the easy animals, he can now do all of the more complicated toys. He warms up on the rough-cut bandsaw and then goes to the smaller blade to do the intricate curves that require finesse. Sometimes I check on him from across the shop and always he is totally focused on the task at hand. And he has confidence in his ability now.

When Choose Life Toymakers set up a booth at the Fourth of July Art in the Park, Max came by to check it out. He ended up staying five hours, watching, as we all did, kids, parents and grandparents come into our booth to select a free toy. We watched people stuff money into our donation jars – even if they didn’t take a toy.

He told me that he enjoyed the dynamic of everyone seeing the mission fulfilled together. Since January, he had been coming into a little workshop and mostly cutting toys and then they went to another volunteer for finishing. For the first time, he saw the big picture. He got to see the value of the mission in the kids’ reactions.

“People didn’t know how to deal with the toys being free; we caught them off guard,” he said.

“In 2021 kids have been playing with i-Phones before they could read or write.” He watched their excitement to get a toy that is so simple.

And yes, if Max can do it, anybody can.

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