In Fall 2020, as students prepared for a new school year during the pandemic, Eric Watterud happened across a YouTube video. The video featured a woodworker who was making desks for his children to use during remote learning from home. A retired teacher and hobbyist woodworker, Eric realized “that many students in Marin might not have access to a personal place to set up their home learning situation.”
Since retiring from their careers in education, Eric and his wife, Lisa Della Valle have shared their passion for education as tutors in Marin City. While they couldn’t provide in-person tutoring support during the fall semester, the video inspired them to recognize they could support students during the pandemic if Eric made desks for students to use at home. “With the pandemic closures, our direct contact with students ended, but our interest in helping out did not,” Eric shared. They reached out to nonprofit organizations with educational success programs for college-bound students, including Canal Alliance, and offered to build and donate handmade desks for students.
As the digital divide added to the crisis that was disproportionately impacting students and families of color, Eric creatively and generously put his talents and passion to work supporting students. After viewing an instructional video and following plans on YouTube, Eric purchased materials and set out to build the desks in his garage workshop.
Six middle school students from Canal Alliance University Prep (UP!) were the first to express interest in receiving a desk. As Eric shared, six desks “were no problem. I found the work meditative, and I was pleased with the result. I was even more pleased at the positive response from the six students… and when Canal Alliance staff told me that the high school students were now interested, I was flattered.”
Ashley Busby, Canal Alliance Youth Education Senior Manager, explained how this donation provided critical support for UP! students: “having a designated space to study and complete homework assignments is an essential part of learning. This necessity is even more pronounced with distance learning, which is why providing students desks is such a critical support. For those who did not have a functional work space at home, it ensures that they may carry on their studies with pride.”
In total, Eric crafted 17 desks by hand for UP! students, and Lisa complemented the donation by providing school supplies.
One student expressed their deep appreciation to Eric by saying, “I really appreciate the desk you made me. It was very nice of you. It is way better than sitting on my bed. Now that I have a desk, I feel more organized and have more room to put my school supplies. I can focus more on school and my work. Thank you so much for the desk. It means a lot to me.”