Dave Moak teaches carpentry at SUNY Cobleskill, but none of his students are college students.
They are members of the community — local residents hoping to help rebuild the Schoharie Valley.
On Tuesday and Thursday nights, Moak and his 13 students gather in a large, warehouse-like room on campus, where Moak explains the techniques and tools used in basic carpentry. During a recent class, he stressed the importance of safety and outlined the differences between radial arm saws, miter saws and sliding miter saws.
“We’re skipping building layout tonight,” Moak told his students before moving on to a discussion of platform framing. “We’re not going to build a house from scratch.”
Some of Moak’s students have carpentry experience, while others do not. But they meet on Saturdays to build a shed and gain valuable hands-on experience.
The nine-week basic carpentry certificate program is offered through SUNY Cobleskill’s Office of Professional and Continuing Education, or PACE.
Focused on remodeling and renovation, the course covers topics such as tools, measuring, insulation, drywall, taping, window and door installation, flooring, roofing and siding.
Though some of the students are taking the course because they want to become professional carpenters, most are motivated by a desire to help friends and neighbors who suffered extensive flood damage.
Linda Serdy, program coordinator for PACE, said the basic carpentry course emerged from a discussion on campus about what SUNY Cobleskill could do to assist with flood recovery. She said the flood hit home for faculty and staff, and there was a desire to help their neighbors.
“We were all volunteering,” she said. “I was helping with meals. It was devastating.”
The carpentry course, she said, is SUNY Cobleskill’s gift to the community.
An emergency dispatcher for Schoharie County, Maria Cartwright was among the last people to be evacuated from the village of Schoharie during Hurricane Irene.
Her apartment in downtown Schoharie was destroyed in the flood and she has since moved to Cobleskill. She enrolled in the basic carpentry course hoping to gain the skills needed to rebuild flood-damaged properties throughout the county.
“I’d like to pitch in where I can,” said Cartwright, who said she knew very little about carpentry before signing up for the class. “I drive through Schoharie every day, and it’s very sad. I don’t think there’s a person around who doesn’t know someone who’s been affected by this. A class like this is an investment in your future, but also the future of those around you.”
Cartwright, 46, said she’s learning a lot.
“We’re learning all of the little things you probably only learn if you’re on a construction site, like how to use your tape measure,” Cartwright said. “The way you hold it can make a world of difference. In this class, you’re going to learn something if you’ve never held a saw before, but you’re also going to learn something if you have.”
Cartwright said the carpentry class is appealing for reasons that extend beyond volunteering.
“I like the idea of being able to do something myself and not having to ask or pay someone,” she said.
Josh DeBartolo, a native of Middleburgh, was in town for his brother’s wedding when Tropical Storm Irene hit.
Scheduled to start a new job in Denver assisting rural farmers for a nonprofit agency, he told his new employers that he wouldn’t be coming and stayed in the area to help with relief efforts. At first, he worked on his parent’s home, which was damaged in the storm, then turned his attention to the county’s harder-hit areas.
Now, DeBartolo is a volunteer coordinator for Schoharie Recovery, the nonprofit group spearheading the rebuilding effort within the Schoharie Central School District, and a student in Moak’s class.
He said he decided to take the course because there’s a greater need for skilled labor to assist with rebuilding flood-damaged properties.
“At first, there was a need for unskilled labor,” he said. “We needed people to gut buildings.”
“My background isn’t in carpentry,” said DeBartolo, a Union College graduate in his mid-20s. “I thought a little more familiarity with tools and processes might be helpful.”
He said he hopes to emerge from the program with the ability to assess damaged homes and determine what needs to be done to make them habitable again.
So far, the class has proven useful, DeBartolo said. One problem many homeowners are dealing with is waterlogged doors that no longer shut. From Moak, DeBartolo has learned how to plane down a door so that it closes. “Now I know the right tools, or the right approach to it,” he said.
Moak, who serves as training coordinator for Empire State Carpenters, a carpenters’ union, said he didn’t hesitate when SUNY Cobleskill asked him to teach the basic carpentry course. “It seemed like the right thing to do,” he said.
Moak lives in the Albany County town of Westerlo. His house sustained some damage to the roof, and a number of nearby roads were washed away. “Being a carpenter, I could fix my own house,” he said. “And I’ve spent time fixing siding, fixing other people’s roofs. I’m helping people where needed.”
Four of Moak’s students come from the Fulton, Montgomery and Schoharie Counties Workforce Solutions System, which provides people looking for jobs with information about employment and training opportunities.
Upon completion of the certificate, students who have reliable transportation and a high school diploma or GED will have the opportunity to join the carpenters’ union as a second-year apprentice.