Seventeen-year-old Colby Samide loves woodworking. So when he found a way to use his hobby to help his community, he jumped at the chance.
The Woodgrove High School junior has been single-handedly building desks for students in need for just over a week. Samide launched the Desks for Distance Facebook page Sept. 2. A day later, he had the first desk built for donation and began cranking out simple but well-crafted and functional desks to help low income students tackle distance learning.
“This community is incredible. I’ve wanted to give back for a while, and I figured this is a great way to do it,” Samide said.
Samide got the project rolling after hearing about the Desks by Dads initiative, launched by a couple in Montgomery County, MD, to build desks for students in that county.
Samide, who has been an avid woodworker for the past three years, gave up Labor Day holiday plans and spent the weekend in his shop, putting together a dozen desks last Saturday alone. Samide plans to build nearly 70 desks for donation.
When Samide launched the initiative last week, requests flooded in. He initially had to weed out requests to purchase desks and make it clear that Desks for Distance is a volunteer community service project for students who can’t afford to upgrade their home learning spaces.
Samide started out accepting donations for materials but says he has received everything he needs for now and has put a hold on donations. He’s encouraging Loudouners still looking to help with distance learning to reach out to parent liaisons at local schools to help with gift cards and school supplies. He has also been working with schools to identify students who need desks and has fulfilled some direct requests.
Samide started with a design provided by the Maryland organization and made some changes to make the design more efficient and stable. He created a “sleek, modern looking design” using table legs and added a brace for stability.
“It’s straightforward. They’re solid. They’re stable,” he said.
Samide wants to keep the production process relatively simple but also wants donated desks to look nice for users. He buys 4-by-8-foot plywood sheets from Lowes, which are cut into 2-by-4-foot desktops at the store.
“Otherwise there’s no way they would fit into my car,” he said with a laugh.
Samide recently invested in a miter saw for his home workshop and uses that to cut the table legs from 2-by-4-inch studs. He creates pocket holes in a band on the underside of the desktop to prevent the screws from being visible from the top.
“It looks very clean and seamless,” he said.
So far, Samide has been a one-person production shop. He’s had help with deliveries from his parents, friends and neighbors. Samide is a member of Makersmiths, which has makerspaces in Leesburg and Purcellville, and is looking at a possible collaboration with that organization for a group build this month. Makersmiths has already been hailed for its efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic, making masks and face shields for medical professionals and first responders. Samide also is exploring a potential collaboration with an area building and design company to boost production. He’s been working full tilt for the past week, but says he’ll have to scale back as his junior year, which started Tuesday, ramps up.
For Samide, building and woodworking are longtime passions that got a big boost thanks to Technology Education programs through Loudoun County Public Schools.
“I’ve liked to build stuff as long as I can remember,” Samide said. His interest in woodworking got a bump after his family moved to Purcellville from Cincinnati, OH, three years ago. Things really clicked when he took a tech ed class at Harmony Middle School in eighth grade, his first year in Loudoun, and then went on to take a popular woodshop class at Woodgrove High School.
As he got into woodworking, Samide got involved with Makersmiths, created a shop at home and just kept building. He surprised his mom with a hanging daybed for her birthday last year and built an L-shaped desk for his own room for distance learning. Samide was planning to build a fire pit for his family over Labor Day weekend but that project—and pretty much everything else—got put on hold as the desk project took over.
Samide says he’s always been interested in a career in architecture but is also considering engineering or construction fields. The more he gets into it, the more he’s interested in doing something hands-on.
“I’d love to be building stuff all day,” he said.
To learn more about Desks for Distance, go to facebook.com/Desks4Distance.