The Maine forest industry’s Sustainable Forestry Initiative has helped out on a lot of community projects over the past decade or so.
They’ve provided materials to build Habitat for Humanity homes, provided materials for buildings at Pine Tree Camp for people with disabilities, built fish-friendly ice shacks to raise money to improve fish passage on small streams crossed by logging roads and built tables that help teach how to properly size culverts in the woods.
But this year’s project was extra special.
Teams of people affiliated with SFI’s Statewide Implementation Committee, armed with nail guns and saws and donated materials bearing the SFI label got together off and on through July and August to help make the wishes of two boys in different parts of the state come to fruition in conjunction with the Maine Make A Wish Foundation.
In July four-year-old Derek Wilson in Woolwich, who was diagnosed with leukemia three years ago and his been receiving treatment since, got his own custom designed and built Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle-themed playhouse. Taking off the blindfold put on to keep him in suspense, he ran over to the structure and started playing. There was no doubt about his feelings.
In August 13-year-old Kyan MacDonald in Bridgton, whose acute myeloid leukemia is now in remission, was thrilled to receive a playhouse/tiny house of his very own. “Thank you all,” said 13-year-old Kyan MacDonald to the SFI builders who contributed to “Kyan’s Kabin. While being treated for his cancer, Kyan became a fan of HGTVs show Tiny House Hunters and when told his wish was being granted he didn’t hesitate: he wanted a tiny house.
The “reveals” as the Make A Wish Foundation dubs them, were emotional moments for everybody: givers and receivers. Not the least the volunteers who contributed time and labor to the project.
The Sustainable Forestry Initiative is a North American program that certifies well-managed timberlands for sustainability. Maine has 7 million acres of SFI certified lands and companies that use wood for those lands are eligible to use the SFI logo on their products. In all 28 million acres of timberland is SFI approved.
But SFI is about more than certifying woodlands. Another of its goals is to create and enhance community. That’s why SFI’s standards include requirements for community projects. Those community projects help get the SFI program out in the public eye, but they have always been about more than that, said Patrick Sirois, the director of the Maine Sustainable Forest Initiative.
“We have a charge to educate the public about sustainability and to endorse the use of sustainable forest products. Having a label on those products is important to connect the dots for people. But that all seems to be a little bit trivial to the real benefit, which is to give something to these kids. That might not be what we get paid for, day-in and day-out, but everybody out there is working like crazy specifically for that reason and I know for a fact that the many companies that are donating materials and money say that this is a really important cause. They aren’t donating money to raise awareness of the SFI label, but for the kids.”
Sirois is sitting in his Litchfield home on this late July day. Outside saws whine and there are muffled thumps from the nail guns as crews work on the two projects. Derek’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle playset is due to be delivered the next day and volunteers from SFI-affiliated companies and organizations are trying to get everything nailed down — pun intended — for the presentation.
Maine SFI didn’t have plans for a big project in 2017, said Sirois. They don’t do one every year. But that changed after Tom Doak came to talk to him.
Doak, the executive director of the Maine Woodland Owners, knows the chairman of the board of Maine Make A Wish. They were talking one day, as Doak tells it, and he asked if Maine Make A Wish had ever partnered with the forest products industry. They hadn’t, as it turned out, but to make wishes come true they often had to buy lumber and other forest products materials. And, yes, they would be interested in exploring a partnership.
Doak, who has been working this morning helping to put together the circular plastic slide that’s part of the TMNT playset, talked to Sirois, who said the proposal would have to go before the SFI Implementation Committee, and Sirois said Doak, who represents Maine Woodland Owners on the Committee, needed to make the pitch. The panel is made up for people representing some 20 companies, organizations and state agencies.
Doak never had to give a hard sell. In fact, he hardly had to do any selling at all. He was amazed at how quickly they embraced the projects.
“There were some pretty tough old crusty guys on that committee and as I’m talking about helping a young kid — and they didn’t know any of the kids’ stories, but they knew what Make A Wish was — you could hear a pin drop in that room. There was an immediate ‘we want to be a part of that’ reaction. It was instant,” said Doak.
Some companies contributed materials, others contributed money. Even some non-SFI affiliated companies, or as Sirois likes to call them ‘SFI supporters,’ gave, just to be a part of making two kids’ wishes come true.
“What we’ve done with these projects is try to use certified materials,” said Sirois. There’s AdvanTech Sheathing material from J.M. Huber Corp., lumber from an Irving Forest Products mill with the SFI stamp on it, and laminated strand lumber from the Louisiana-Pacific mill in Houlton. There’s hardwood flooring from Seven Islands Land Co. Hancock Lumber Co.”donated a tremendous amount of material,” said Sirois. Katahdin Forest Products contributed cedar wood for Derek’s playset.
Even with all the interest in donating, Sirois thought Make A Wish might have to help buy some materials — these were not cheap projects. But he needn’t have worried. The urge to help out was too strong.
Doak said after his presentation to the SFI committee, “one donor came up to me later and said, ‘if you have any problems, let us know and we’ll donate everything.’ “”
The real problem, Sirois said, turned out to be equalizing the donations of materials so they got materials from multiple companies and labels, not just one. Part of the purpose, after all, was to showcase the breadth and depth of materials made by Maine SFI-certified companies. Another challenge: getting smaller amounts of materials. “These companies are not a lumberyard,” he said, “they are used to dealing in truckloads.” As a result, he said, there will probably be some left over.
Once the materials were lined up, Sirois got out his pencil and ruler and went to designing the two projects — Derek’s Ninja Turtle-themed playset and Kyan’s tiny home. “I had some training at Bath Iron Works a few years ago and I’ve done these sorts of projects for family” members, he said.
There were challenges in coming up with the designs as well, he said.
Ninja Turtles live in sewers, apparently. Sewer pipes are round. How to mimic that. Sirois’ sketch included a circular pipe-like extension to the playlet, with a periscope. The playhouse is two stories. Kids can enter through doors (with Derek’s name on them) at the bottom, then climb the stairs to the second story with windows and a door to slide back down the circular slide.
Kyan’s tiny house was a little more straightforward, but there were still challenges: the house had to be narrow enough to travel over the road to its destination, and height restrictions mandated that the roof be removable, so it was designed and built to be transported separately and put in place at Kyan’s home in Bridgton.
On this July day, volunteers are putting together the walls for what would come to be known as Kyan’s Kabin. One of those is flat on the ground. But Sirois sees the completed project in his mind’s eye: eight feet and six inches wide, 20 feet long. Hardwood floors. A loft at one end and a room at the other end that can be turned into a bathroom one day. No plumbing or wiring, but those can be added later, he said. It will be the perfect playhouse for a teen who likes a little solitude and his own space.
Sirois figures some 15 to 18 people worked on the projects. Some came several days. They included company executives, foresters and workers. They worked hard.
Dave Griswold, who is retired from Verso Paper Co. and is a former chairman of the SFI Implementation Committee, put in several days on the projects. “This is a good way to show our social responsibility,” he said. “And in the Maine forest products industry everyone knows everybody else. Getting together with people you’ve worked with, or competed against for years on this type of project is fun.”
Joe Rankin is a freelance writer specializing in forestry, natural history and sustainability.