Encore’s been hailing the best of the best for well over 20 years now. I am not bragging by saying we’ve become the most coveted media outlet to honor our people, businesses, artists, art mediums, humanitarians and the like. It’s just part of who we have become, mainly because our readers choose and readily do so, with over 20,000 votes coming in annually through our nomination and final voting process (every November through January). It’s safe to say encore holds the official title for Best Of Wilmington.
It wasn’t until the early aughts that then-editor Amanda Kraus had the idea to celebrate our moniker and its award-winners with a bash. For a decade or more, we held the party for free at City Stage and invited only the Best Of winners to celebrate. But, as the years went by, we wanted to see it grow; more so, we wanted it to reflect our commitment to hailing our community. So last year we rebranded the Best Of Wilmington Party as a fund-raiser for a local charity at the Brooklyn Arts Center. The first fund-raiser succeeded in raising $7,000 for The Carousel Center.
In 2014, we are thrilled to return with another stellar nonprofit as the beneficiary of our Best Of Party: Kids Making It. The woodworking program teaches at-risk youth, ages 8 to 19, a vocational, artistic skill, as well as introduces them to their first taste of entreprenuerialship. From making pens to name tags, stools to bottle stoppers, custom signs and more, kids design and craft items to sell in the KMI retail shop located beside of City Market downtown (15 S. Water St.). Better yet, the kids keep 100 percent of the proceeds from these sales.
“We work with around 300 kids, annually,” founder Jimmy Pierce says. “A third of all New Hanover County ninth graders do not go on to graduate with their class; half minorities do not. We have a zero dropout rate [with KMI students]. We’ve had no one drop out of school in over four years.”
Kids Making It (KMI) was founded in 1994, when the natural-born philanthropist decided to give up his career as an attorney. He wanted something more meaningful in his life—satisfaction from big paychecks just wasn’t cutting it. Pierce started a volunteer effort with a couple handsaws, clamps and a cordless drill.
“[I] did a pilot program at Jervay in 1997, and took it full time in 2000, working exclusively with all the kids in the public housing neighborhoods (Creekwood, Houston Moore, etc.),” Pierce says. It wasn’t until 2003 that he moved the shop downtown, began teaching power-tool skills, and upstarted the resale shop. To date, the organization has worked with well over 2,000 kids, teaching them the ins and outs of woodworking through proper tool care and use, as well as finishing and selling their goods, and working directly with the public.
“It’s a great self-esteem builder,” Pierce says. “Kids learn patience, perseverance, and the value of working to a standard to do their best. And they do enjoy selling their work and earning income. Bob Warwick calls what we do a great introduction to the Free Market System, and I think he’s right.”
KMI offers everything from afterschool programs to summer camps for K through 12th graders. Yet, their new Apprenticeship Program continues their services for transitioning students out of high school; the students continue to get on-the-job training and a paycheck while doing so. It has created nine full-time jobs for students who stayed out of trouble and graduated from high school. The students are able to work on custom orders for the public, wherein they’re on the clock and learn appropriate workplace behaviors that also help strengthen teamwork.
According to Pierce, “We have recently helped place three of our apprentices in full-time jobs in the community and have also been contacted by a lumber company to recommend two others for full-time jobs there.”
The program was inspired by IKA’s CEO René Stiegelmann, who launched a similar apprenticeship program in 2008 and hired KMI students at the local headquarters of the national corporation. Students started to work and earn wages—some even going on to Cape Fear Community College. Pierce says, “This has been a life-changer for these students.”
Even greater, Stiegelmann began ordering wares from KMI, like wooden flower vases, and donated the purchase of a $30,000 German-engineered Killinger 6000 Hydro-S hydraulic copy lathe to the nonprofit. The machine allows students to replicate parts with precision.
“We’re working on a line of laser-engraved jewelry for gift shops, which we will wholesale to them,” Pierce notes. “We can do plaques, name badges, race awards and trophies, as well as production turnings (baseball bats, lamps, porch spindles, bud vases, etc.), and general woodworking.”
As well, KMI youth reaches out into the community to perfect civil service and garner a greater understanding of what it means to give back. They’ve built items for numerous charity projects, including surfboard medallions for Surfrider Foundation, portable display stands for the New Hanover County Arboretum, raised planter boxes with bench-seating for downtown Wilmington, outdoor gates for the Wilmington Friends Meeting House, along with scooters, soapbox racers and custom-turned pens for local charity auctions.
Their work has not gone unnoticed, either. The nonprofit has racked up a dozen or more awards since its inception. In 2010 alone they received the UNCW Albert Schweitzer Award, the UNCW Cameron School of Business and “Wilmington Business Journal” Coastal Entrepreneur Award for nonprofits awards, and WECT/Reeds Jewelers Cape Fear Heroes Award. They also were designated as an Outstanding Afterschool Program by the North Carolina Center for Afterschool Programs and placed 10th out of 5,000 in the Clorox Power a Bright Future National Competition.
KMI stays afloat through two major fund-raisers each year: the Hippie Ball in the summer and their Breakfast at the Beach in the fall. The have not met their monetary needs to finish the fiscal year.
“Our target is to try to raise 10 to 15 percent with our fund-raisers, with the remainder coming from grants, donations, and revenue from the Apprenticeship Program,” Pierce says.
The annual encore Best Of Awards Party will be another outlet for KMI to continue to do their prolific and impactful work. All proceeds from the party will go to KMI. Tickets to the event are a mere $12 when ordering from www.encoredeals.com before the event; they will be $15 the day of the show at the door. It’s a price worthy of admission not only because of the money generating locally to a nonprofit but because it comes with a lot of goodies from other local businesses. Tons of food from Best Of nominees will be passed around throughout the event. A Best Of Battle of the Bands, featuring Justin Lacy and the Swimming Machine, No Dollar Shoes and Mike Blair and the Stonewalls will take place, too, wherein donations of dollars to KMI determines the winner. Each band will play two songs and come together at the end for a final jam session.
Also, this year’s party will be a Masquerade Ball—so attendees are encouraged to come creatively dressed. We will crown a Best Dressed King and Queen at our afterparty, where a DJ will continue spinning tunes until midnight. Pineapple-Shaped Lamps will host the event and interact throughout the crowd with their brave and bold comedy. And we’re sure a few more surprises may show up, too!
Celebrate the Best Of the best this Saturday, February 8th, at 6:30 p.m. Support the locals who work hard to make our community a better one, and especially help support Kids Making It, who ensure our upcoming generations find positive reinforcement for a successful future.DETAILS:
Best Of Masquerade Ball and Fund-raiser for Kids Making It
Saturday, Feb. 8th, doors at 6:30 p.m.; show at 7 p.m.
$12 in adv/$15 day of
Food, live music, DJ, comedy, dancing and so much more!