Women discover joy of woodworking to escape isolation of pandemic at retirement community

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DOWNERS GROVE, Ill. — Arlee Bennett and Mandy Stewart were on their daily walk around their suburban retirement community when they stumbled upon an open door and decided to make what was once a boys’ club their own. 

That was the day they took over the wood shop. For years, men in the retirement community had dominated the space piled high with hammers, saws and stacks of discarded wood.

“We decided let’s go down here and make a big mess,” Bennett said. “Started messing around around, found all this wood and I was like, ‘oh my god I could make all kinds of stuff out of this stuff.'”

The next morning, they  bellied up to the work table.

“It’s incredible if you just sit and think about it; you can take any object and turn it into something else,” Stewart said.

The two women said they found solace in all those scraps. They’ve been meeting there nearly every day for eight months now, long enough to craft everything from spring flowers to smiling snowmen.

“It’s just a great diversion in terms of something totally different to do and you’re not just sitting in your house,” Bennett said. 

The men still show up, but the gals have taken over most of the tables – and the playlist.

“People come down cause now the word is out because people want to come and go ‘what are they doing?” Bennett said. “I’ve never had so much fun ever” 

In a time when loneliness runs rampant, they found a way to keep busy while spreading smiles  by gifting every new project they create.

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