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Relationship Through a Common Pursuit of Woodworking

When John started working at Bethesda’s Surrey home in 2016, he noticed one of the residents, Oliver, was passionate about woodworking. As it happened, John shared that passion and so began a reciprocal and rewarding relationship with Oliver.

First, they re-organized Oliver’s woodworking shop, stocking it with woodworking equipment and materials. The wood they use comes from many sources. They receive gifts of scrap wood, some from pallets, some from re-used furniture, from trees on the property and they even have a few pieces of 80-year-old barn wood. They collect and store it, knowing there will be a right project, some day, for each piece. 

Oliver loves being in the shop, working with tools, and making furniture and objects that people can use. It does not matter if its filing or planing, cutting or sanding, drilling or hammering, or just tinkering – Oliver loves his shop. He would be in there most of the day, everyday, if he could.

John is the manager of the home and has a busy workload, but he makes sure to set aside some time each week to work with Oliver. It’s good for Oliver, and it’s good for John too. John explains, “Oliver and I definitely have a very special bond and spend lots of hours together, whether it’s him being in my office building Lego, or looking through ideas of things to build or actually being in the workshop creating and building those ideas. There is a trust that Oliver has with me that has been built by the hours together and me keeping my word with him. I thank God for how blessed I am that I was chosen to be able to bless Oliver’s life in this way.”

They pour over design ideas together on the internet, discuss the pros and cons of each project, and figure out how they can make the projects using the materials they have. They split the tasks based on their preferences: Oliver avoids using power cutting tools, but once John cuts the pieces or shapes, he does an amazing job with sanding, attached pieces together and finishing. 

Over the years, they’ve created a remarkable range of projects, charcuterie boards, key holders, games, puzzles, wall art, shelves, walking sticks, and Oliver’s latest interest, animal-shaped paper holders and X’s and O’s game. Each piece, many one of a kind, is available for purchase.

Oliver and John often get requests for specific projects from staff. One time a staff member asked if they could make a 3-tiered wedding cake holder. It was for a rustic-themed wedding, so they used rounds from a tree that had to be cut down on the property. Other times, the inspiration comes from an idea on Pinterest that catches Oliver’s attention.

Oliver and John (right) have developed a close relationship over the years. John reflects, "You help people learn and grow in this job, and as you do, you find yourself being blessed in ways only the people we support can do for us."

Woodworking is not only personally satisfying to Oliver, it grounds him. He is at peace when he’s working on a project. No matter how long it takes, he keeps at the task until it is finished. With his eye for detail and proper construction, the projects are beautifully crafted. John says, “Oliver is very proud of his work. It affirms his identity as a woodworking craftsman. He often says he is a ‘manly man.’” John encourages him to learn new skills. He has recently learned how to use the wood burning tool. 

Oliver shows up at John’s office in the home several times a day to check in about their projects and to enjoy time together in each other’s company. Their shared interest in woodworking is only the start of their relationship. Oliver enjoys talking to John’s wife whenever she calls, and they usually talk about whatever project Oliver and John are currently working on. Oliver has been to John’s house to share a BBQ dinner and John and his wife’s company.

A Gallery of Oliver and John's Woodwork

Oliver has a long connection with Bethesda. His parents, Dietrich and Waltraud Ramm, were founding parents and chose the name, Bethesda, for the organization. There are early photos of him from the 1970’s as a young boy in scenes around Mt. Lehman home. Oliver has always been fascinated with machinery, equipment and building. He moved from his parent’s home into a staffed residential home in 1989.