The students behind Meet the Artists Night at the Department of Juvenile Justice’s Broad River Road Complex (Photos by Madeline Hager/Carolina News and Reporter)
Need a couple of handcrafted Christmas presents?
Students at the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice are selling handmade goods through the agency’s Store of Hope.
Students showcased their work recently during Meet the Artists Night, mingling with shoppers and showing off their wares.
Qunetell Dawkins, who created many items, including a yellow step-stool for small children, enjoys the structure and skills he learned in woodworking class.
“It teaches you how to build things out of just wood,” Dawkins said. “… And we can use these things in the real world. It taught me really to be accountable, and it taught me to think outside the box.”
Meet the Artists was held in the community center at the agency’s Broad River Road complex, a 200-acre facility where 500 boys and girls ages 12-19 can get their education while detained or incarcerated.
The Store of Hope, located five minutes from the complex, is where students can sell the work they make while taking classes there. It’s open year round.
Meet the Artists Night allowed anyone in the community to come view and purchase the students’ creations while getting to know them a little.
All of the proceeds from the sales go back into the facility.
The students create coffee tables, rocking chairs, pens, palmetto trees and more.
Instructor Tonya Romriell said the students either make inventory for their storefront or use their creativity to create what they want.
“We give them a lot of creative liberties, but at the same time, we talk about the business aspects of it,” Romriell said.
While some might not end up in woodworking as a career, Romriell said instructors want to ensure the boys can take their skills with them after leaving DJJ.
“If we are creating future entrepreneurs, they need to know about all parts of that,” Romriell said. “So, we try to work that into all the conversations.”
One of Romriell’s student’s wooden side tables was showcased at the community center. It also won a blue ribbon in a competition at the State Fair.
“It was kind of hard at first, just because it was my first time doing something like this,” ribbon winner Jarveh Mcilwain said. “I didn’t think I would have been able to do something like that. But once I tried it and gave it the chance, like, I saw I was good at it and I like it.”
Romriell is proud of the students’ work.
“It is absolutely transformative, because some of these fellows did not know they were capable of making these beautiful things,” she said.
DJJ Executive Director L. Eden Hendrick enjoys sharing the students’ good work with the community.
“This is really what DJJ is about,” Hendrick said. “It’s about teaching youth new skills and giving them a chance to express themselves in different ways and learn how to do something different.”
People tend to focus on the negative at the DJJ, Hendrick said. But at the end of the day, it’s about the students, she said.
“They work so hard on these things all year, and we sell them at the Store of Hope every day,” Hendrick said. “But (the Meet the Artists event) is really the only time that you get to interact with them and, you know, see the smiles on the customer’s face and talk to them and see how people really enjoy looking at their work.”
Tyler Shackleford is a volunteer at DJJ who has been getting to know the students.
“Every week we try to come in here and hang out with the boys and build relationships with them,” Shackleford said.
Shackleford said he himself has had a rough past, so he chooses to give back.
“A lot of people from the outside think, like, you know, it’s like a hopeless place,” Shackleford said. “These boys are, you know, they’re thriving. They’re learning these skills. They’re doing great, and they’re letting their imagination run free.”