BY JANE BLOODWORTH ROWE
VIRGINIA BEACH — Business owners Kim and George Melnyk saw an opportunity to give back to the community when they heard Hampton Roads children at home during the pandemic were doing schoolwork on the floor or in their beds because they didn’t have desks.
The couple, owners of Premier Millwork and Lumber Co., Inc., are working with the nonprofit Children’s Health Investment Program of South Hampton Roads, or CHIP, to produce desks for area students who needed a place to work.
They have now delivered more than 2,000 desks to local families.
The effort began in early fall after workers from CHIP, a charity which works with at-risk children, began making home visits to prepare children to return to home schooling. They noticed that many children, some of whom were living with multiple families in cramped conditions, didn’t have desks. In some cases, they didn’t even have a kitchen table.
“Some of the children might be lying on floors or even in beds with their Chromebook,” said Trish O’Brien, the chief executive officer of CHIP. “That was an issue that I hadn’t thought of.”
O’Brien learned online about a woodworking company in Utah that donated desks to students, and she began searching for a similar company in Hampton Roads. She approached Premier Millworks, an architectural millwork company with 47 employees.
She hoped they could come up with 20 desks. Instead, she received 200 – and a promise of more to come.
“We felt blessed that we could remain open during the pandemic because we were an essential business,” George Melnyk said during a recent interview, “and we approached our employees and said, ‘Look, this is our chance to give back to the community.’”
Since early fall, the Melnyks, their employees and community members have donated weekends to providing the labor for desks. Others, including companies and organizations, have donated the money for the materials.
The collapsible desks can be taken down every night and placed under a bed or wherever there’s space. They can be reassembled the next morning in about one minute without tools.
Volunteers from businesses and organizations such as the Beskin-Divers Insurance Group, the Chesopeian Colony Civic League and the American Public Works Association helped with the project. So did student and adult volunteers, including some friends of the Melnyks. Other individuals and organizations, including United Way and the Beazley Foundation, donated funds for the materials, which cost about $20 each.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Kim Melnyk, who serves as vice chairperson of the Virginia Beach School Board. “Groups came to volunteer, and so did students, neighbors and friends. Everybody who came to volunteer also did it more than once.”
Providing desks for area children is particularly important to Kim Melnyk, who is the Princess Anne District representative on the School Board in addition to her duties as vice chair of the body. Having students sit on beds or on the floor to attend school isn’t conducive to success, she said. Although some students are returning to school, the need is ongoing.
“We have children who will not see the inside of a classroom this year,” Kim Melnyk said, noting that parents have the option of opting their children out of school.
Even when all children are back in the classroom, having a workspace at home will still be a boon for many kids, O’Brien said.
“It’s changed the way that kids think about school,” she said. “Having their own desk reinforces the idea that they have to do homework. There will always be a need for desks.”
Local principals often refer children to the project, and one Norfolk principal recently requested 45 desks, O’Brien said.
The Melnyks and about 15 or 20 volunteers continue to turn out about 200 desks each Saturday. Delivering the desks to the students makes it all worthwhile, Kim Melnyk and O’Brien said.
“It’s amazing to see how the children reacted when they saw their desks,” O’Brien said.
For more information CHIP, find the organization on Facebook via @CHIPSHR or online at chipshr.org. Reach Kim Melnyk at (757) 619-3811 for information about how to support the ongoing desk effort. All donations will go through CHIP.
© 2021 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC