Bay Area grandfather builds desks for students lacking proper workspace at home

Amanda del Castillo Image
Friday, October 30, 2020
Bay Area grandfather builds desks for low-income students
A grandfather in Contra Costa County is building desks to help low-income students who don't have a proper workspace for distance learning.

CLAYTON, Calif. (KGO) -- A grandfather in Contra Costa County is taking the responsibility of building a better Bay Area quite literally.

80-year-old Les Ruefenacht has spent the last week building desks for low-income students who are still distance learning, and still lacking the right workspace.

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Ruefenacht is purchasing the lumber, cutting it up, sanding it down and starting assembly.

"I think in a week I'm looking at about 15," he estimated. "So, that'd be three a day."

He's a one-man team, taking after a group in Maryland that was featured recently on "World News Tonight." The whole idea is to provide free desks to low-income students to support educational equity during the pandemic.

"When David Muir aired this, my wife said to me, 'You can build anything, you should do this. You will be helping lots of children,'" he explained. "That's what got me started on it. But it's really been a family situation, where we've tried to do good for others."

Ruefenacht is already familiar with woodworking and serving others.

Pre-COVID, the retiree designed and made wooden "Buddy Dog" toys for children with cancer and chronic illnesses. He said he donates the toys to children's hospitals across Northern California.

"That program had to be stopped for a short period of time until COVID was over with, because hospitals aren't accepting outside gifts," Ruefenacht told ABC7 News.

Now, his focus is on finishing desks.

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"I was thinking of a granddaughter that's in high school. I see her all the time, on a bar stool at the kitchen counter, on her lap, in the family room and so forth. And she's an example," he shared. "She needs a place to be able to study."

He imagines the desks will fit in bedrooms, or areas that are quiet.

"There are always lots of things going on when you have a family of two, or three, or four, or five kids. This will give parents an opportunity to limit the noise and provide a better place for the kids to study," he said.

Each 36-inch desk includes a study lamp, a six socket power strip and two USB ports. He said each costs about $65 in materials.

"I had a father ask for one and he said, 'My daughter does her schoolwork on her bed. And every day, she has a backache because of the way she has to sit.' And he said, 'This is really going to be helpful.'"

Ruefenacht's first delivery is scheduled for Monday. He'll be meeting the requests of students in need within a 40-mile radius.

"Pittsburgh, Bay Point, Concord," he said. "And then the next delivery would probably be far, as far away as San Jose and points in between."

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Ruefenacht isn't on social media, but his family has helped spread the word.

"I asked my granddaughter and my daughter to put something wherever they want to put it, on Facebook or whatever. That's where people are picking up on it," he shared.

His son Mark helped him create a GoFundMe campaign, as Ruefenacht continues to build a better Bay Area.

"All my life, I've been involved in doing something for others- that was impressed upon me growing up," Ruefenacht added. "And I've impressed it on our family that things in life that are worthwhile doing, are normally something that you do for someone else."

Since his daughter and granddaughter have posted about his effort on social media, Ruefenacht has received close to 100 requests.

He told ABC7 News, he's going to keep at it as long as help is needed.

"I only have a small area to do it in here at my house and I've had a couple of offers from friends, but there just isn't room to have more people," he said, when asked about potentially expanding his team. "So, I'm just doing it myself. And with COVID, I have to be careful who I'm around, especially because of my age."

If you'd like to assist Grandpa Ruefenacht, click here for his GoFundMe campaign.

Take a look at all of ABC7's Building a Better Bay Area stories and videos here.

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