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Southside Woodworks gives struggling people a source of identity, income

(Photo credit: John Le, WLOS)

An Asheville program provides job skills and a source of pride that's been a lifeline to many participants in the Southside community.

"Where you see trash, we see treasure," says Eric Howell, co-founder of Southside Woodworks.

The work in progress is part of a daily transformaton. Green Opportunities is a training hub for folks who want to hone their skills.

Howell says the wood is just the framework for an empowering metaphor.

"A lot of people look at the people we serve like, 'Ah they're lazy, they're in poverty, they don't want anything,'" he said of the stereotype. "Not knowing there's so much untapped potential in these neighborhoods."

They routinely turn what was once on the scrap heap into something functional and even beautiful. They make custom projects and sell a line of items ranging from coasters, to cutting boards, knife racks and more.

"A good majority of our wood is reclaimed. I also go to Asheville Hardware and look through their scrap piles," Howell says.

Southside Woodworks is an offshoot of the construction program at GO. A portion of the profits go toward a stipend for students so they have a source of income during their training.

"It empowers them to actually want to do better," Howell explained.

The by-product of the products is hope. When Greg Lynch went to jail for a probation violation, he desperately needed to turn his life around.

"An opportunity to expand their horizons and open their mind to different things and also keep you out of trouble," Lynch says.

His kids Champ and Fortune give him all the motivation he needs to work hard.

"That's why I get up every day," he told us. "You can tell them anything, but it's better to show them."

Five years ago, Eric says, he was headed down the wrong path, too.

"I became a knucklehead," Howell said. "I became one of those guys who really didn't care who was out there on the streets selling drugs and things of that nature."

Eventually, he was scared straight.

"While going to school my best friend got a twenty-year sentence for selling drugs and that was my wake-up call right there," Howell explained.

Southside Woodworks gives students a chance to reinvent themselves. The pride that comes with a job well done makes this a one-stop shop for endless possibilities.

"What people get when they see a finished product," Lynch says. "They're in like 'Wow' and 'Aw,' and it's like, 'Yeah I did that,' you know?"

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