Building Vibrant Communities: The Success of the Sam Beauford Woodworking Institute

Published on Friday, April 8, 2022 in Community

In 2015, Adrian officials approached Luke Barnett and Dena Koehn to take over the former power plant for the Adrian Training School, a reform school for girls that operated from 1879 to 2008. Barnett, a world-renowned chairmaker, had been teaching classes at a local art center. Koehn was an Adrian College graduate with a passion for art. The duo agreed to fix up the space, using it to offer community members an artistic approach to career building through Barnett’s classes. The newly dubbed Sam Beauford Woodshop, named after a dog Barnett had owned during his career, would continue to be part of the campus’ longstanding tradition of community-minded education.

Barnett later applied for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status when demand for stackable education credentials and a growing interest in furniture making became clear. To register, the woodshop had to donate all the equipment it had accumulated. The next mission for the organization now known as the Sam Beauford Woodworking Institute was to build its collection back up.

By 2021, all that remained of this goal was to replace a pair of worn-down belt sanders – tools every student used, but which were inadequate for helping them reach their full potential. It was then that SBWI applied for a grant from MEC.

Our Building Vibrant Communities grant program, made possible by partnership dollars from Wolverine Power Cooperative, offers local nonprofits a chance to receive funds for community-oriented projects and purchases. Barnett applied for a grant in early 2021. Later that year, new sanders were installed. Barnett said they were the last piece of the puzzle.

Todd Gillman, a student, explained just how important his time at the shop was during a free weekly session for veterans.

“It gets me out of the house. It gives me a chance to be creative, be with others, and make friends to discuss life and connect,” Gillman said. “I’m here every week. I’d be down here every day if I could.”

In addition to classes for all skill levels, the SBWI now hosts several community outreach programs. While the size of the woodshop and the scope of its activities have grown, Barnett says the focus has remained the same: improving people’s lives by teaching woodworking as a craft and a career path.

“We believe that creativity and continuous learning are essential to healthy human development,” the SBWI’s website reads.

Barnett puts it another way: “The goal is to live happy and healthy and do what you want in your life.”

For more information about the Sam Beauford Woodworking Institute, head to

To learn more about the BVC grant program, visit