What started this summer as a project for a friend has turned into a desk-building enterprise for educator Jocelyn Lepinski, who so far has made 145 desks, with most of them going to underprivileged schoolchildren.
Lepinski, 42, grew up in Stevens Point with a woodworking father, who put a hammer in her hand as soon as she could hold one. “He used to give me a set of nails and boards and he’d say, ‘Go get ’em.’”
She’s been doing woodworking and home remodeling ever since. As a teenager, she worked with her father to gut and remodel a house. She got even more experience when she bought her first house in 2005. “Since then, I have just kept going — gutting rooms, remodeling houses with friends, remodeling my own houses, helping my dad remodel a cabin and learning as I go,” she said.
So, when a friend asked Lepinski if she’d build her some cabin furniture in May, she did. After that project, she wound up with extra wood and decided to build a desk, which she gave to her 13-year-old son.
With more leftover wood, she built two more desks for a neighbor, and another for her best friend. Once she put the word out about her desk-making on Facebook, she said, “it took off.”
The project has kept her occupied during the pandemic. “COVID kind of sucks,” Lepinski said. “So, what can I do to stay busy outside of work?”
Lepinski came to Madison as an undergraduate in 1996. Her bachelor’s degree is in sociology and women’s studies. She has a master’s degree in social work and a teaching degree in history.
She worked for the Madison School District’s alternative education program for 10 years, teaching history for eight. She’s in her second year working for the district’s central office as a universal systems coach focusing on student engagement in high school classrooms. Her goal is to become a principal.
Lepinski lives on the North Side with her wife, Daisy Quintal, who owns Union Hair Parlor on Winnebago Street, and their two sons, 13 and 8.
So, tell me how you went from one desk to 145 desks.
Since I am a teacher, or I work in the district, people were asking families, “Could you use a desk?” because I said, “I’ll make it.” It’s just my labor. I had free pallets. ... Then before you knew it, MMSD ran that story featuring me on their website. And from there, I couldn’t stop it.
Did you ever hurt yourself woodworking as a kid?
Funny story: I apparently hit my thumb with a hammer, which by the way, hurts something fierce, when I was working with my dad in his shop. I started to cry a little and he told me that, “Daddy doesn’t cry when he hits his thumb in the workshop.” So, I sucked up the tears and went back to pounding nails. I hit it again, which, by the way, hurts even more the second time — trust me, I’ve done it as an adult — and this time my dad came over to me as I tried to hold back the tears and said: “When Daddy hits his same thumb a second time, he cries.” I still follow that advice.
Are the desks going mainly to children who are in need?
Yes, absolutely. In the beginning, I had a handful of friends who were like, “Hey, build one for me and I’ll give you money. I’ll give it to my kid.” And of course those people donated well beyond what it really cost me to build a desk. ... And from there, it was social worker friends, cop friends, teacher friends who were all reaching out to families. I have a social worker (friend) from Dane County. She gave three of those desks away. I had a Dane County sheriff (deputy) that had befriended a family that needed a desk. I don’t know these people that are getting desks for the most part. I really don’t know who they are.
What kind of feedback have you been getting?
My favorite feedback is when I would drop off a desk and, obviously with COVID, I didn’t go inside. I’d text the person. I’d put the desk down and I’d wave and we’d walk away from each other with masks on. And it was usually within 10 minutes of me leaving, I’d receive a text message with a picture of the kid at the desk. It was awesome.
Know Your Madisonian 2020: a collection of profiles from our weekly series
"If you don't interact with people you're going to get some bad vibes and your day is just going to be screwed up."
Paul Schwoerer grew up in Madison but learned his dumpling-making craft in Alaska.
Eric Sarno's book, “Stroke Runner: My Story of Stroke, Survival, Recovery and Advocacy,” was released in October.
Ian Santin, 16, is using his self-taught coding skills to crank out software and video games he hopes to one day turn into a business.
Amber Gilles, the only full-time female patrol officer at Madison Area Technical College, is on the committee for the Rainbow Scholarship, which helps students who identify as LGBTQ or an ally pay for school.
Know Your Madisonian: Madison-Area Urban Ministry's executive director of 14 years says she's proud she gets to make a dent in creating systemic change.
Paul Hendrickson just took over Savory Sunday's main fundraiser -- Grillin' 4 Peace, held annually on frozen Lake Wingra.
"Who doesn't like to just touch a dog and pet them for a minute and talk about their own dogs or their own families?" Pam Prestegard says.
Dr. Nasia Safdar helps lead UW Health’s response to COVID-19 and assists in explaining the pandemic to the media and the public.
He's known for The Gomers and many other Madison bands, but Biff Blumfumgagnge also has been the guitar tech for King Crimson's Robert Fripp for the past 15 years.
TJ McCray managed virtual schools before coming to the Madison School District, which is now teaching all students online due to COVID-19.
City Information Technology director Sarah Edgerton says the IT department spent 591 hours in March setting up digital meetings.
For the past three months, with students not in school and unable to come to the center, Terrence Thompson's been at a loss.
After years in Washington, D.C., working on legislation related to rural and agricultural life, Kelliann Blazek is leading WEDC's new Office of Rural Prosperity.
Jake Baggott talks about the biggest pandemic decision UW-Madison made and how he tries to avoid "Zoom fatigue."
UW-Madison associate professor Ajay Sethi has paid close attention to misinformation related to COVID-19.
Laurie Warren Jones has turned her North Side home into a one-woman assembly in the past five months to churn out thousands of masks to be donated.
Justin Stuehrenberg never used a public bus until he went to college and was impressed with the efficiency and value of a good bus system.
Ayomi Obuseh said she and her peers wanted to show the community where the youth stand.
Maria Redmond is the director -- and so far only employee -- of the Office of Sustainability and Clean Energy, which Gov. Tony Evers created to transition Wisconsin to carbon-free electricity by 2050.
Jacob Frost, who was born with a form of muscular dystrophy, is Dane County's first disabled person to serve as a judge.
"I didn’t want to be the agitator. I didn’t want to be the disruptor. But in real life that’s just who I am," Brandi Grayson said.
DJing is "more of an outlet for me because my job is so heavy," Vanessa McDowell says. "When I'm DJing, it's not work for me. I'm having fun."
Be the first to know
Get local news delivered to your inbox!