Chateau Vert: Building Character Through Craftsmanship

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Chateau Vert

Earlier this week, I met an amazing man who runs an amazing program, and I thought you should know about it. First some background:

Every year, about 20,000 young people are “emancipated” from the foster care system; what this means in plain terms is that they turn 18 years old, and their birthday present is a notice that they no longer have a home, food, education or other resources. These are kids who were removed from their homes by the state, usually because of abuse or neglect on the part of their parents. The level of support they receive in the foster system varies greatly; some are able to go on to college, while other barely scrape by to high school graduation, but in every case, the state’s responsibility terminates the day they are legally declared to be adults. Of these, it’s estimated that about 20% will end up on the street, adding to the ranks of the homeless.

Patrice Pinaquy decided to try to do something about it.

I met Pinaquy at Lower Arroyo Park in Pasadena, where he was doing his daily exercise and my wife was practicing her archery; they had struck up a conversation shortly before I arrived, and then he told us about his home and his mentorship program for foster kids. Pinaquy was born in France, coming to the US at age 22, where he pursued a career in old-world craftsmanship; he teaches woodworking at Cerritos College and serves as the Conservator of Decorative Arts for J. Paul Getty Museum, Hearst Castle, Huntington Library, and other high-profile clients; he has done restoration work for the famed Gamble and Blacker Houses. He does all his work by hand using 18th-century methods. His wife, Karen, is an award-winning landscape architect; when he brought her to France, she fell in love with it and wanted to stay. Together they bought a 17th-century chateau (a former monastery built around 1620) located about three hours south of Paris, at which they have established a program for emancipated foster children. Pinaquy is in California for a few months to raise money for his non-profit organization, Chateau Vert (Green House).

At Chateau Vert, these young people are taught back-to-basics life, an appreciation for fresh natural foods, and marketable skills rooted in classic techniques. Courses include fine traditional hand-woodworking, classical landscape, stone carving, fine art, animal husbandry, textiles, traditional cooking, and hospitality management. The chateau has nine-month apprenticeship programs in various trades; in the woodworking program, participants learn carving, joinery, construction techniques, use of hand tools, application of gold leaf, traditional French polishing, as well as classical drawing, business and professional practices and history, among other subjects. Other trades include similar comprehensive coursework. Graduates come away prepared for high-paying jobs and lifelong careers in fields such as fine furniture construction and restoration.

More impressive is the change that the students go through as a result of the idyllic rural life in the French countryside. If you watch the video above, you’ll see kids who formerly were in gangs, were homeless, were physically or sexually abused by their foster parents, who formerly had no hope or vision for a future, and hear in their own unscripted words how the Chateau has changed their lives.

One of the paradoxes of the GeekDad culture is the balancing of cutting-edge technology with old-fashioned handicraft, from Caine’s cardboard arcade to Maker Faire. A program that allows young people to learn, as Patrice Pinaquy says, to “make things of wood while listening to the birds sing,” would seem to be right in the middle of the GeekDad ethos. There’s a Paypal link on the Chateau Vert site; if you’ve got a few extra bucks, why not hit that link and help the Pinaquys change the lives of a few more young people who would otherwise have nothing?

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