Columbus furniture refinishing shop hires, helps kids

Columbus furniture refinishing shop hires, helps kids

Sixteen-year-old Melvin Satterfield sat in front of a TV at a homeless shelter in New York City. As he watched Bob Vila reassemble a broken chair, he had an idea: Why couldn't he make money doing the same thing?

"Here I was, homeless, with no idea what to do with my life, and then I saw Bob Vila glue a chair on TV," Satterfield says.

The next day, he called The New York Times. "For $8, I put in an ad saying, 'I glue chairs,'" he says, laughing. "I've got 20-something bucks, so I hope it works. In the morning, the phone rang, and it was a lady with six chairs."

Satterfield picked up the chairs from the customer's apartment and used her deposit to pay for the cab driver and rent the hotel room that would serve as his workshop. "I glued the chairs, I paid for the hotel, and all week long, I ran that ad," he says. "I had more and more chairs and tables come in, and later I was able to get an apartment."

Fast-forward a couple of decades. Satterfield, a New York native, is now 53 and living in Columbus, Ohio, where he's the owner of Browsers Welcome, a highly rated refinishing, repair and reupholstery business with three locations — two in German Village and one in Bexley. He's since done work for restaurants, churches, businesses and Angie's List members around the city.

"And it all started from, 'I glue chairs,'" he says with a smile.

The German Village stores, which occupy a few buildings along one block, are full of furniture, including pieces in the middle of the refinishing process. The six employees move between the buildings, cutting wood, stripping tables and chairs, and working on various other projects.

A group of young men, ranging in age from 15 to 18, are helping. They're part of Satterfield's entrepreneurship program, which he started about a year and a half ago, and come in every Saturday morning to learn how to refinish and repair furniture.

Kids would regularly come in and ask for a dollar, Satterfield says, and his plan for the program grew from there. "My mindset was that maybe I could help them, show them how to do [refinishing] rather than beg for a dollar.

"Some are off the street," he continues. "Some were sleeping in cars. They're from the neighborhood and want to learn a trade that's not as academically inclined. These kids were on an avenue with nowhere to go for that lesson."

So he started teaching them his craft. "They work with tools," he says. "They tear down couches to prepare them for reupholstering. They take apart chairs. We teach them and pay them for what they've done.

"I take these kids to do deliveries. They watch the etiquette you need. I'm always telling them, 'You have to pull your pants up, you have to be in proper attire, or else the answer is no — in everything you do.'"

The lessons are ones Satterfield, who lost his mother at age 2 and grandmother at 14, learned from his own experiences.

"Instead of going to a foster home [when my grandmother died], I just walked out on my own," he says. "I know the darkness in the back of your mind when you're walking through the subway in New York City. This [trade] empowered me, got me off the street. I didn't have to steal cars. I realized the guys dealing dope didn't hardly make the money I made. They're counting 50 one-dollar bills, and I'm getting 45 bucks per chair. And all I had to do was buy a can of glue and a mallet. Once I was able to put those pieces of wood together, I knew I'd never be broke again."

Satterfield has done more than teach the kids about refinishing furniture. He's partnered with Deborah Dawkins, CEO of the Family Connection of Franklin County, to help them buy new clothes, find jobs and get enrolled in school.

The two met through their church a couple of years ago, when Satterfield and his employees helped Dawkins put together some furniture there. "As I got to know Melvin, we formed a great working relationship," she says.

Now, Dawkins visits the store every Saturday. "We're training them to be independent," she says. "It's so easy for them to get lost in the shuffle. We want to impart experience and knowledge so they can go out into the world and make it. Melvin has a real heart for these kids. They love and respect him."

"He's cool — he's super cool," says DeQuion Anderson, 18, who was the first to start working with Satterfield.

"I walked by the store with my uncle, and he said, 'This is something you could really get in to,' because I like building," Anderson says. "I liked it a lot, and I brought my brothers in. I said, 'Come on, we can do this. We can get out of the hood.'"

Anderson has since learned how to glue, sand, stain and apply polyurethane to the furniture. "I'm really good at painting, so I like staining." He's also gotten two jobs — at Taco Bell and Frisch's Big Boy — and is working to get his GED.

"They've been in a hard situation," Satterfield says of the brothers. "They have been homeless. I'm getting them to refinish things because I want to empower them with pride."

One of DeQuion's brothers, 17-year-old DeMarko, says he enjoys the work he's been doing the past few months. "We take the chairs apart, put them together, strip them, stain them and deliver them. Basically, they teach us everything."

Satterfield's employees were once his students, too.

Jeffery Cody is from Columbus and has been working at Browsers Welcome for 10 years. "I asked Melvin for change, and he gave me $10 and a job," Cody says. "Now I've got a place to stay [at an apartment not far from the store]. Melvin's a blessing."

John Forbes moved to Columbus in 1996. "I came from California to get to know my father," he says. "I lived with him for a while, and I had odd jobs. He passed away about three years ago, and I fell apart. That's when Melvin found me sleeping on a balcony. Melvin picked me back up and gave me a chance. He said, 'John, I'm tired of seeing you like this. Get yourself together.' So I did. I've had this job ever since."

Forbes now owns a house on two and a half acres. "I have apple, cherry and peach trees and a horseshoe pit," he says. "We had our company picnic out there."

It's not just his employees who get second chances. When Satterfield caught someone writing on a wall, instead of having him arrested, he hired him to do the lettering outside the store. And when someone stole a radio from his van, Satterfield didn't call the police, but had him paint one of the walls inside. "I paid him for that, and he comes back [every Saturday]."

Melvin has taught his trade to members of his own family, too, including his soon-to-be stepsons — he's getting married this month to Crystal Satterfield — 16-year-old Tervon Moore and 15-year-old Trey Moore, who occasionally help out at Browsers Welcome.

"He showed them how to strip furniture, apply polyurethane and glue chairs," says Crystal, a Newark, Ohio, native who works with hospice and met Melvin four and a half years ago.

She's proud of what he's done. "For a man who doesn't have kids of his own to step up and be a role model — I thought that was great."

Melvin says his and Crystal's similarities are reasons they were drawn to each other. "We have a lot of things in common," he says. "She's a very good person, very good-natured, and I guess it's the same with me. We have goals. It seems like [this relationship is something] that turned into a great big miracle for everybody."

Others in the community have seen the difference Satterfield has made. "He has an uplifting demeanor and positive attitude," says Bobby Vaughan, who owns Vaughan Motors, a nearby business, and is president of the Parsons Avenue Merchants' Association, of which Satterfield is a member. "He's made a big difference with a number of individuals."

"I think we need more [people] to have the ambition to take a positive direction with others," Vaughan says. "If they're pointed in the right direction, they can become very useful and helpful in the neighborhood."

Satterfield has also been formally recognized in Columbus for his contributions. Last year, he received the William "Bill" Bingmer Business Award from the Council of South Side Organizations, as well as an award from the Franklin County Commissioners for his work with the kids.

"I just like what I'm doing," Satterfield says. "That's a big thing. You've got to like your job."

And DeMarko Anderson tells him: "We like what you're doing, too."

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