Healing Through Craft

August 9, 2022
Suzanne Murdoch


Students, Veterans
Student measuring cabinet drawers

NBSS students come from all walks of life, drawn to studying here for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they want to make something of their own, or they’re thinking of building their own business, or it could be they’re interested in trying something completely different. When we say “all walks of life,” that is no exaggeration. Our students have come to us after completing successful corporate careers or finishing a degree in a totally unrelated field. They may have worked in the trades previously, be a new high school graduate, or they may not know a jig saw from a miter saw. Many have served in the military, and others come to us because they want “more” from their lives and careers.

We’ve heard many stories of personal transformation that have happened in the classrooms and workshops of NBSS. It isn’t just what we teach, but the students and staff that share a passion for making and working together.

For some, this transformation is a profound one. As Jonathan Ota CF ’19 said in a recent video interview, “If I didn’t take the steps that I took to get to this point, I probably wouldn’t be here. I would be miserable with my life.” Jonathan is a Marine combat veteran who survived three tours in Iraq and returned home suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He came back to a world that no longer felt familiar or comfortable. “All of a sudden you’re back home, and you don’t know what to do with what you’re experiencing… I never really left that combat mode, so I was always on high alert.”  Jonathan described PTSD as “like a black cloud that follows you around.”

Jonathan at work at his NBSS bench
Jonathan at his NBSS bench

After years of seeking help, he finally found a counselor at the Worcester Veterans Center who stressed the power of creativity in helping to heal PTSD. Jonathan told him he liked to work with his hands and was currently working as a carpenter. The counselor connected him with North Bennet Street School, and the Admissions team called him the very next day. Despite the fear of something unknown, he took the leap. Today, he’s a furniture maker working out of a shared shop with other NBSS grads. His counselor was right. Working with his hands to create beautiful pieces from unfinished wood and being in a positive and passionate community has been a healing journey. “It’s good to be around people that really care, are passionate, and enjoy their work.”

When students come to North Bennet Street School, they’re not just learning to create and build a building or a piece of furniture—they’re often rebuilding their own lives in the process. Jonathan’s is just one such story: check out our alumni profiles or our news and stories to learn more about our students and their personal journeys. Are you ready to start yours? Contact us.

In the Making: Healing & Hand Tools with Jonathan Ota

This inspirational conversation explored the difficult transition from active duty into civilian life, Jon’s journey to finding a fulfilling career in woodworking, and advice to other veterans.