What began as a handwritten plea from a former U.S. soldier, traumatized by combat duty in Iraq, has now become a bond of friendship between Nathanael "Nate" Meadows and Laguna Tools
. A 16-in. HD Laguna band saw helps him pursue a woodworking passion as he continues to heal.
Giving back to the community is what Torben and Catherine Helshoj, founders of Laguna Tools, try to foster as a business philosophy and model in their personal lives. Catherine says the couple wouldn't have it any other way.
"I think we are all interconnected and here to do good; it's almost a religion for me," she says with conviction. "Both Torben and I feel ours is a business of the heart, and we try to help as many people as we can."
Nate contacted the Helshojs about four years ago, "and his letter admitted that he was pretty much at the end of his rope." Meadows was injured in 2003 when, as a senior field medic, an improvised explosive device detonated inside his tank. Nate suffered a variety of injuries that were not immediately visible, such as bilateral ear perforations, traumatic brain injury, disequilibrium, bladder and kidney disease and chronic post traumatic stress disorder. After attempting to reenlist for another tour of duty, his injuries resulted in an honorable discharge from the military and a Purple Heart for valor. But, transitioning back into civilian life at home hasn't been easy.
Nate, now 31, suffers from frequent debilitating headaches, and brain injuries challenge his ability to stay on his feet for long periods of time. Desperately wanting to get his life back on track, but not knowing how, he became involved with the Wounded Warriors Program and rediscovered a lifelong passion for woodworking. But, he didn't have the tools he needed.
"When Nate's letter landed on my desk, he wasn't just asking for charity; he was asking for the opportunity to forge a new life for himself," Catherine recalls. And so, after carefully establishing Nate's credentials, the Helshojs donated a band saw to him. "Nate considers me to be his second mom these days," Catherine says. "He and I talk almost weekly, and he's told me before that the band saw and his woodworking have literally changed his life."
Since Nate received Laguna's band saw, other tool manufacturers such as Grizzly, JET and Kreg have followed suit with other tool donations. Now, Nate has a well-equipped shop, and woodworking continues to help him as a form of therapy for life off the battlefield. You can see samples of his artistic and woodworking efforts and learn more about Nate by clicking here.
Helshoj says that the American armed forces and the plight of injured vets "are near and dear to us." Catherine, who is English, and Torben, a Dane, credit the U.S. military's role in liberating Europe during WWII as part of the reason why they feel compelled to help vets. "We who are immigrants may have a different perspective from some people; helping our military stems from our gratitude for what they did for us so many years ago."
Just under 10 percent of Laguna's employees are veterans, Helshoj is proud to report. "I try to hire vets as often as I can, and if you're a vet you're automatically two notches higher as a potential employee for me, but we are very selective about who we hire. We prioritize our core values and beliefs in order to create a family environment within our organization."
Laguna also supports veterans organizations monetarily to help provide meals during holidays and in other ways.
But, the giving doesn't stop with vets. Just this year, Nate emailed Catherine about Matthew Agate, a 10-year-old Newfoundlander who, with the help of his father Michael, is pursuing his woodworking hobby with a social-media bent and a young boy's vigor. Matthew builds projects and documents them by making videos, which the family posts to YouTube and offers at their website thenewfoundland woodworker.com. Matthew's hope is that other kids who see his videos might be motivated to take up woodworking as well.
"Matthew really wanted a new band saw, and I found him so inspiring that I suggested to Torben, let's send this boy a machine. It's not a huge thing, and it will help him fulfill a passion that he might have his whole life." Laguna donated a 14-in. SUV band saw, which the Agates have recently received.
Laguna, which manufactures a full line of stationary woodworking machinery and CNC routing systems, has also found ways to improve the prospects of those in several correctional facilities by providing machinery "at the best possible price we can." California's Corcoran State Prison has a fully-equipped woodshop, and many of the machines are from Laguna. To see a video of the Corcoran woodworking program, click here. Laguna also recently provided an I.Q. CNC machine to the Vocational Trade Program at the Ridgeland Correctional Institution in Ridgeland, South Carolina. The hope there is that woodworking opportunities will provide career potential for young parolees when they are released. Program director Al Tuten says recidivism is only about 30 to 35 percent, as opposed to around 70 percent of the general prison population, because of the success of the program and thanks, in part to Laguna. Here's a link to more about this inspiring program.
Laguna's "business from the heart" approach extends to its customers and employees but also to its vendors and suppliers around the globe. Manufacturing stationary woodworking machinery has, by necessity, become an industry that now spans continents. "The world has gotten smaller than it used to be, and our partnerships are so important; you've always got to think about what you are doing and who you are buying from ... it's so much easier to do business with suppliers far and near that you consider to be friends."
Catherine and Torben support several philanthropic efforts privately, and she says the motivation to give both corporately and personally comes mostly from a sense of gratitude. "This is just who we are. If you have received a lot in life and you don't give back, it's just shameful. Giving isn't always easy, but it's almost always worth the effort."