Last Tuesday, the Variety Boys and Girls Club and IONYC officially unveiled their new makerspace, equipped with electronics, power and woodworking tools, and 3D-printing technology.
The collaboration started when two local tech entrepreneurs, Joe Kim and Louis Cooper, decided they wanted a regular space for their projects. They founded IONYC, a community of creative people and “makers,” which Kim described as individuals who make things out tools and scrap materials using technology.
“A makerspace is your modern, 21st century shop class,” he said.
When they were roommates, Kim and Cooper, a technology teacher working at a school upstate, said they were “tired of having nowhere to work.” After deciding to launch their own makerspace, the two began reaching out to the local Astoria community and found an enthusiastic online audience.
Through the social media platforms Facebook and Reddit, they began to gather a following. They asked around, Kim said, and met with some of their initial supporters, many of whom are now on IONYC’s board of directors.
One of their community members suggested reaching out to the Variety Boys and Girls Club. After meeting with the club’s staff, Kim and Cooper started filling the space with tools and machines.
On November 14, along with dozens of their supporters, they cut the ribbon to their new space. In a span of just six months, their vision of creating a makerspace came to fruition.
“It’s insane how fast we’ve been moving, but also how much community feedback there’s been,” Kim said. “It’s definitely a case of, if you build it, they will come.”
“This is just the beginning,” Cooper added, “but we’re really excited.”
The makerspace will be open seven days a week and until 9 p.m. Members of the local community, both adults and kids, can sign up to work on projects.
For Kim, a Westchester native who now works as a software engineer, having this location in the city is especially important.
“A lot of us live in New York City, or even the outskirts of New York City,” he said. “We don’t have that much space, and even if we do have space it’s not the kind of space you need.”
Cooper, who combined his two passions and now teaches technology at a middle school, said the room will also be used to teach students who attend after-school programs at Variety. The larger community can also come to “expand their technical knowledge.”
“We’re going to have open work space for community members who want to come in and use tools they can’t fit in their apartment or afford,” he said. “We’ll have workshops and classes on weekends and in different time slots. People can come and learn.”
Matthew Troy, executive director of the Variety Boys and Girls Club, said working in partnerships with tech entrepreneurs like Kim and Cooper will benefit local students as well.
“They know their stuff,” he said. “Taking some of these entrepreneurs and tech experts, building this makerspace, it gives our kids access to amazing new experiences that they will not get anywhere else.”
Part of the goal is exposing students to new ideas and experiences with technology, robotics, media, design and science.
“It really adds a whole level of depth and value to our kids’ experiences,” Troy said. “You can build anything you can possibly imagine here.”
He added that the makerspace is still open to accepting donated equipment. So far, Variety has received power tools from Skanska-Walsh, laptops from Microsoft and other technology from Spectrum.
Kim encouraged everyone from the community to check out the makerspace when it’s fully furnished and equipped.
“Everyone is good at something and everyone wants to learn something else,” he said. “Especially in the modern world, it’s good to know how to use your hands and know how things work.”