Annual Schweitzer award presented to founder of Kids Making It

Sasha Johnson | Staff Writer

The UNCW Honors Scholars Program will present the 2010 Albert Schweitzer Honors Scholar during a gathering of freshman honors seminar classes Thursday.  This year’s recipient, Jimmy Pierce, is a man who says he never imagined he would receive such an honor and who left a rewarding career as an attorney because he felt he could make a difference.

Pierce is the founder and executive director of Kids Making It, a nonprofit organization in Wilmington dedicated to teaching woodworking and entrepreneurial skills to at-risk youth in a strong mentoring environment. The program serves 60 to 80 children and teenagers a year, says Pierce. They are able to “build what they can imagine,” sell their creations at the retail shop on Water Street and keep 100 percent of their profits, according to the organization’s website.

The idea came to Pierce after his son was born in 1989.

“My career was great. It was fulfilling. But there is more to life than that,” said Pierce. He started volunteering with kids in 1994, launched a pilot program in the Jervay public housing property to test the waters in 1997 and by 2000 was working full time to make KMI successful.

“It was a huge change,” said Pierce. “Everything I did was real. Ultimately, I decided that I would rather do this.”

The Albert Schweitzer award is given annually by the Honors Scholars Program and Randall Library to a person in the Cape Fear area who exemplifies Albert Schweitzer and his ideals. Schweitzer—a physician, minister, environmentalist, accomplished organist and musical scholar, anti-nuclear activist and philosopher—based his personal philosophy on the ideal of “reverence for life.” For nearly 20 years the Albert Schweitzer International Prizes were awarded on the UNCW campus to individuals who had excelled in the areas of music, medicine and the humanities, but the Prizes were discontinued in 1993. In 2002, Randall Library and the Honors Scholars Program proposed the Albert Schweitzer Honors Scholars Awards to continue to recognize deserving community members.

Although Pierce was familiar with the award, he said his reaction upon receiving the news was disbelief.

“I was just flabbergasted,” said Pierce.

Kate Bruce, director of the Honors Scholars Program, said Pierce was one of 12 nominees. Nominees for the award are chosen by UNCW faculty, students and community members. A review board narrows the list to three candidates and forwards it to the Student Honors Advisory Council, which then decides the award winner.

“Kids who are part of [KMI] may have been in trouble,” said Bruce. “Jimmy was strong in terms of his advocacy for developing self-concepts to get [them] on a different track.”

Pierce will give a lecture to the freshman honors seminar Thursday at 12:30 p.m. in the Lumina Theater with a reception to follow.