Get to know our Operations Manager, Lissa Rhodes

In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re thrilled to shine a light on our very own (and undeniably awesome) Lissa Rhodes. She’s a true force to be reckoned with in the world of tools, carpentry and community empowerment.

When did your interest in carpentry/tools start?

My dad was a millwright at Oxyidental Chemical and dabbled in many trades because of it. I spent a lot of afternoons in the garage or basement with him, and loved every second. However, it wasn’t until 2019 that I started to consider how to gain carpentry skills. That was when I first heard of the SACRA program at Assembly House 150 and was lucky to be accepted into their Spring 2020 cohort. It had often been reinforced how clumsy and absent-minded I was, but the way I took to Fine Carpentry says otherwise 😉

Which women inspire you most?

The women who inspire me the most, find ways to live by their own standards and rules. I could name folks whom people are familiar with, but the truth is the women who I surround myself with are the ones who inspire me. No matter why they are in my circle, they have all journeyed into who they are by knowing they could make a space for themselves and someone else if only they persisted.

What advice would you give to young girls who are interested in pursuing careers or hobbies in carpentry or other tool-related trades?

A tool-related trade or hobby is like any other subject you want to learn, it starts first with your desire to know more. Find accessible information about the thing you want to learn and look for mentors. We have great resources in Buffalo, like The Foundry and The Tool Library, as well as web-based learning from YouTube and other sites. 

Remember it’s okay to mess up, it might cost you a little investment in duplicate materials, but even Master Carpenters make mistakes. 

Safety comes first. Before you jump on any machine or pick up any tool for the first time, be sure to know what safety measures you should take. Woodworking is a fascinating subject whether you pursue it professionally or for fun and no one wants to give it up due to an accident that could have been avoided. 

In what ways do you believe diversity strengthens the tool library and the community it serves?

I am in my third year of working at The Tool Library and something that I enjoy most is the connections that I get to see blossom right before my eyes. This can look like a father and daughter bonding over a joint project, neighbors discussing their home and garden projects and lending each other a hand to get them completed, or volunteers who may have never met, becoming fast friends. Working with your hands and producing an object or repairing a wall, deck or device is an empowering activity and everyone deserves to feel empowered and accomplished. No one person at The Tool Library knows it all, but everyone whether they be keeping our doors open or attending a service event is willing to share their knowledge and experience which creates a welcoming environment for all.

Are there any particular projects or initiatives you’re especially proud of spearheading or participating in at the tool library?

The Tool Library has been my favorite place of employment in the past 20 years, due to its collaborative nature, and community-focused mission. In Fall of 2022 we started a Community Work-Study program with UB and have had 9 students who have worked for us. I act as their supervisor and have had a wonderful experience getting to know the students who are coming to Buffalo for an awesome education and a whole new community vibe. I’m particularly proud of this because I have been able to help create a work environment that the students enjoy being in. There’s been a professional shift happening since COVID-19, where employers are being asked to value their employees and show it. It’s been an honor to remind these students that they are more than their degree and that they can set their expectations for their employer and find happiness and fulfillment in whatever they decide to do in the future.

You’re a poet! What do you enjoy most about poetry?

Accessibility. Poetry, like working with tools; is for everyone! But much like the trades, 100s of years of popular rhetoric can make one think otherwise. Poetry is where folks can choose to feel, share, listen, or be inspired by and there aren’t any requirements. I’ve found home in poetry communities from Niagara Falls to Salina Kansas and no matter how the crowd changes, there is always room for one more poet, one more spark, one more verse to enter the collective experience. If you haven’t experience poetry in this way, I urge you to check out WNY’s different offerings from open mics in neighborhood cafes to cocktail bars in swanky hotels, bookstores in the first ward to record shops in Niagara Falls, there’s a venue you’ll like and mic you just might want to step up to.