Handmade toys a ‘piece of happy’
Volunteer makes presents out of wood for kids in foster care
When John Faultersack’s wife, Angelita, became gravely ill five years ago, he began creating toys out of wood. He described it as “a form of therapy.”
After his wife of 40-plus years passed away in 2016, his toy-making continued. It brought him comfort while he grieved and reminded him that some things in life are more durable.
But the most heartening aspect of Faultersack’s simple, cheery creations is how they console another grieving group — children who’ve been removed from their parents because of abuse or ne- glect.
About seven years ago, Faultersack, 72, became a volunteer with Child Advocates San Antonio, or CASA. The group pairs court-appointed, trained volunteers with children in the state’s
foster care system. The adults make sure the children’s medical, legal and economic needs are met and provide a consistent and caring presence in their lives. They also take them to fun activities.
Faultersack decided to take his volunteer work a step further. He makes 35 or more wooden toys a year that are given to CASA kids at Christmas.
“My toys are just a little piece of happy,” he said.
On a recent morning, a bevy of brightly colored toys was arranged in a circle on Faultersack’s living room floor. There were stacking toys, trains, trucks and cars for younger kids. Catapults and tiddly-winks games and Ferris wheels. Doll houses and garages and wagons.
Faultersack, a former farm boy from Wisconsin who moved to San Antonio five decades ago to work at Lackland AFB, designs the toys, using his longtime experience as an air-conditioning system designer. Before that, he was a teacher and educational therapist, work that gave him insight into young minds.
He creates his toys in a cramped, 9-by-13-foot metal shed in his backyard. He has to stoop a bit to accommodate his 6-foottall frame. A shelf holds cans of paint and stain. There’s a band saw and a drill press and various sanders. Wooden boards lean against walls; baskets hold wooden blocks.
“I just tinker,” Faultersack said while showing a wagon still in need of wheels.
He gave his first batch of wooden creations to CASA about four years ago after seeing the kinds of toys donated one Christmas. He said they were mostly plastic and “kind of tacky.”
Each year, an estimated 5,000 children in Bexar County are removed from their homes because of suspected abuse and neglect; about half end up in foster care.
Almost 1,800 children received help from a CASA volunteer this fiscal year, but some go without. A CASA official said about 670 people became CASA volunteers this year — about 300 short of the goal.
Making things harder, children in temporary or permanent state custody are often moved around to multiple places because of conflicts and other trouble in foster homes.
Faultersack, as a volunteer, has helped a half-dozen children through CASA over the years.
“These kids are alone, ripped out of their home at no fault of their own,” he said. “They don’t understand what’s going on. It’s a catastrophic change.”
Faultersack, who retired several years ago, is not there to see a child’s face light up upon getting one of his toys. That’s the job of the volunteer. But he hopes the toy is something a child will keep and take with him or her, no matter what happens.
“It’s something that, if the child is transported from one place to another, the toy will survive. They’re pretty sturdy,” he said.
Marina Gonzales, president and CEO of CASA, said Faultersack’s toys send a message to the children that they’re worthy. It shows them someone spent considerable time and effort because they matter.
“Often these children are placed in group homes or shelters, where there aren’t a lot of resources to celebrate the holidays,” she said. “It’s really important to provide these kids with a sense of normalcy and holiday cheer. They’ve been removed from the only home they know.”
Faultersack wants to get the word out that CASA is in dire need of volunteers. He tells the story of going to pick up a child at a foster home.
“Another little girl clamped onto my leg,” he said. “She said, ‘I want a CASA.’ ”
The young man Faultersack has been mentoring for the past five years is about to become 18 and will “age out” of the foster care system. After that, Faultersack will be done volunteering, he said. But he won’t stop making toys for CASA.
“I’ll keep making as many as I can,” he said.
“These kids are alone, ripped out of their home at no fault of their own. They don’t understand what’s going on. It’s a catastrophic change.”
John Faultersack works on a wooden wagon in his studio. Faultersack creates toys for kids who have been removed from families.
John Faultersack makes 35 or more wooden toys a year. The toys are Christmas presents for those at Child Advocates San Antonio.
Pictured are some of the wooden toys made by volunteer John Faultersack at his home workshop.