Story and photos by Laticia Headings
Colby Samide, a junior at Woodgrove High School in Purcellville, had no idea that his inspiration to make desks for underprivileged kids would earn nationwide attention and land him on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, The Dr. Oz Show, and online in a People Magazine Exclusive.
The 17-year old grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and moved to Purcellville in 2017 with his parents and younger brother. Samide adjusted well to the move and fit in easily. “I love it here, it’s a really cool town and the people are awesome,” he says. “I’m lucky to live here.”
Samide, who plays baseball and loves to ski, found a new hobby and realized a passion after taking a woodworking class at Woodgrove. “I fell in love with it. We made these cool wind-up cars and picture frames,” he says. At home, Samide put his carpentry skills to use and built a hanging daybed for his mom, a fire pit bench, and his own desk for distance learning. “I love to tinker. I’ve always loved to build things ever since I can remember,” he says.
In August, Samide came across a Facebook page called Desks by Dads, a group of Maryland men who were building desks for kids at home from school because of the pandemic. Samide immediately jumped on the idea to create a similar initiative. “It was a great way to combine my woodworking skills and my love for giving back,” he says.
Samide and his family frequently volunteered at homeless shelters and soup kitchens when they lived in Cincinnati. “My mom always said to spread kindness where you can … so that’s definitely been instilled in me,” he says. At a young age, Samide displayed an entrepreneurial spirit. To earn spending money, he started a business. “When I was in 6th grade, I started my own lawn company in Cincinnati and continued it when I moved here,” he says.
Originally, Samide intended to make five to ten desks to help families struggling financially, and to assist kids who needed their own space to study in a home setting. He set up shop in his family’s garage with a miter saw and the necessary tools and got to work. He also started a Facebook page called Desks for Distance. The next day, the page had 250 shares. Soon after, Samide was contacted by a local newspaper and WJLA ABC-7 in Alexandria to do stories.
In just two weeks, Samide raised $4,000 from generous donors for building supplies through a Venmo account. He researched desks on YouTube and, after changing several dimensions and adding a back brace, he settled on a production-friendly design. “I can usually do four in an hour,” he says, noting that the time includes cutting the wood but not shopping for materials. “I build them in sets of four, so I’ll do the legs for all of them first and then the back brace, and then I attach the top.”
“In the early days, it was really overwhelming,” Samide says, who had a little help from his dad and family members. “Once I had a good design down, it really ramped up. I got used to building them and it became more robotic.”
When Moss Building & Design, a residential remodeling company in Chantilly, reached out, Samide had over 60 requests for desks and was grateful for the help. By joining forces with Moss for a “build day,” Samide and others built over 50 desks in one day. Two other build days with the non-profit Makersmiths in Purcellville, a community facility providing tools, training, and workspace for entrepreneurs looking to prototype new ideas, produced 20 desks.
Samide says his favorite part of making the desks is the delivery. “That’s the ‘golden moment,’ when you drop off the desk and see the kid’s reaction,” he says. “You can tell they’re really excited to get it.” Most of the recipients of the desks are children ranging from eight to 12 years old. “Sometimes the parents will send photos of their kid sitting at the new desk and that’s a really good feeling,” Samide says.
In September, People Magazine picked up the story and featured it as an online exclusive. After the article was published, Samide got an email from NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt saying they wanted to do a story. “They actually wanted to send out a [film] crew at 4 p.m. that day,” he says. “A few days later, Ellen reached out, so it was insanely fast-paced.”
Ellen DeGeneres actually saw Samide’s segment on NBC Nightly News and she and her team loved the story. “Goes to show you never know who’s watching the news,” Samide says, laughing.
Samide was in Spanish class when he got a Facebook message inviting him to be on the Ellen Show. At first, he thought it was a joke, but was soon on a Zoom call to coordinate camera lighting and test WiFi signal strength.
On Oct. 7, Samide appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, an experience he recalls as thrilling. “It was incredible to be on her show,” he says. “She was really energetic about the story and liked what I was doing, so it was really cool to get recognition from that show.”
Screenshot of Colby Samide on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
Samide got a surprise during the show when he received two checks from Lowe’s for $10,000 each, one to be used towards his college education and another to buy building supplies for Desks for Distance.
The five-minute segment was posted on The Ellen show’s Facebook page and received over a half-million hits, with viewers lauding Samide for his philanthropy. “Just reading the comments was incredible,” he says. “What started out as a simple idea to give back turned into this cool thing that inspired other people … which was the best part, that people were continuing [the idea] in their locations.”
Samide has since started another Facebook page called Desks for Distance Outreach to assist people around the country who have been inspired by his story and started desk builds in their own communities. The page includes directions on how to get started, a tutorial on making his version of the desk, and raising funds.
The story continued to garner accolades when the Dr. Oz Show spotlighted Samide’s story on his “1 Good Thing” segment on Oct. 23. Every dollar Samide raises is used to buy desk materials. “I take nothing from this,” he says, noting that he has bought out the wood department at Lowe’s on several occasions.
With over 120 desks built to date, Samide has applied to make Desks for Distance an official non-profit and is currently awaiting 501c3 status. In the meantime, Samide is pausing production on making desks to focus on school but plans to build at least 20 desks during his Christmas break and will start regular production again next summer. His goal is to reach 300 desks by August 2021.
As for the future, Samide has interests in engineering, architecture, and marketing. “I like the idea of doing something hands-on, so engineering is appealing to me,” he says. His goals include starting another non-profit to accompany whatever path he chooses. “I want to start a non-profit to help people in my community and continue giving back whenever I can,” he says. ML
For more information and updates, visit the “Desks for Distance” Facebook page.
Published in the December 2020 issue of Middleburg Life.