Stephen Thomas, 15, of the North Cape May section of Lower Township, lives like others of his age did in the 19th century. He is homeschooled and has been trained as an apprentice in woodworking and blacksmithing since he was 11.

He has gotten so good at both that he is paid to give demonstrations at Historic Cold Spring Village in Lower Township during the summer. He said he makes little puzzles with an old jigsaw, and three-legged milking stools, among other things. He uses planes, chisels, a lathe and even 6-foot-long saws, the way craftsmen did 150 years ago.

"The thing everybody liked to see was splitting shingles," he said.

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But don't think Thomas plans to spend his entire life in the past. While he loves to study history, he said he is leaning toward becoming an attorney.

"I have a bunch of police officers and lawyers in the family," he said.

"He's always been a hands-on kid," said his mom, Laurie, who has homeschooled all four of her children, of whom Stephen is the youngest. "He gets that from his dad," she said of her husband, Lewis, a master carpenter and decoy carver she calls "the MacGyver of wood."

On Thursday, Stephen Thomas was given the Youth Historian Award by the Cape May County Historical and Genealogical Society during its annual awards dinner.

"It's great to see a young kid really passionate about using old tools and doing things the old way," said Historical Society Director Pary Woehlcke.

More meaning in gifts

Fikreta Osmanbegovic's education and childhood in Bosnia were disrupted by the civil wars in the former Yugoslavia. But the 27-year-old's life is being improved by Kristen Williams, of Mays Landing, and others in the "And the Other Women Circle" at Pleasantville Presbyterian Church. The group is sponsoring Osmanbegovic through Women to Women International, and helping her get the life skills she needs to raise her 1-year-old child.

Williams is a fifth-grade teacher at Sovereign Avenue School in Atlantic City, and she also runs Pleasantville Presbyterian's Alternative Gift Fair, which is being held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. today at the church at 1311 S. Main St. Fourteen community groups, including Sister Jean Webster's Kitchen and the South Jersey AIDS Alliance, will be on hand to take donations and sell gifts for the holidays.

The church's SERRV group is offering a variety of fair-trade gifts from around the world. The youth group Church World Service is selling kits to send basic school supplies to Third World students in the name of a favorite local teacher, who will receive a gift card.

Shoppers also can visit the South Jersey Fair Trade Organization's gift fair from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today at Mainland Regional High School in Linwood. That event will benefit Third World artists.

Everyone Has a Story appears Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays.

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