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Quincy woman embarks on career change

Elizabeth Rice is embarking on a career change, from social worker to carpentry.

Elizabeth Rice is embarking on a career change, from social worker to carpentry.

BUILDING ON HER PASSION: When Elizabeth Rice of Quincy works in her home carpentry shop, she can feel the presence of her late brother, Derek. She wears his clothes, listens to his music, uses his old tools; pictures of him adorn the walls of the space.

“It’s a huge thing that connects me to my brother,” Rice said. Derek, a union carpenter, died at age 37 of an apparent heart attack in 2007.

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Rice, 40, has been a social worker for the past 16 years and a longtime carpenter in her spare time. Now she’s taking that avocation to a new level with a striking career change: She has been accepted into the preservation carpentry program at Boston’s North Bennet Street School, where she’ll start this fall.

It is a bold move, she said, but one she made with her personal life at impasse, after undergoing 13 unsuccessful fertility treatments over the past three years. She had thought about switching careers several years ago, but didn’t act on it.

If she had any doubts this time around, they were erased by what she called a sign.

“I received my acceptance letter to North Bennet Street School the day before receiving the news that my last pregnancy attempt failed,” she said.

Carpentry would seem to be in her blood. Her late brother was a carpenter, and their father, Richard “Red” Rice, is a retired union millwright. Her uncles run a construction company, McSharry Brothers Inc. in Abington.

Rice has often used carpentry to relieve stress, which came in particularly handy over the course of her fertility treatments. She cited the sensory and intellectual appeal of carpentry, as well as its calming powers, as reasons she loves it.

“I love everything about carpentry, the smell, the creativity,” she said. “I use my brain for the math part, which I never use in other parts of my life, and as a social worker, we make progress, but it’s slow and not necessarily immediate. With carpentry, you can see a project evolve from beginning to end. Plus, I get to use what I make in my home.”

She will work part time as a social worker while she attends school. After she finishes, she wants to work for a preservation company or a museum, and teach as well.

“I want to keep my social worker roots,” she said of her hope to teach the craft of carpentry some day. “North Bennet Street School was founded by Pauline Aggasiz Shaw [in 1885] to teach skills to immigrants. I want to do the same, teach skills to people to get sustainable jobs.”

She said her family is behind her career change, particularly her mother, Mary Rice.

“I was at a crossroads back in 2007 and was thinking of taking a break from social work, and going to school then, but didn’t, figuring I’d pursue it later,” she said. “After my brother died, my mom, who would always tell us it’s never too late to do anything, asked me, ‘Will you still be wanting to do this when you’re 60?’ ”

She is armed with some student loans and a grant for her tuition at the school, but the cost of fertility treatments over the years has left her short. To make up the deficit, and to help the South Shore Habitat for Humanity, Rice is doing a solo “Bike to Build” ride from Quincy to New York City Aug. 15-17.

Rice is a longtime bicyclist who, as a New York University student, often did AIDS fund-raising rides from Boston to New York. This time, she hopes to raise the $15,000 she needs for tuition, and will donate 20 percent of what she raises to the habitat chapter.

Rice is also participating in agency’s eighth annual Ride for Habitat next Saturday, when she will be introduced to the crowd and wear a helmet camera to document the 50-mile ride through the South Shore.

For information on Rice’s ride, visit www.biketobuildatnbss.com.

STUDENTS HELP DOMINICAN VILLAGE: Several Boston College High School students from south of Boston took part in a service trip to the Dominican Republic during their spring break. At the village of Arroyo Del Toro, in the mountains west of Santiago, they helped build outhouses and pour concrete floors in the farming community.

The students were Colin Chandler of Hanover, Benjamin Smith of Scituate, Matthew Veale of Easton, Andrew Julian of Hingham, Connor Noonan of Milton, and Patrick Kramer of Bridgewater, who will be seniors at BC High this fall. They were accompanied by five other classmates and adult leaders, including Jennifer Tegan of Milton, the school’s marketing and communications director.

The group visited a local school and handed out baseball bats, jump ropes, and clothes brought from BC High, and visited children in an orphanage.

Paul E. Kandarian can be reached at pkandarian@aol.com

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