BY ELLEN GILLETTE
David Parnell has seen dreams fall apart, but instead of quitting, he redirected his goals and took a chance.
Born in Jamaica, Parnell moved to Fort Pierce when he was 5. At St. Lucie West Centennial High School, he played varsity basketball and football. Although math was his favorite subject, football looked to be his best path in life.
Parnell credits his middle school basketball coach with setting him on that path.
“It was my first time playing on a team. Mr. Plowder inspired me, motivating me to keep my grades up so that I could play sports.”
A cornerback in high school, Parnell thought his future was set. Scouted by several colleges, he hoped to attend Wittenberg University in Ohio on scholarship.
“I’d never been out of Florida since coming here,” Parnell says. “I wanted that experience.”
During football camp in Lake Placid, however, a torn meniscus in his left knee changed things.
“I didn’t know if I’d ever play sports again.”
With physical therapy, Parnell was able to play his senior year — despite the double whammy with hurricanes Frances and Jeanne in 2004.
Parnell enrolled at Indian River State College after graduation, working full time at Treasure Coast Forensic Treatment Center in Indiantown, a facility for people who aren’t competent to stand trial.
Making sure patients behaved during their time there was challenging.
“I worked the 3-11 shift and saw everything,” Parnell says. “One guy tried to hang himself. I got hit with a shoe. I felt like I was in prison with them.”
Earning an associate of science degree in digital media, Parnell created music videos and commercials. He secured an interview at Digital Domain in Port St. Lucie, but the company shut down soon after.
Another door slammed shut.
“It put me in a bad place,” he says. “I had my heart set on a real opportunity in the field. It made me want to give up on it altogether.”
About that time, Parnell and his girlfriend had a baby.
“My grandfather was a diesel mechanic and always encouraged me to find a trade,” he says. “When Aliyah was born, I saw that I needed job stability.”
Parnell enrolled in IRSC’s Fast Track to Manufacturing program. Still picking up video and graphic design jobs when he could, he also worked in the office of Children’s Medical Services in Fort Pierce.
Once certified, Parnell went to work for Triumph Air Structure in Stuart making wings for the Boeing 737 and fuselages for the company’s 767 airplanes.
“We all talked together as we worked, but I also listened to audiobooks and self-help speeches.”
One book that particularly influenced him was Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki.
“He grew up with a father who had a PhD, a smart guy but capped by his job,” Parnell explains. “His friend’s father had unlimited potential because he owned his own business. It gave me the dream of making my own income one day, having business work for me instead of me working for a business.”
Since childhood, Parnell has enjoyed mechanics.
“I’d fix my headphones by soldering wires when they were loose,” he says. “I took my remote control cars apart to see if I could put them back together.”
Now, he wanted to learn computer numerical control, the automated control of machining tools and 3D printers. He went to work for Paradigm Precision in Stuart, using software to build turbine combustors for airplanes. In May, he was laid off due to COVID-19.
Unemployed with no idea when he’d work again, it seemed a risky time to invest in expensive equipment. Parnell considered his long-term goals, however. Perhaps it was the perfect time to take a step of faith.
Hoping to grow a business making custom designs, Parnell ordered a CNC machine.
“It took a week to put together, then another month getting comfortable with it,” he says.
After working with titanium and other hard materials, there was a learning curve working with softer materials like wood, acrylic, PVC, MDF and brushed aluminum. Each material requires a different approach, drill bit and speed.
“It’s dangerous if you’re not paying attention,” Parnell says.
Today, Parnell is back at Triumph, after which he stops by the gym before going home to work on projects in his garage.
“I started making gifts by request for my girlfriend’s sister who sent more orders my way.”
Calling the business The Art Box Designs, he uses Instagram and Facebook to get the word out. Recently, he tested the waters at a big vendor event.
Parnell’s designs range from personalized coasters to complicated signage with lighting.
“I take great pride in creating timeless artwork my clients commissioned,” he says. “I enjoy seeing the reaction on their faces.”
Parnell dreams of one day opening a shop and hiring others, but for now, the kids can hang out with him in the garage. He is neither a rich father nor a poor one, but he tries to be a good one.
DAVID N. PARNELL
Lives in: Port St. Lucie
Family: Courtney DiPierro, daughter Aliyah, and stepson Corbin
Education: St. Lucie West Centennial High School, Class of 2005; Indian River State College, associate of science in digital media, certifications in computer numerical control machinery and manufacturing and production
Occupation: CNC machinist
Hobbies: basketball, working out
Who inspires me: “My cousin is a pilot who inspired me to go with my gut and pursue my dream.”
Something most people don’t know about me: “I am passionate about creating a path for my kids to be successful.”