Stoney Creek Club
Trish (my wife) and I have a couple of little Pekingese dogs. After Grandma died, we bought the house my grandfather built in 1936. The field next to the property where I played as a child is now occupied by low-income apartments. One day about a year and a half ago, a couple of the kids from the low-income apartments next door saw me outside with the dogs and asked if they could pet them. I asked if they'd like to walk the dogs for 50 cents each. They were excited to do so and make a bit of spending money.
Later while in the house putting the halters on the dogs, they saw Trish doing some sewing on a quilt block and they asked if they could try it. Well, one thing lead to another and they got into sewing. Trish started teaching them. A couple of weeks later, they showed up with a friend and asked if she could join in. A couple weeks later, there were a couple more and they invited their friends over and now we have over 55 kids and a couple of other adults helping out with the "Stoney Creek Sewing Club." Essentially we're running a community center for low-income under-privileged kids out of our home. Check out their web page at: http://www.ashlandkidquilters.com/
The kids range from age 5 to 14 and many did Christmas presents last year for family members. It made them feel so proud to present something that they'd made themselves. A successful project really boosts self-esteem.
Many of these kids come from rough backgrounds with some abuse and some trauma and some molestation and other horrors they shouldn't have to endure. One family has ten kids. Seven girls sleep in one bedroom and three boys sleep in the other while mom, dad, aunt, uncle and the baby sleep in the living room of a two bedroom apartment. One family has four girls with four different fathers. Three of the fathers are in prison and we don't know where the fourth is but we hope he doesn't come back. One step-mother asked an 11-year old stepson to check the water on the stove. They were heating water for baths on the electric stove since the gas had been turned off due to their inability to pay the bill. He reported that the water was hot. She insisted that he check it by sticking his hand in it. He refused and suggested that if she didn't believe him she could stick her own hand in it. She did and burned her hand. In a rage, she backhanded him across the mouth giving him a swollen and bloody upper lip and two black eyes.
Conversations around the Stoney Creek Sewing Room have been interesting these days. The kids talk of parents who are divorcing, of a momıs who is cheating on their dad, of a step mom who wonıt give them apples when she gives them to her own children. Parents have lost jobs. Some are trying to live outside the welfare system and support a family of 6 on a minimum wage job. I know there is much lacking in the lives of these kids. It shows not only in their faces, but in their clothes and in their actions. The kids pay huge consequences for the actions of their parents.
Many of the kids show up here first as a place of sanctuary. We provide a safe environment that allows them to be kids. Also, by coming here, they find self-confidence and self-esteem and get positive feedback on their work. They are creating something that enables them to feel pride. They learn colors, measuring and best of all, they learn to focus and concentrate. Most have improved and are doing better in school and they love coming over. Grades are going up and problems are going down. All this despite the fact that most come from pretty dysfunctional homes. I tell folks that it's a useful direction for our displaced grandparent energy since our grandkids are all out west.
Several months back, one of girls had a hard time focusing and concentrating. Trish asked her what the problem was and she replied, "I hope my mom gets paid today because we haven't eaten in three days." Of course, we fed her and we now take care of many others in some similar little ways. Now we keep a ready supply of fruits and veggies for the kids to munch on and we feed them as necessary. It's good that we were used to cooking for several and haven't yet learned to pare down our cooking for just the two of us so we always have extra. We almost always have snacks (mostly fruit and veggies) and some days instead of sewing we have "cooking class" and they've made "Mexican" and we had a salad day and some other things like that. Check out the website and see the happy faces and the happy memories created on Chocolate Day.
We all provide the kids with happy and successful adult role models. What was to have been my den in the basement is a sewing classroom. I catch the overflow when too many kids come at once and I teach computer. I also find little jobs they can do to make a couple of bucks. When we got up to about 25 or 30 kids, a church friend (Molly) started coming regularly to help out. Her brother now teaches guitar on Monday afternoons to about eight of the kids. Molly's mother taught the art of watercolor painting. Molly's daughter is a licensed cosmetologist and we had a "girls" day where the kids learned proper skin care and a bit about the art of make-up. We've gone to Molly's farm and had a picnic at the pond with fishing and hay rides through the woods. I think we're doing a great deal to help create "happy" memories for these kids.
The kids are very excited these days because they all love babies and we're working on a project where they're making baby quilts for new born babies at the hospital. The kids are eager to give and we're working on a way to make a formal presentation so the kids can get some recognition for their hard work and kind hearts.
I've never had to look far to be an advocate. All I've ever had to do was the "right thing" with what was right in front of me. I believe that one of the surest ways to create a "mentally ill" adult is to abuse, neglect or otherwise traumatize them as a child. The fact that we're helping these low-income kids is probably the best mental illness "prevention" around. I hope and believe we are making an important difference in the lives of these kids. Twenty years from now, hopefully some of these kids, from some very rough backgrounds, will remember our kindness and not get sucked into the mental illness system. Hopefully, the good memories will be enough to sustain them.