Montgomery County, MD
In 1993, Maryland became the first state in the nation to require all public school students to engage in service-learning activities as a prerequisite for high school graduation. Students can begin accumulating their service hours as early as middle school.
In Kids Sew for Kids, students learn practical skills that benefit both the student and the community
As part of her training for the statewide mandate, Family and Consumer Sciences
teacher Ava Mendelson took a service-learning class in the mid-1990s. While
trying to think of possible service projects, she happened to visit a fabric
store that collected material that could be used by community nonprofit organizations,
such as Girl Scouts. This provided the first spark for Mendelson's now very successful
Sew for Kids project
During the first year, Mendelson's eighth grade students who already had sewing experience created outfits for the residents of a women's shelter. They got the fabric from the community bank at the store and also received donated patterns. At the end of the project, students visited the shelter to deliver their gifts, though they had to visit during daytime hours when the women and children who live there were gone.
New ideas every year
Every year, Mendelson's project has taken on a new twist, as students come
up with new ideas and share their interests. One student, for instance, heard
about a teenager who was organizing a nationwide campaign to collect suitcases
to donate to foster children Suitcases
for Kids. The class decided to contribute
to the project by making duffel bags.
Another student learned about a nearby home for adolescent children who were wards of the state, and the class made clothes for them. Other sewing projects have come from community requests. A service organization of a local telephone company asked if Mendelson's class could make small stuffed teddy bears to give to children in hospital emergency rooms or during interactions with police. They've also made drawstring bags for the attendees of a camp dedicated to young cancer patients.
Mendelson says that the students sometimes have difficulty given away something on which they've spent so much time. She encourages them to make two – one for themselves and one for the receiving organization.
What really makes the work worthwhile for the students, however, is the opportunity to connect with the organization. Often, the people they're making things for are not in a position to be visited – such as terminally ill children or families seeking shelter from abuse. Mendelson says that she asks someone from the organization to come to the class to pick up the sewn items and tell the students about their organization.
After more than five years since starting the project, Mendelson is happy that a few of her students have continued with sewing projects past middle school, using their work in her classroom as impetus to complete the rest of their service-learning requirements. The result is practical skills going to very practical ends, benefiting both the student and the community.