Projects in Deb Heater’s Social Skills class at Gerber, our residential education program, help equip our youth with the tools they need to be flexible and adjust their behavior to fit particular situations. They also teach life skills or as Deb says, "teach the kids they can do things to help themselves."
After winter break, when planning for our upcoming Festival of Quilts began to ramp up, Deb decided to incorporate the agency’s signature fundraiser into her lesson plan as she has done before. This time, however, it would be her middle school students who would help make a quilt for the Festival.
The six boys in her class already knew about our quilt tradition with the United Methodist Women, but it gave Deb an opportunity to talk about how the Festival helps raise money for their care and support programs at Cunningham.
"When I first explain that the quilt is going to be sold, the kids always think they are going to get the money personally and are confused when they learn that is not the case," Deb said. "It becomes a very teachable moment when they begin to understand the money raised at the Festival of Quilts allows them to have birthday parties, go on field trips, get new clothes and enjoy the extra, fun things they like doing. Showing them they can get involved and be part of the efforts to raise the support and funding for our programs helps them recognize the impact they themselves can have."
Part of the fun of the project is deciding the theme for the quilt. The youngsters all love sports, especially the Fighting Illini. Naturally, they wanted to make an orange and blue Illini-themed quilt. Beginning the first week of January, they worked on the quilt twice a week and finished it just before the start of spring break and COVID-19.
Each student had the opportunity to design a square and everyone was excited to get started. Well, almost everyone. This particular group of boys is rather artistic but Jamison* has to work really hard on art projects and feels like he is not as talented as his peers. He also has a hard time sitting still and focusing. When Jamison struggles with a project, he becomes frustrated and just wants to quit. He was so anxious about contributing a square that "wouldn’t be good enough," he didn’t want to participate at all.
Jamison saw his classmates working on their pictures so Deb asked him if they could figure out a way that he, too, could draw a picture. Together they brainstormed and decided on a picture of Coach Lou Henson Court at the State Farm Center. He agreed to give it a try but said, "I will do the outline."
Jamison was making good progress but after a little bit of a mess up, frustration set in and he quit. Deb gave him some space and time to settle down. After about 20 minutes, he was refocused and agreed to try again. The second attempt went much better. Jamison completed the outline and before long, he was collaborating with his peers and decided to color it in.
"You could see him gaining confidence as he did it," Deb said. "His peers also really helped encourage him. When he was finished, he was so excited and very proud of his picture."
Jamison and his peers will have the opportunity to learn some sewing skills this summer as Deb incorporates a sewing class into Cunningham’s residential therapeutic care program – yet another way our amazing staff helps our youth to gain confidence as they heal, learn and grow.
The Gerber boys Illini quilt and many others will be available for purchase during our Virtual Festival of Quilts, June 1-5, 2020. As we’ve mentioned, proceeds from the Festival help support Cunningham programs and youth like Jamison. This year’s event will feature an online quilt sale and gift shop, the unbake sale, Facebook Live events and more.
*name has been changed to protect the privacy of our youth