Giving Back

Beth Bradley

Last fall, as teacher Elaine Lombardi perused her recently arrived October '07 issue of Sew News, the "Sunny Side Up" project caught her eye. In the article, transparent paint is used in combination with sunlight and found objects to create patterns on plain fabric. Mrs. Lombardi teaches Teen Living at the Center for Effective Learning, an alternative middle school in Virginia Beach, VA. Her course includes sewing, so she's always on the lookout for new ways for her students to put their skills to use. Mrs. Lombardi showed the Sew News article to two of her colleagues, reading teacher Linda Clark and art teacher Nancy Habit. They decided to collaborate on a project that not only got the students sewing, but also became a priceless gift to a group of senior citizens in their community.

The population of the Center for Effective Learning is comprised of students referred by other schools in the district because of behavioral and/or learning problems. With the help of their teachers, the students used the sun-painting technique to decorate plain fabric with cheerful, colorful designs, and then sewed the fabric into cozy pillows.

As the culminating event, the students and teachers paid a visit to a local senior nursing facility to deliver the pillows and spend time with the residents.

This visit proved to be the most positive and rewarding part of the project. What started out as a somewhat awkward "meet-and-greet" soon developed into a wonderful exchange between the students and seniors. As Mrs. Clark describes it, the students "evolved into kind, mature, respectful and loving young people who talked with the seniors, held their hands and gave them hugs. The students gained a wealth of knowledge from the seniors." Each resident received a pillow as a gift to remember the special day. When the students returned to school, they created journals in which they reflected on the experience. Many of the students have even returned to the facility since that day to visit their new friends.

The three dedicated teachers were thrilled with the project, which became much more than an exercise in reading, art and sewing. Needless to say, Sew News is also thrilled to have been able to provide a bit of inspiration! Congratulations to the students of CEL for making the project such a great success! Z

Reading teacher Linda Clark
described the project as "a study in human kindness" and said, "In the end, it was really hard to judge which were softer, the pillows or the students' hearts!"


The CEL community proved that collaboration and creativity can make a big difference. Sharing your love of sewing is a gift that extends far beyond knowing how to patch jeans or sew on a missing button. Consider becoming a sewing mentor to a younger person or starting your own sewing-based community project.

Visit for ideas on how to give back through sewing. To find out more about the Center for Effective Learning, visit

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