Paying it Forward

P1140893While the children have been busy with all sorts of fun summer activities at Patchwork, those receiving our Neighborhood Hospitality have been accommodating and gracious as the hours that we’re offering showers, coffee, a place to rest, and other services have changed from week to week in order to keep them opposite our children’s programming.

Recent Hospitality highlights include:

  • One morning, one of our regular guests noticed a new man come inside looking a little lost. The regular spoke to the new man and quickly found out that the man did not speak English well but that the man needed food from our food pantry. The regular had grown up in El Paso so he had learned to speak Spanish. He acted as a translator to help Shawn write a food pantry referral for the second man and to get some phone numbers for employers to help the seconP1130266d man in his search for a job. As the man’s food order was filled, a past children’s program participant arrived with her small children to get some diapers. The children looked at the fish in our fish tank and jabbered to the Hispanic man, who had bent down to listen to them while he waited for his food.
  • A homeless man asked for a pair of pliers to fix the handlebars on his bike. I found out that he’d been riding it broken for several days, so he was really happy to get it fixed. He was in a great mood and his enthusiasm was infectious.
  • A man came in and picked up a loaf of bread. He said that he’d just moved from Indianapolis and had gotten a job at a restaurant. After work the night before, his boss had given him a bucket of tuna salad to eat. He was glad the bread would turn it into meals.
  • A homeless man who has been showering at Patchwork off and on for the past few months brought in a pack of razors to contribute to our stock of toiletries. He said he wanted to “pay it forward” and had had an extra dollar so he used it to get the razors for everyone.

Last week, I was talking to someone who was a little exasperated with and amazed by all the traffic through our building. He asked, “Theoretically, P1140902tomorrow everybody in the city of Evansville could just come into Patchwork and make themselves at home, is that right?!”

“Yes,” I replied. “Theoretically if everyone in Evansville decided to come in and visit us tomorrow, they could.” And I pretty much meant it, too.

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Monumental Art

We’ve just completed two Sculpture Weeks at Patchwork. They are great examples of the kind of high quality arts experience that we offer children. It’s definitely NOT your average arts and crafts time!

The weeks were led by Rob Millard-Mendez, an associate professor of art at the University of Southern Indiana. We began with a tour of the art in our neighborhood. At one point, the group compared one sculpture that was part of the Sculpt EVV outdoor art exhibition with an abandoned chest of drawers on a concrete pad across the street. The two objects provided an opportunity to ponder the questions: What is conceptual art? Of these two installations on Adams Avenue, which one was created by a professional artist? Which one or both could be considered conceptual art? What commentary does each provide on its urban setting?

conceptual artb

After the tour, the kids got to work on reinventing and refreshing some of Patchwork’s outdoor sculptures. Rob led them through the entire process from ideas and sketches to the design phase and construction. They worked with wood, ceramics, metal, bamboo, found objects, paint, and power tools to make their ideas a reality. As with all art projects, there was a great deal of creative problem solving involved as we discovered challenges and roadblocks.

As a result of their hard work, our 10-year-old giraffe sculpture has a new lease on life, our bike rack sculpture has a fresh coat of paint, and work is underway toward an extraordinary new sign to mark Patchwork’s Meetinghouse. The new sign should do a much better job of expressing who we are and what we do. The sign is in the shape of a hand and will include our name and ceramic images that convey the variety of activities that take place in our building. It will also incorporate repurposed parts from the beloved old stove that we removed from Patchwork’s kitchen back in 2010.

Gavin is the youth whose hand served as the model for the sign. As a group transferred the tracing of his hand to a seven-foot-tall paper model for the piece, he urged everyone to make sure it looked right. “I don’t want to have to see some mistake every time I drive by,” he said.

What a special opportunity for kids to know that their ideas and their artwork will be on display for the city to see for years to come.

Here’s the initial sketch of the idea:

hand sign


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Art Garden Week I: The Summer Begins

Art Garden Weeks are my favorite time of the year. Storytelling, gardening, cooking, ceramics–groups move from one to the other. There’s so much positive energy spilling out of the building. It’s also the largest group of people we work with in a year. This week we had an average of 28 kids every day and an additional 20 adults and teens.

Highlights from this year’s Art Garden Week I, the first week of our summer children’s activities:

  • Patchwork has our own genuine Camp Songs thanks to Dixie, who has outdone herself by creating new lyrics to several old favorites. P1120660One of my favorite new lyrics is to the tune of YMCA: “Art Garden Weeks…It’s fun to come to the Art Garden Weeks. You can get your hands clean, you cam make healthy snacks, you can do many things you feel.”
  • Susan Fowler creates a Memory Sketch to commemorate each week spent telling
    stories with us. She dedicated this week’s to Calvin, our 8-month-old participant, and Helen, our 87-year-old-participant. It includes one of the many songs that Dixie led the group in this week. On the last day, Susan saw one little girl looking at the Memory Sketch P1120931and humming the song. “I’ve been singing this song at home all week,” the girl told Susan. The song is one that Dixie’s grandpa taught to her and she taught to us.
  • One child’s grandparents reported that he came home after a morning at Patchwork and remarked that Art Garden Week is just like home: You get to garden, you get to cook using real knives, and there are all ages of people all together.
  • Multiple people commented about the wonderful spirit present, particularly the spirit of all the different generations of people working together. “There’s a spirit of community,” said Claire, who’s leading the ceramics lessons, “It cleanses you and makes you feel good inside.”
  • Joni is a long-time Art Garden volunteer who has taken over the kitchen
    leadership this year. As an activity leader, she enjoyed the opportunity to interact P1120563with every child. This year it struck her that she remembers seeing some of the kids since they were 6 or 7 and now they’re teens who are helping to teach the younger children. She also enjoyed hearing them remember activities from years ago–like the memory of growing popcorn in our garden which came up as they popped popcorn and added butter and fresh herbs for snack this week.
  • Jane commented that it’s wonderful the way people find their place here–and somehow we do manage to find places for many unique and wonderful individuals. Once they’ve found a place, they shine!
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This morning we’ve had a record number of showers: 14!P1120336

It’s a lot to pack into a short morning at Patchwork, but everyone appreciates the opportunity that we offer and is willing to work together to make sure each person has their turn.

While they wait, one group sits at tables talking, drinking coffee, and eating zucchini bread. Another group sits on the bench in the shade behind Welcome Matt also visiting with each other.

One man says he needs to shower quickly because he’s catching the bus to Nashville. Shawn works it out with the others so he can get cleaned up and on his way.

Someone arrives to donate some toiletries and right away Shawn sees one of our guests who she thinks might be happy to receive some. The woman looks through the makeup bag and sees several things in it that make her smile. “Thank you so much for everything,” she says.

A man leaving after receiving food from the food pantry stops in the office to say thank you to Shawn and I and wishes us a good long weekend. We’ve filled 4 food orders to feed 7 people today.

A man who has taken a shower says, “Thank you for being so nice here. It makes me feel civilized, even though I’m homeless.”


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May Day found us celebrating a school year full of wonderful accomplishments. About 100 children, parents, volunteers, staff, and friends filled Patchwork’s meeting room to receive recognition of their success in school and at Patchwork, to review the year in photos, to say thank you to our volunteers, and to watch video projects we’ve created this year. There were awards for memorizing multiplication tables and reading and Patchwork attendance and improving grades in school, and there was a picnic meal together.

everyone's here!

The week after our Celebration, our Arts & Smarts staff met to review the year, and there is a lot to celebrate. Some noteworthy items include:

  • 68 children participated in at least one day of activities during the 2013-2014 school year. 17 participated only in art, 15 participated only in tutoring, and 36 participated in both art and tutoring. Average daily attendance was 17 children.
  • 111 days of activities were offered. When combined with daily attendance numbers, that meant that there were 1800 individual afternoons spent in Patchwork’s Arts & Smarts Program this year.
  • 26 different schools (including home school) were represented.
  • 106 volunteers generously gave 1989 hours of their time to make the program a success. We’re very grateful to all of our volunteers, but during our Celebration Dixie took a moment to give some extra recognition to three tutors for their years of volunteer service, dedication and commitment: Robette Adams, Phyllis Donahue and Dr. Phil Kinsey.tutors
  • Our program evaluation results show that children feel that there are adults at Patchwork who care about them and who encourage them to do better. Children felt that Patchwork helped them do better in school. They improved their art skills and they improved in areas that predict future success.
  • 100% of parents who responded to our survey would recommend the Arts & Smarts Program to other parents. They shared comments such as:
    • “Everyone here is very nice & always helpful. My children always enjoy working with the tutors and coming here each week. There couldn’t be a better place for kids to come.”
    • “Grades are up!”
    • “Gave my daughter confidence in herself at school & at home. Opened her interest in art.”
    • “Patchwork has been a positive influence in my child’s life–a good self-esteem builder.”
    • “We love all of our tutors we have had this year and the past two years–& what patience they have. It has really helped my children understand homework.”
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Another School Year Drawing to a Close

There’s been a lot of activity lately in the Arts & Smarts program as we work to finish everything up for the year. We’ll celebrate all of our accomplishments at our annual End of the Year Celebration on Thursday, May 1 from 5-7 pm. Everyone’s invited to join us!

Highlights from the last few weeks include:

  • pig rescueThe children learning about the things that interest and excite our staff and volunteers including helping others (that’s why our intern Amber is working toward a Human Services degree at Ivy Tech) and running a pig rescue farm (as Sara, a volunteer from USI, explained, “People might think your dreams are crazy, but if it’s something you really believe in, then don’t give up!”)
  • Team Dyno-Claw!Having Patchwork’s Team Dyno-Claw compete in the Vex Robotics Competition at Ivy Tech. The team had to build a robot and then use it to stack blocks on stair steps to earn points. Dyno-Claw came in 13th out of 27 teams–pretty good for our first time!
  • Using onion skins and plant leaves to dye eggs before Easter. The results were beautiful!
  • onion skin dyesChildren receiving “Dividend Checks” for their participation in the spring Art & Company product creation and art sale at Patchwork’s Pancake Breakfast. For their work selling art, the kids even appeared on the newspaper’s society page!
  • Positive feedback from a USI student doing field experience at Patchwork as part of a teaching degree.  She observed that the children at Patchwork really respect the adults and are well behaved. She thinks that the structure of our programming is good and helps to encourage this. She’s glad she was assigned to Patchwork.

Our children’s programming will take a break for the month of May and then our summer children’s activities will begin on June 2. Registration forms are available in our main office and on our website: Summer 2014




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Future Dreams

P1110279Lately in the Arts & Smarts program, we’ve been talking a lot about the children’s interests, talents, dreams, and goals.

We’ve asked our program participants about their “sparks”: the things that excite them and that they are passionate about. We’ve had Patchwork staff and volunteers share their own sparks. We’ve led the children in different activities: stop-motion animation, ceramics, robotics, drawing, reading, and more, so that they can find new interests.

And the kids are getting the idea. A couple weeks ago, one girl announced to me, “I found my passion! It’s painting!” She was so confident and so excited to share this with me. It was the complete opposite of her usual subdued demeanor. I celebrated with her as we looked at the set of flower pots she’d painted at school that day.

The concept of “sparks” comes from the Search Institute whose research has shown that “kids who thrive have two important supports: knowledge of what their sparks are and adults who support the development of those sparks.” The research supports what we’ve done in the Arts & Smarts Program for a long time: providing a space in which children are supported and activities are partially directed by them.

With the help of Elisa Pike, Program Assistant, we’ve even created a wonderful video that highlights some of the kids’ sparks–and some other fun stuff.


Meanwhile, Paula Petersen, our long-time Program Assistant, is teaching the children another lesson in reaching for your dreams. Over the past few years, Paula has been working toward an associates’ degree in Health Care Support at Ivy Tech, and she will be graduating in P1110299May. Her degree includes a certification in phlebotomy, and we’re excited that she’s already been hired by Deaconess. We’ll miss her work in the Arts & Smarts Program, but wish her well as she moves into the next stage of her career.

We’ve also had a reminder that even with all the support and care and protective factors that we try to provide in children’s lives, it is sometimes not enough. This week Jane and I sat in on part of a murder trial that involves two past children’s program participants.

Even when the lives of our Arts & Smarts participants don’t turn out the way that anyone hoped they would, I hope that these adults feel what others have expressed to me: That while there might have been a lot happening at home or at school, they always knew that Patchwork was a place where they’d find people who cared about them and that that mattered.




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