A Decommissioning

August 1 & 2 saw a unique and wonderful gathering of people at Patchwork. Old friends who moved away nearly 25 years ago, toddlers getting their first introduction to Patchwork, and many Patchwork regulars gathered in our big room for stories, laughter, music, photos, plenty of food, and some tears.

Saturday evening Group

The occasion was the Decommissioning of Patchwork’s Mennonite Voluntary Service (MVS) unit. The unit had been part of Patchwork since 1988. It was one in a national network of similar units in other cities: the Mennonite Voluntary Service (MVS), a program run by the Mennonite Church that offers participants an opportunity to live out their faith through community service. Participants serve for 1-3 years and receive room and board in exchange for their work in community organizations.

Unfortunately, the national MVS organization has seen significant declines in enrollment over the past several years, and in response the national staff decided to eliminate 10 of the 21 MVS units nationwide, including ours.

Patchwork gained a lot from our MVS unit through the years. VSers participated in Patchwork worship services, they were present in our neighborhood (where the MVS unit was always located), and they worked for either Patchwork or one of our partners in the community. They contributed energy, ideas, imagination, and hard work. They received opportunities for leadership and life lessons from Patchwork’s Worship Community members, from their co-workers, and from the people whom they served. The entire Evansville community benefited in large and small ways: the Arts & Smarts children’s snack time rituals, our volunteer record system, many of the art pieces around our building, Patchwork’s tutoring program, Patchwork’s work on bikes, the River City Food Co-op, and Patchwork’s current leadership. After their service in Evansville, our Mennonite Voluntary Service Workers (VSers) returned home to places like Kansas, Ohio, Oregon, Manitoba, and Colorado.

So it was with sadness that we gathered on August 2 for a worship service to Decommission our MVS unit. There were songs, scripture readings, prayers, and communion. Then John Rich led us in a Litany of Decommissioning, which included the words, “We look to the future, to God’s future, and know that the Evansville MVS Unit is not dead, but will rise again in new and surprising ways. It will rise again in moments of service and song, in acts of mercy and justice, in organizations and programs that will not even know the debt they owe Evansville MVS, and in lives transformed that may not even understand the connection.”

If you have stories or thoughts about the continuing legacy of the Evansville MVS unit, both in your life or others’, I encourage you to share them with me.


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Monarchs, Milkweed, and the Moon

23 23Last week was Art Garden II, the joyous conclusion of our Summer Arts & Smarts programming at Patchwork.

Art Garden II brought the return of Susan Fowler who told stories of great journeys: a water drop’s journey through the water cycle, monarch butterflies’ journey from Mexico to Canada, and the astronauts’ journey to the moon (the dates of the first moon landing corresponded to the dates of Art Garden II). Houston sweated bullets (with the help of Susan’s infamous squirt bottle), there was a giant step onto the moon’s surface, the flag waved from the moon, President Nixon and his wife (played by an 8-year-old girl and her two-year-old cousin) called the astronauts on the moon, and there was a splashdown in the ocean (more squirts from the water bottle).


  • Bill and Pat led groups in the garden as they harvested potatoes, beans, and other produce. (One volunteer remarked to me: This is great! I’m in my 60’s and this is the first time I’ve ever seen how potatoes grow!)
  • 25 31Elisa led groups in the studio as they created clay pots and painted their clay butterflies from the first Art Garden Week.
  • Joni led groups in the kitchen as they created daily snacks for the group using garden produce. Snacks included crispy kale, herbed cream cheese pinwheels, sauteed beans and potatoes, and blackberry “jam” thickened with chia seeds. The group also cooked up several dishes for the feast.
  • 30 08Dixie led the group in a song about butterflies that she’d written specifically for the week. The kids created special butterflies and made them fly around the room.
  • Real monarch butterflies visited our butterfly garden!

We celebrated the summer at our annual Garden Feast on Thursday, July 23. Over 80 participants, volunteers, their families, Patchwork staff, and Patchwork friends gathered for a potluck meal, photos from the summer, a reprise of Susan’s summer stories, and the world premier of the stop motion animation video that had been created by the children the week before. The wonderful video captures the fun and magic of the summer at Patchwork:

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The Peak of Summer

It’s been an exciting summer in the Arts & Smarts program. Art Garden Week I (highlighted previously) has been followed by a series of other unique enrichment opportunities for children.

First came Sculpture Week with Amy Rich. Participants built fantastical people using used clothing and found objects. Once each sculpture was complete, its creator wrote the character’s backstory. Paint Brush ManYou can find full gallery on Patchwork’s Facebook page. There was a mermaid, a ghost who works as a police officer, a guy named Kevin, a shy ninja, and two girls who were merged into one body after the theft of one’s lip gloss led the other to visit a witch. There’s also the Paint Brush Man whose story goes:

“One day some sun shine and rain were half and half and a rainbow came, and the Paint Brush Man was painting the rainbow and painting different crafts. He loves to paint. He paints all different crafts. The people heard about the Paint Brush Man, so the people wanted to see him, but it was too far away. So the people draw to see what he looks like. The Paint Brush Man goes to sleep when the sun and the rain are not half and half.”

Following Sculpture Week was Dance Week, which was presented in collaboration with the Children’s Center for Dance Education. Jane Vickers provides this report: “I am very grateful to The Children’s Center for Dance Education for allowing Sadia Brimm to once again P1260003lead Patchwork participants in four days of dancing around the world. Sadia is a favorite of all the kids who come. She is fun and engaging, and everyone has a good time when she is around. There was Spanish dancing with castanets, fans, and pirate hats with large feathers. We did African dance with drums and cool African cloth for costumes. We did ballet, tap, and hip hop. There was even an old-school Soul Train dance line that was so much fun one of the dads got involved and had everyone doing the robot. Looking back, I think my favorite part of Dance Week was that everyone had a wonderful time dancing and jumping and running regardless of what their skill level was.”

P1260482Last week was Cooking Week led by Elisa Pike, Arts & Smarts Program Assistant. Participants made hand-tossed pizza, hummus and baklava thanks to Wendy Wilson from Vegetable Land (you can enjoy her cooking three times a week next door at the River City Food Co-op), and snacks topped with vegetables arranged into bug shapes. On the final day, each participant invited a guest for a grand three course meal that included sage/blackberry water, Greek pasta salad, falafel, made-from-scratch pizza, and stuffed dates. No one went home hungry!

This week has been Stop Motion Animation Week. Our participants are working with Elisa to create a video documenting P1270111Patchwork Art Garden Weeks. Keeping to the theme of the summer, there are lots and lots of butterflies in the video, plus kids flying through the sky, and a cameo appearance by Susan Fowler’s infamous squirt bottle rain showers.

We’ll premier the video next week at our annual Garden Feast. The Feast will be held on Thursday, July 23 from 5-7 pm. At it, we will celebrate the summer at Patchwork with a program and a potluck meal. Participants, their families, volunteers, and other Patchwork friends are all invited to bring a dish to share and come celebrate with us!

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Bike Recycling Returns to Patchwork

Quietly the bike room in Patchwork’s studio has been reorganized, tools found, and space cleared. Quietly we’ve begun to restore bikes to working order. Quietly a few have rolled out our doors with new owners who rely on them for transportation.

We’re excited to provide this service to the community once more. Our past experience shows us that our guests’ need for working bicycles is great and that the bikes are highly valued. For many, a bike is their primary transportation and they are no longer able to get around town when that bike breaks or gets stolen.

Coordinating the Bike Shop is Pete Emery (below, on left, with Steven). Pete has already put in many volunteer hours organizing the bike shop and the bike program. Slowly the word has spread that there’s a new bike guy and our guests have approached us for help.

Pete and Steven

Shawn tells this story about one recent bike recipient, “We gave out our second bike last week to an older gentleman named Charles. Charles comes to Patchwork from time to time and always tells me about his fishing experiences. He loves to fish and often rides his bike to his favorite fishing spot. His bike was recently stolen, and he was no longer able to get there because the walk was too far. Pete was able to fix up a bike for Charles. He was very grateful for the bike, and Pete told him anytime that he needed any maintenance done on it to be sure and stop by the bike shop.”

If you would like to support this program, the most helpful donations are money for bike tires and tubes and for utilities and other core expenses related to our studio/bike shop. We can accept a limited number of used bicycles. If you have a bike to donate, please call ahead to find out if we have space to accept it. Pete can also use help from Ben working on a bikevolunteers who are experienced in bike repair. The Patchwork Bike Shop is open most Tuesday and Thursday mornings, though that schedule is subject to change depending on our other programming. For more information or to contact Pete, please call our main office at 812-424-2735.

The history of Patchwork’s Bike Shop goes back to 2000 or 2001 when Rick Unger was a Mennonite Voluntary Service Worker here. Rick watched as a child who lived nearby tossed his bicycle into the dumpster because it was broken. It turned out that the bike only needed a minor repair, so Rick decided to start teaching children how to make their own bike repairs. Custom art bikes soon followed. Here’s a news report about our early bike shop:



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Patchwork Summer “is Better Than TV!”

Our summer Arts & Smarts children’s programming began last week with Art Garden Week I. A total of 32 children and 39 teen and adult volunteers participated in at least one day of Art Garden. Activities included:

  • Telling stories with Susan Fowler about Salad!monarch butterflies’ incredible annual migration from Mexico to Canada and back.
  • Making ceramic butterflies and milkweed seed balls with Elisa in the ceramics studio.
  • Planting a new butterfly garden with Bill and Pat to feed the monarchs visiting the Patchwork Garden.
  • Making snacks in the kitchen with Joni to feed the group using tasty plants from the garden.

Fun stories from the week:

  • Susan Fowler reported, “I’ve been milkweed happy. I have so many books at home because I’ve been looking up how many kinds of milkweed there are. Yesterday afternoon I visited the butterfly The path of the butterfliesgarden at the University of Evansville (where the new plants in Patchwork’s garden came from). I learned milkweed lessons from the biologist  who helped plant them. Now Patchwork has a monarch butterfly habitat in our garden!”
  • A group of 6th-11th grade boys making smoothies in the kitchen for snack. Their instructions were, “Just add a little bit of this and and little bit of that.” They did just as they were told and did it with confidence. In went whole baby carrots, kale, beet greens (which added natural red color), apples, orange juice, and blueberries. The results tasted great!
  • Joni observed, “We try a newSusan and Jennifer thing in the kitchen every year. This year it was beet
    chips.” Beet chips are made by slicing beets thinly and baking them till they’re crisp. One volunteer observed, “Most kids wanted seconds on them.” Another volunteer said, “One kid at my table tried one, then thought about it. I told her to try a second, and she did and decided they were OK.”
  • One volunteer said, “I like that adults at Patchwork don’t get impatient. They let the kids be themselves here, unlike some other places.”
  • A general observation from volunteers and staff: Art Garden Week is multi-generational. the Patchwork gardenParticipants range in age from 2 through their 70’s. Each group includes some younger children, some older children, and some adults. The big kids can have fun being like little kids. There are people from different backgrounds, and different languages are being spoken. It makes it a really special time.
  • As one child observed this week as she created things at Patchwork, “This is better than TV!”

Art Garden I memory sketch

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Bursting at the Seams

Next week at Patchwork, the pace will pick up dramatically. We’ll be back to full days of programming with the first Art Garden Week filling the building each day with around 50 children, teens, and adult volunteers. The joy, activity, and fun will be too much for the Meetinghouse to contain, and everyone will spill out into the garden, the studio, and the grounds. It’s always one of my absolute favorite times at Patchwork.

All summer our food P1230648pantry will continue to serve families–their children at home for the summer. As the weather warms, our showers will stay busy as everyone values an opportunity to cool off, wash away the sweat, and get clean. And even in warm weather, we’ll serve up lots of coffee as people gather for our hospitality.

Of course, none of this will happen without the generosity of our supporters and their donations of money, time, and items that we need. Recently we’ve had some special gifts that will help us better serve our clients and that brightened the days of our staff and volunteers (and some days after we’ve dealt with particularly sobering situations that’s a big deal).

Special things happening recently at Patchwork:

  • The medical suppliers who donated all the medical supplies on John’s Health Ministry wishlist–even when another donor was willing to purchase the supplies himself to donate to us.
  • The anonymous donor who orders supplies for our hospitality program so just what we need is delivered just when we need it.
  • The grandmother who gives us $5 every so often–which is a lot for her–because she appreciates everything that we do for the neighborhood.
  • The new volunteer who is working to reorganize the Bike Shop so we can provide people with transportation once more.
  • The gardeners who have quietly filled the garden with plants and who have created a new butterfly garden to use to educate the children this summer.

We’ve also received a special challenge from a donor: make a special donation to Patchwork this month and your gift will be matched dollar-for-dollar for up to $1000! This P1230667gift comes at a good time. During the summer, donations tend to slow but we’re still busy providing services. If you’d like to contribute toward this matching gift, send us a check marked “challenge gift” or give online through the link on our website www.patchwork.org.

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2015 Arts & Smarts Year End Celebration

On Thursday, April 30, we celebrated another successful year in the Arts & Smarts program. Over 100 people filled Patchwork’s Meetinghouse to celebrate the children’s accomplishments, to thank our Arts & Smarts volunteers and staff, to reflect on the year’s successes, and to share a picnic supper. We also debuted the latest stop motion video created in the Arts & Smarts program. Here it is:

It was a wonderful celebration of a fantastic program. Below are thoughts about our after school program from a variety of people involved in it.



From a parent: “Patchwork welcomes children and sets a tone of structure, fun, and education.”

From Mandy, a tutor who is also a Signature School student: “I have had a blast helping the kids at Patchwork for the past few years. As a kid, I always had my brother to help me with my homework and I realize not every kid has that opportunity and I am glad I have P1230534b Jasminegotten to play that role that was so important in my life for other children. School and education is one of the most important things in people’s lives and getting to work with such a close-knit group of people who only want to assist in the education process and experience has been a blessing in my life.”

From Meschac, who has brought us international student volunteers all year through the International Community Service program at the University of Southern Indiana: “Everyone who comes here says they want to go back home and start their own Patchwork.”

From a parent: “Grades improved tremendously!”

From a parent: “Patchwork encourages the children, makes them feel like part of a group, and gives them a safe place to express themselves.”

From Meryem, a tutor who is also a Signature School student: “I have volunteered at Patchwork for two years. Tutoring at Patchwork is a unique experience, because helping P1230532 Ashleystudents learn is just as important as building a relationship with them and understanding their backgrounds. During this time, I have also come to realize how complex the process of teaching is and that it requires much more than simply explaining concepts. I like to think that as I helped students with schoolwork, my own teaching skills also improved.”

From a parent: “Patchwork is doing it best and has done it best with every child that I have seen come into Patchwork every evening.”

Our summer children’s activities will begin on June 1. All registration forms are available in our main office and will soon be available on our website: www.Patchwork.org. The summer schedule is:

Art Garden Week I

  • June 1-4, 9:30 am-11:45 amP1230541b
  • for children going into 2nd grade & up
  • Garden! Make art! Do storytelling! Make (and eat!) snacks!

Sculpture Week with Rob

  • June 8-11, 9:30 am-11:30 am
  • for youth ages 11 & up
  • Create sculptures with Rob Millard-Mendez, a sculpture professor at USI!

Dance Week

  • June 15-18, 9:30 am-11:30 am
  • for children going into 2nd grade & up
  • Learn creative and fun ways to move and dance
  • presented in collaboration with Children’s Center for Dance Education!

Sculpture Fun with Jane & Amy

  • July 13-16, 9:30 am-11:30 am
  • for youth ages 11 & up
  • Work on sculptures old and new with our very own Jane Vickers & Amy Rich!

Art Garden Week II

  • July 20-23, 9:30 am-11:45 am
  • for children going into 2nd grade & up
  • Round two of gardening, art, storytelling, and snacks!

Garden Feast

  • July 23, 5:00 pm-7:00 pm
  • for EVERYONE! Come celebrate the summer with us!

Parents, guardians, and teens are welcome to attend Arts & Smarts programming with children, but they must complete the appropriate volunteer applications and background check.


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