Students thread the needle for a good cause

The art of stitching fabric to create apparel is going towards kids who are less fortunate, and gives students a much-needed break from the hustle and bustle of their daily projects.

Shawnee High School seniors Lucy Clapperton, Maddie Haws, Julia Dovis and Gianna Panciera thread their needles to create children’s gowns for Operation Smile with Fashion and Design Teacher Ashley Gerber, center (Krystal Nurse/The Sun).

Giving back was always on Ashely Gerber’s mind. Now she’s able to get her students in the spirit of giving with a creative project to support children in need.

As an instructor of Shawnee High School’s Fashion and Design III class and a graduate of the high school, Gerber loved giving back and knew she had to share this love with her students.

I grew up in Medford and the town tends to be an affluent community, and I think it’s important for kids to realize that not everyone has all of these things we have in Medford,” Gerber said. “I think community service is a huge part of giving back. Academics are important in high school, and I think it’s just as important to be a well-rounded student.

To give back, her students made gowns for children to wear when they undergo maxillofacial or dental surgery as part of Operation Smile. Since 1982, the nonprofit has offered free surgeries to children who have cleft palates or other facial conditions. Cleft palates, which are the most common type of condition the nonprofit sees, is a gap in a person’s mouth that didn’t fully close in the early stages of a pregnancy, according to the organization. Surgeries are best performed by the time a child is 3 months old, but at the latest when they’re 5 to allow for the rest of the child’s facial structure to develop fully with the reconstructed area.

The idea to create gowns came from student Maddie Haws’s grandmother after she started a similar project with a women’s club in Stafford Township.

The students have created roughly 50 gowns to date, and they plan to create more.

They’re all kinds of kid fabrics and stuff like that,” senior Lucy Clapperton said. “We have one that’s a child’s TV show.

[They’re] basically patterns that kids can wear,” Haws said. “Obviously the surgery is really scary for them, and it’s something they can look at and be like ‘I’m wearing this cool thing’ and it won’t be as scary for them.”

Students in the fashion class are working on other projects, and Gerber assigned them this one to give them a mental break and do something for another organization.

Gerber, who is also an advisor of Shawnee’s Family Career and Community Leaders of America club, added the school places an emphasis on students giving back in any way they possibly can. Currently, the school and others in the Lenape Regional district are collecting new and gently-used clothes for Goodwill in a friendly competition among the four schools, which ended on Nov. 15.

Maddie is going to graduate and I hope to continue it for many years, or at least include some sort of service project for my fashion three class, because it’s a good way to break up the curriculum and the academics,” Gerber added.

Gowns, fabric and other materials needed to create the gowns can be donated to the class by contacting Gerber at AGerber@LRHSD.org.

“If you find a community service opportunity that applies to what you’re doing, and is interesting within the class, [it] would be really great for the school as a whole,” Haws said.

The fact that we get to make these pieces for somebody else who would need it more than us is really cool,” senior Julia Dovis said.