May, 2008 Vol. 33 No. 2
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ETC auto body program

Published May 2008

Sew Satisfying

An unlikely club produces untold benefits

by Courtney Baum
Volunteer Melissa Frost helps auto
body student Racquel Tom plan her quilt
Volunteer Melissa Frost, left, helps auto body student Racquel Tom plan her quilt

Students work in a Windward classroom
Students plan their quilts

This isn’t your grandmother’s quilting circle. Body & Sew, an after-school quilting club at Windward Community College, draws its members from Auto Body Repair and Painting, an Employment Training Center program formerly located at Honolulu Community College. Students are detailing more than cars; they’re applying their creative drive to the world of sewing and it’s taking them for an enlightening ride.

Body & Sew is the handiwork of Don Frost, assistant professor of auto body repair and nationally certified master technician who boasts quilting as a hobby. Frost started the program with his wife Melissa in 2007 when, after showing his students some of the quilts he had made, they each asked him to make one for them.

"We decided to teach them to make their own," says Frost. "Melissa agreed to help teach them if they would agree to make at least one quilt or item to donate, to learn community service." The first projects went to children at the Mānoa Ronald McDonald House. Subsequent projects are reaching other facets of the community. This year, the students are providing quilts to the Windward CC Employment Training Center’s nursing program; the nursing students will donate the quilts to their patients in care homes.

Keiki and kupuna aren’t the only ones who benefit. Frost sees changes in club members as well—the experience teaches them to give. "For these kids it’s something to learn, because nobody’s ever given to them," he explains. "These are students who don’t have much themselves, but they get the greatest satisfaction out of giving away their work." Some of his quilters have minimal reading and math skills and live with physical and/or learning disabilities. Some have been homeless or live in shelters. Some are gang members, arrive fresh out of rehab programs or have served jail time as felons. They may never have seen a sewing machine before, but Body & Sew fulfills their yearning to learn and socialize in a safe place off of the streets.

"We’re able to use Body & Sew to teach the students basic math, how to read a ruler, how to follow instructions, how to work together as one group or ’like a family’ and to be creative and think on their own," says Frost. "We’re teaching them a life skill, and they’re learning to think outside the box, to make their own decisions and be accountable for such, to help the community and to be respectful."

Todd Snyder is an auto body graduate and one of the original members of Body & Sew. He got involved at a time when hours away from class meant getting into trouble. "I used to be one bad kid," he says. Snyder now works fulltime at a local auto repair shop, but his day job doesn’t prevent him from continuing to be creative. "I sew on Saturdays and Sundays and now I’m working on a t-shirt quilt out of old shirts that I don’t wear anymore," he says. One of the most important things Body & Sew taught him is to not be afraid of trying new things. "At first sewing was so scary. Now it’s easy and I do it at home." Snyder’s sentiments are shared by many of the students who have fallen under the Frosts’ influence. A class poll asking students to describe Body & Sew in their own words elicited responses including "giving back to the community," "family network," "helps me not to drink," "stay away from fights" and "Body & Sew keeps me out of trouble."

"The students want to learn to sew everything," observes Melissa Frost. "We both have full-time jobs and what we can do with Body & Sew is limited to our time off work, but it is so satisfying that we could do it full time." The Frosts hope to one day accommodate students from every curriculum who would like to learn how to sew and have a safe, after-school place to express their creativity. For now, Body & Sew is limited to auto body students because lack of space has the club bursting at the seams.

One thing that isn’t lacking, though, is community support. When word of the club spread, the local sewing community responded. Fabric donations have come from fabric and quilt stores, manufacturers and local residents. "A lady coming to Hawaiʻi on vacation packed an old suitcase full of her fabric and carried it all the way from Arizona to donate to us," Frost marvels. "We have gotten offers of people wanting to help teach and pass on their knowledge of years of sewing," he adds. "We are going to take them up on their offers." The spirit of giving and love of learning are the common threads that bind this atypical group together and to the community. It’s been said: when life gives you scraps, make a quilt. In Body & Sew, Don and Melissa Frost help individuals who might have otherwise been relegated to the remnant pile create productive lives.

Body & Sew Wish List

The quilting club seeks the following items for quilt-making or auto upholstery. Email Don Frost, or call 808 636-0270.

Learn more about the auto body repair and painting program.

Courtney Baum is executive assistant to the UH president for community affairs and protocol

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