Monday, July 01, 2013

17-Year-Old Launches Sewing Club for young girls at the Boys and Girls Club

Girls at the Boys and Girls Club surround Caroline Skubik eager to learn how to sew.

After Two Years of Planning, 17-Year-Old Opts to Run a Summer Sewing Camp at the Boys and Girls Club Teaching Lessons of a Dying Art One Stitch at a Time

By Diana L. Chapman

"Girls, girls, girls," says Caroline Skubik, as she plunged through a wave of chattering, bouncy middle school girls excitedly preparing for their grand finale --  a fashion show.  Their eyes sprinkled and sparkled with glittering eye shadow.  

"You guys, keep control of yourself and be on point," she adds, keeping her young and bubbling mob in check even though she is just a few years older. "Don't  ruin it for the next person."

Maryam Yadzi, 13 holds up two skirts she made.
Then suddenly blooms of teal, glittering purples and blues, flower prints and bold reds strutted down the runway at the San Pedro Boys and Girls Club as the girls ran through a dress rehearsal to show off their creations --all  made completely from scratch and setting off the culmination of a boisterous three week sewing camp run by the 17-year-old San Pedro High Student who attends the high school's annex.

In itself, it's a stunt most adults couldn't pull off with squirmy pre-teens, but for Caroline, it was as though she was a master, fitting neatly into the club's puzzle of giving its youth more talent, self confidence and pride to their life skill's tool kit.

There were no already done patterns here, Caroline explains. The 30 girls learned to design their own dresses and skirts but first started out with a simple bag, which is where the whole gig started three weeks back when the young leader began to stitch and sew the youth's attitudes for the better.

From her kids, Caroline is getting more than an A+ for her efforts.

"She was there for me. I kind of felt I was a bad person. But I feel now just happy with sewing class. It can changes lives," explains a bright-eyed Destiny Marquez, 11, whose hazel-colored hair was in ringlets for the show. "My life was already better the first day she came.

"She opened me up."

Designing and making patterns was no easy task, which is why some of the 10- 13 year old girls dropped out when they got "frustrated" no matter how she tried to keep them. "It's one thing making the pattern and another to make it fit you." But far more girls -- awestruck by Caroline's work -- stayed to learn all about the young woman's passion for sewing, self-esteem and fashion -- a combination of treasures she wanted to share.

The teen has been fascinated with fashion since she was young and began to sew about age 12, said  the bright and confident blond who seems beyond her years.

 Her mother started her off sewing, but the teenager blossomed working hard to build her own concepts in an art that has fallen off the charts for many working American women. The threads of the camp came together, she said, starting two years ago when she decided she wanted to receive a Gold Award from the Girl Scouts. She rolled her passions neatly into a package for a sewing summer camp as her community service project. She researched legalities and safety concerns, and then looked for donations.

The big fabric chains turned her down. She also had trouble finding a location that would allow her to teach sewing camp for free. And she wanted  particularly to target middle school girls "because it's such a delicate age." But finding those girls would be hard.

When things seemed impossible, suddenly crates of material and bolts of colorful fabrics began to appear at her house. Then ten sewing machines arrived, loaned by family and friends. They also donated about $1,500, many in fabric store gift cards, so she could purchase the numerous and necessary supplies, such as needles and thread.

"I had more yards than I could count and it poured into our living room," Caroline said. "This was all free," she added, pointing to the many boxes at the club stuffed with materials. "This was all from my friends and family. "

Then, she learned the club had middle school girls and she wouldn't have to charge them a dime.

In the beginning, the camp started with strict rules. The teen insisted on:

--No open shoes to avoid needles going through some one's foot
--Eyes must be kept on the sewing machines at all times when working and "never look up."
--Do not engage anyone in conversation who is on a machine or vice versa to prevent accidents.

From there, her first lesson was simple: "Here is a needle. Here is the eye of the needle. You put thread through the eye," Caroline explained with a precision as the girls  wandered about before the show putting on make-up. Caroline crowed to her crew: "We're designers!" The girls giggled.

Seconds later, they were crossing the runway.

Some of the girl's pieces as they twisted and turned weren't perfect: a skirt had no hem, a zipper was misaligned, a belt around a waist was crooked -- but Caroline and the girls didn't care about any of that. What was incredible, the leader said, is the kid's confidence soared when they learned to make their own clothes giving them a sense of freedom and passion just waiting to spark.

The perfection can come later.

The girls learned about textures, colors and shapes and how to thread a machine -- and they want to learn more.

"I made a shirt. I made a dress. I made some shorts and I made a bag," said Keyara Andrews, 12. "It was pretty challenging, but then it got easier. Caroline has been a very good role model. She kept showing us what was wrong without screaming at us."

By the end, her students had made 25 to 30 bags, 23 skirts and 20 dresses. Three girls that were more advanced also made shorts.

Of course there had to be an accident. Talita Shields, 12, said she "wasn't paying attention" using the sewing machine and sewed through her finger. After it happened, Caroline was on it cleaning the cut out with hydrogen peroxide and "she was so comforting."

"I like how Caroline helps us," Talita said. "She treats us like daughters. Sometimes I'm kind of pushy and rude, and she'd have me wait, calm down and
hold a second."

To parent Rene Yadzi, whose 13-year-old Maryam attended, Caroline is practically a miracle, who deserves huge plaudits for her success.

"Caroline was amazing," Rene said. "She did a job that we frequently hire experienced, even college educated teachers to do... She really inspired these kids to tackle an incredibly hard project and stick to it when the difficulties seemed insurmountable. She was level headed and mature, always. She provided a structure and a plan that grounded the efforts.

" In the absence of these factors, it would have fallen apart. Instead, it was an amazing success that built self esteem and showed these kids that they have the power to achieve anything they want."

Leomar Ignacio, director of the club's middle school center, said she was an amazing add who came with practicality, nurturing and common sense.

"Caroline's sewing camp brought back the essential task of sewing for our members," he said. "The members aren't expose to the basic programs anymore due to the budget schools and community programs. But with Caroline's determination to help our club, our movement and our members with teaching sewing, it helped our kids find another way to feel better about themselves and what they can achieve."

Routinely, Cathy Skubik, the teen's mom and a 4th grade teacher at Park Western Elementary, came to help, adding that the craziness of it all just dazed her. Her daughter, however, didn't bat an eye. Cathy said she couldn't help but be impressed.

"She listened to them. She knew them. She pushed them...It was just a very natural way of teaching. They were really great kids and were really open to her and her ideas. It's such a perfect blend of her passion for sewing and her passion in believing in yourself."

But there was one thing Caroline didn't anticipate. She didn't understand "how connected I was to the girls" and toward the end began to feel sad.

 "I feel appreciated by them," she said. "They are so sweet. I don't think it's an option for me not to come back."