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Article—January 5, 2009 TheTennessean

Quilt project goes global
Teacher helps kids reach out to others

By Andy Humbles

Making quilts at Napier Enhanced Option Elementary this school year has been an exercise in learning, giving and cultural diversity.

"Some (children) don't have the things we've got,'' said fourth-grader Yasmine Buckley. "We made (the quilts) so they can feel happy, joyful and warm. I feel glad because they needed it and didn't have it.''

Judith Meeker, 54, took her More Than Warmth nonprofit organization to Napier when she decided to return to teaching this school year. Meeker is an English Language Learners teacher. She returned to Metro schools after last teaching at Granbury Elementary in 2002.

More Than Warmth was launched about eight years ago as an educational project for children to make quilts for other children in need around the world.

When Meeker wasn't teaching, she still regularly went into schools locally to lead quilt-making sessions. Schools from around the country have also sent for a More Than Warmth kit to make quilts. Meeker estimated 1,300 quilts have been made and sent to about 45 countries.

Meeker got out of teaching when she was leading a quilt-making session during a summer church program in East Nashville. The violence that many of the young children talked about experiencing during that program moved Meeker emotionally to the point she stopped teaching to devote more time to More Than Warmth.

"Now here I am back with children living in the projects and trying to teach them about nonviolence and caring,'' Meeker said. "These are inner-city kids reaching out. They have great hearts, and it's having the same impact.''
Students create

Students draw the designs and make the quilt squares. The designs are asked to be nonviolent, nonreligious and nonpolitical. Meeker then finishes most of the quilts.

"It made me happy,'' fourth-grader Johnnesha Maupin said, "that we got to help.''

Meeker incorporates looking at maps and globes where quilts have gone, or may go, to work the project into the curriculum.

She also tells real-life stories and gives information about past and future quilt destinations. She shows pictures of students with their quilts from such countries as Mexico, India, Africa, Afghanistan and Iraq saying thank you. Students also write letters to go with the quilts.

"When we think of our school as a global village, this is bringing that global village to our school,'' said Napier Principal Michael Ross.

Napier students had seven quilts hanging up at the school near mid-November. Ravin Samuels' kindergarten class and Meeker's ELL students combined to make several more on a cultural diversity day near Thanksgiving.

The quilts being made by Napier students this semester were being designated to go to Native American children in the Northwest who are victims of domestic violence. About 12 quilts were sent from Napier and a total of 24 were sent including what was made at other schools.

"When we do our pictures it feels good (to know) that people will look at it and smile,'' fourth-grader La'Quez Blivens said. "If it was me, I'd want help, too. It makes me feel good.''
Putting it all together

The kits cost $50 and allow about 20 children to make two quilts. The kits support most of More Than Warmth costs, Meeker said.

Orders from kits have come from numerous states. High school students have also participated.

"The kids are already asking to do some more,'' said Meeker, about the coming second semester.

In November, Meeker led a Red Hat Society women's group making quilts at Trevecca Towers.

Schools and organizations doing the project can complete the quilts on their own, but generally they are sent to Meeker. Quilts are sewn together generally by Meeker, other volunteers or a professional quilting service if donations are sufficient. Often Meeker receives donations of the fabric needed to complete the quilts.

"I put hearts in my design to show them I love them and care about them,'' said fourth-grader Genesis Gillenwaters. "That made me feel warm inside. I learned we should always love each other no matter what we look like or (where) we come from because we're all the same.

"It's good because when we grow up we know not to be hateful, but to be loveful and happy, so people love us back.''

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