Making hats to make a difference

Students plan to donate class-made clothing to Juneau's homeless

Posted: Monday, December 14, 2009

Students at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School have made, grown and gathered hats, scarves, gloves, mittens, potatoes and mugs. This week, they plan to donate them to Juneau's homeless.

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Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire

The project, which began with hat-making in teacher Jodie Buck's life skills class, has grown into a school-wide endeavor sponsored by the exploratory program.

"I think it's great, because I know what it's like to not have somewhere to go," said eighth grader Daniel Martell, who has made several hats. "I've been in that situation before ... it feels good to really just give back."

Kids in Buck's class have made more than 50 hats to donate. Kids in teacher Miah Lager's sculpture and ceramics class will donate about 50 mugs they've created. Kids in Pam Wells' health and physical education class are spearheading a drive to collect tarps, coats, food, blankets and spare change. Kids in Teresa Kissel's English as a Second Language workshop collected data on homelessness and made a poster with information to post in the hallway.

Molly "MJ" Hillis' student government students are making scarves; so far they've made about 25.

Other classes are participating in the food drive, and one school employee plans to donate a pair of gloves for every hat Buck's students make.

Some students have watched the movies "The Soloist" or "The Pursuit of Happyness," and some have read recent Empire articles on homelessness in Juneau.

Anya Nelson's Cultural Leadership students are making and stuffing small stockings. Those students and others in Victoria Johnson's Indian Studies class harvested about 100 pounds of potatoes at the Jensen-Olsen Arboretum; those potatoes may be used in a breakfast planned for staff and volunteers at local nonprofits the Glory Hole, Love INC (Love in the name of Christ), AWARE (Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies) and St. Vincent de Paul. They will present their donations at the breakfast, which will be held at Alaska Native Brotherhood hall on Thursday.

Kids will be selected to help with the breakfast based on an essay explaining why they want to attend.

"I think it's for a good cause, so I think it's worth it," said eighth grader Sabrina Meredith.

"They need hats and stuff to keep warm. Doing this helps them more," said fellow eight grader Audrey Tiedemann.

Seventh grader Chantel Eckland said she enjoys donating to area agencies with her family and friends. This year, in addition to a mug she made, she's donating a gingerbread house to AWARE.

Sculpture teacher Miah Lager said the work has been good for overall awareness. "They all read all the (newspaper) articles, and we talked about it quite a bit - about what's happening. Some of their peers might be homeless," she said.

Last year, the school district identified 165 students as homeless at some point during the school year. This year is had already identified 100.

The project will culminate Friday with a panel made up of representatives from the participating nonprofit agencies, who will explain to students what they do and how they help combat hunger and homelessness in Juneau.

"We want to do it this way so that the students understand, when they hear about food drives, who these people are and what they're doing," Buck said. "We're just trying to create a little more community awareness throughout our school, and a more meaningful learning opportunity."

Much of what the kids have done and learned has helped dispel stereotypes and teach them "You still need to be kind to them (the homeless) no matter what you think about the homeless condition. It's still good to be kind to people," Buck said.

"A project is well designed when you cover what you need to cover and a lot of people benefit from it," she said. "It's a perfect fit. Perfect for this time of year. This is an opportunity for all of our students to be in the giving mode."

• Contact reporter Mary Catharine Martin at 523-2276 or

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