I’m preparing my mind – one moment of awareness at a time – to bring my crazy thinking mind back to home and life and a restful peace, beginning to practice a different presence again. Being “Present” is the only thing that has allowed me peace in the midst of the cacophony of suffering and uncertainty of the lives of my women at the studio. You don’t spend everyday in this atmosphere without remnants clinging to your heart, knowing you cannot fix any of it.

So… you continue to go back to the space where love covers a multitude of sins, over and over and over, comforting and listening and loving.

Loving like Jesus.

 

Over the past three years we have had the extreme blessing of meeting well over two hundred women who have walked, limped, rolled and danced through these doors. I personally open the door to each one, emphasizing the importance of their safety and their presence in this amazing space.

We have hosted self-defense classes, sexual health classes, mental health awareness classes, classes to quit smoking and Bible Studies, just to name a few. We have opened up the studio for guest teachers to teach jewelry classes, card making classes, glass painting classes, upholstery classes and a variety of craft classes. Thanks to all our generous teachers who have shared their hearts and gifts with our ladies!

We have a phenomenal teacher/facilitator/mentor/friend in Joyce Irwin who designs the curriculum, teaches the sewing internships and a multitude of other creative outlets. Joyce is the backbone of the Art Studio. She has been the consistent face and heart over the past 6 years, beginning as a visitor to the studio, a volunteer and has stuck around to share her love of the arts with these amazing women. She is an invaluable fixture here, not just to train these women in the arts, but to encourage, strengthen and pray peace over them. You are so loved Joyce!!

We have completed three years of paid Sewing Internships funded by GiveWell Community Foundation providing sixteen women a consistent paycheck and training in the dying art and skill of hand and machine sewing. The last grant session’s focus was on Advanced Sewing Techniques with the ladies just finishing up the four month Basic Sewing Internship.

The Advanced Sewing Internship was taught by Virginia Smith who had been volunteering her time each Monday afternoon to help keep the studio running smoothly and organized.

Thanks Virginia!!

Nancy Pridmore and Chris Calkins have filled in teaching alongside Joyce bringing ideas to the craft side of the Studio. So appreciate your willingness to share your talents and your heart here!

We are, at this time, engaged in our second year of HUD, CDBG Grants. To date, we have had twenty-seven women begin our sixteen week Paid Sewing Internships. There have been eighteen women completing the program and we have had the absolute thrill of housing nine of these women who have completed this fabulous program.

These nine women are now a vital part of our Dignified Income Program. This life-saving program requires these ladies to work 44 hours a month at the studio or in the community to earn the next month’s rent that we pay to keep them housed, encouraging commitment and responsibility for their own work and their own housing. Alongside the women when they get the key to their new “home” is a housewarming gift that includes: pans, dishes, silverware, sheets, blankets, pillows, towels, garbage cans, cleaning supplies and a rolling cart for groceries. Once in their own home they receive a sewing kit that includes a table, if needed, a brand new machine that they spent four months learning and everything needed to continue working in their new home, using their newly acquired skill. It’s such a blast to watch these ladies “shop” at the studio for fabrics for their next project. Thankful for all the donations that keep us productive and growing in these “normal” life skills.

We have set up our RePurpose Art Studio tent monthly at the Downtown Farmers Market, connecting with Lakelanders and out of town visitors, sharing our studio, our ladies and the beautiful things they create. The monies made from the items sold at the market goes back to the woman who created it, giving them the opportunity for a little bit of normalcy…         a bus pass, a court cost or just a pack of cigarettes.

 

 

To walk this arena…sharing the stories of our ladies, the amazing work that we do at the studio and to open up the eyes and hearts of total strangers to the plight of living homeless, humbles and strengthens me to love everyone differently. Loving the donors, the volunteers, the workers and the homeless, knowing that we are all doing our best at the level of our own understanding.

“By shedding the burden of judgement I will experience silence in my mind.”

That silence is what is required to love!

To love like Jesus.

 

We have had the extreme pleasure of sharing our work, as we get the opportunity, by speaking to church groups, women’s groups, community groups and other non-profits working alongside us here in Lakeland.

We coordinate with Talbot House in engaging their women residents in our internships. We have open communication with the folks at The Dream Center, Options for Women and Peace River.

We contacted Talbot House’s Women’s Director, seeking women who would be interested in the four month internship. That interaction brought us Pauline Gilmore and Glenda Harris, who completed the internship with flying colors. Pauline went on to be hired on at The Ledger and Glenda went on to complete the Advanced Sewing Internship and is now on the payroll working with Joyce teaching this current internship. Both women have their own home…be it an efficiency

The hard work accomplished here goes so far beyond threading needles… it stitches a myriad of life lessons, learned through the collective lives of all these precious souls, together with the support and courage these ladies glean from this time working alongside other women living through this very difficult time.

So…in my preparation to walk away from this office, there is a lot of sorting, organizing, decluttering and “removing me” from this physical place that has become home away from home for me over the past three years. Paintings are coming off the walls, personal notes and cards are being removed from the desk and doors.

Transferring the administrative information to a loving, sweet and capable young woman makes this shift so much easier. Thank you Rachel!

Leaving the Studio will be much more of an emotional departure.

Thank you Murray!

 

 

 

Thank you Brian.

Thank you for offering me this opportunity to grow-up.

Thank you for the peek into a life I could have lived.

Thank you for the lessons to love differently.