DENISE GREEN: Wow, look what I can do. I can make a drawing and turn that drawing into reality. It brings kids back to actually making things and doing things, and there's something really fulfilling about making something.
This project focuses on creativity, independence, independent thinking. Allowing kids to design and make their own fashion. As they learn these skills, they're able to express themselves creatively in all sorts of mediums in different ways, whether it's screen printing or sewing on a sewing machine or hand sewing, adding embroidery to a t-shirt. I've been able to see the kids really learn how to express themselves in new ways and see that transformation over time and be very empowered by that process.
I learned to sew when I was eight years old, and I began by making a quilt. And I just found that it was a really wonderful way for me to express myself. I love getting dressed every day, and I love that sewing your own clothes, making your own clothes, you have that control and you're not limited to what's available in the mass market.
And I made the strap from putting the two shoulder seems together, and that made it a lot easier for her to sew, and it kind of fit the curve over her shoulder.
A big part of the reason I came to Cornell is that it's a very multi-disciplinary approach to your studies and to research. And being at Cornell has allowed me to work in extension, take anthropology classes, take sociology classes, take design classes, so I've learned how to do pattern making while learning about doing ethnographies, participant observation research, and so you have a very well-rounded type of education that you get at Cornell. And I think that that was a big reason why I chose to come here.
VAN DYK LEWIS: They seem to be hugely influenced by what happens on television. Do they bring that into their designs? Not just the drawing style, but the actual--
I think it's a very real curriculum. I think it's asking children to respond to the real world. You sort of have to think about where we are in terms of culture and how many opportunities they get to actually be creative and to actually think about themselves, because so much of what children do these days is directed by somebody else, so they really don't get an opportunity to direct their lives or their images. And so this gave them a real opportunity to say something about themselves and be creative about themselves. And I think the interaction between Denise and the children has been wonderful. They trust her and the relationship has been incredibly genuine.
DENISE GREEN: Some of them-- you'll have to look. All the strips are right on the table. There are lots of cool things
SHARI HALDEMAN: A lot of these kids are from a lot of other countries in the world, and that sense of identity, we see it get lost in the school system. Part of Denise's program is not just making clothes, it's really kind of helping them tap into their own sense of self and their own sense of creativity. So it's not only a sense of worth for the kids, but the families. The parents come up and are amazed at what their children are learning. There are parents who work two jobs, work in the daytime, work in the nighttime. They may have the skills, but they don't have the time to teach them.
DENISE GREEN: See, you're winding the bobbin. Watch it, see how it's filling up with thread? Cool, huh?
CHILD: Yeah. Going fast.
SHARI HALDEMAN: The connection between Cornell University and the community is probably what is most striking about this in terms of a model program. What's come out of it is that Denise became a community member, not just a student. I mean, this has become her community, and this has become her family, which just enriches her experience in the classroom. And it's enriched our experience. I've come to know people on campus that I never would have met without Denise. And it's changed my ability to do my job even better. I mean, the relationship is unparalleled. We're so lucky to have Cornell in our backyard.
DENISE GREEN: I think that what this project has to offer that's new and exciting is that everything focuses on letting the child be the designer. Everyone leaves with a project that is reflective of their identity.
VAN DYK LEWIS: It's about real world issues. If design is going to do anything, if design is about anything, it's about helping people. I think what Denise has done is to give them the skills, and therefore, the tools to create. And it's wonderful that they actually were able to convey themselves to the rest of the world.
SHARI HALDEMAN: It's completely worth the initial effort to actively reach out to the kids in our community who need us most. All the resources are in our community. I don't believe that there is any community where these pieces don't exist. It is simple and it is so worth the effort.
DENISE GREEN: I think that these girls, in many ways, epitomize that original mission of 4-H to reach communities in need. Just seeing how much they enjoy these projects and that sort of self-fulfillment, you see that what a wonderful role 4-H can play in the lives of children today.
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As a student, Denise Green, Human Ecology '07, developed and taught a unique and powerful curriculum designed to empower disadvantaged youth through artistic expression.
Working with the Ithaca Urban 4-H Outreach Program of the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County, her program teaches basic sewing skills with an emphasis on independent thought and creative freedom.
This film is part of an outreach effort to make project ideas and curriculum available to other educators and volunteers involved in 4-H youth development programs.