Last year, on August 30, just one day before the launch of the Sewing Training Academy (STA), I was frantically building 10 wooden stools for my classroom.
I used the term building, but when I told friends what I was doing, they corrected me. Evidently it is not building if all the pieces come in a box ready to assemble??
With so much left to do before the first class, each stool, with its 10 unassembled pieces, was a barrier between me and full preparedness.
I persevered, and with sweat from the turning, turning of that measly Allen wrench on my brow, I silently challenged every person who told me this wasn't building to come over and try it themselves.
However...by 9 a.m. the next day, I had 9 fresh-faced students gathered around my cutting table trusting their lives to those stools and their education to me. The students were eager to learn; I was ready to teach.
Those first faces belonged to a Congolese mother & daughter duo, five Burmese women accompanied by their interpreter, and one outspoken American woman who had an amazing way of gluing the class together with her motherly spirit.
I told them they were my guinea pigs, embarking on this new endeavor together. We laughed a lot, and they taught me as much as I taught them.
It's hard to believe the Sewing Training Academy turns ONE YEAR OLD today.
Since that first class, the STA has graduated over 60 students from our basic commercial sewing course. We've recently begun a partnership with the Turnip Truck to sew reusable grocery bags for their stores, which gives our students commercial sewing experience on products for consumers.
In addition, we were commissioned by the Nashville Fashion Alliance to create 500 cloth napkins for the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium, held in Nashville this past summer. We've partnered with Nations Ministries to offer an English class on Fridays that focuses on English for commercial sewing jobs. Most importantly, over the course of the year we've seen students from 10 different countries bond with one another as they learn a common skill, and many of those students have gone onto jobs in commercial sewing at Omega Apparel. (Nashville Fashion Alliance and Omega Apparel were partners with Catholic Charities of Tennessee in moving the STA from concept to reality.)
The Sewing Training Academy seeks to add more value to Nashville as we grow in year two. This fall we will have our first intern, who will be concentrating on growing our social media presence. We are looking for more local businesses with whom to partner to create goods. We will continue to expand our list of partner employers to include more local designers and other production facilities in the greater Nashville area. We would also like to see more students from American backgrounds come through the program as we get certified and become a well-known and respected pathway into a professional trade.
Oh, and those cheap wooden stools, despite my mad wrench skills, were wobbling 5 weeks into the program. I had to call in a carpentry professional to glue all the parts together to make them safe again...
I may not have officially built those stools, BUT over here at the STA we are building something very important: a skilled workforce for commercial sewing in Nashville and surrounding communities.
Doing this job is a privilege, and I am thankful I get to be part of building something great.
I'll leave the furniture building to someone else.