Crafting Literacy at Judson Park

‘Tis the season: this is the final piece in a series highlighting Judson residents who “give back” in multiple ways to the greater community.

Anne Fabens is fighting illiteracy, one sock puppet at a time.

As the force behind an ambitious Judson Park volunteer project that aims to improve literacy in the Cleveland public schools, Anne is a tireless advocate for reading.

“I simply can’t think of anything worse than not being able to read,” says the Judson Park resident and lifelong volunteer. “Instructions. Directions. Dr. Seuss. Can you imagine how hard it must be to not have that ability?”

JP Literacy Art project (5)To help her in the fight, Anne has recruited a group of approximately 10 other Judson Park volunteers. Together, the residents retreat for two hours each Thursday to the Expressive Arts Center where they handcraft scores of literacy aids — letter cards, felt letter boards, and five types of sock puppets, one for each short vowel sound — all in the service of a pilot reading project developed by educator and entrepreneur Carole Richards, president of Solon’s North Coast Education Services.

“Literacy is in crisis,” Carole says. “Millions of people in this country cannot read. But research shows that if you can start reaching children early — before they are frustrated and know they aren’t good at it — it’s far easier to assist them in learning.”

To that end, Carole founded the non-profit Creative Education Institute in 1992, with the mission of effecting change through literacy. The organization is currently seeking support from foundations, corporations and individuals to take the literacy program into the Cleveland public schools, and the Judson Park volunteers are part of the campaign. The literacy aids they create are destined for kindergarten-through-second-grade classrooms, where they will assist students to learn to read and spell phonetically.

JP Literacy Art project (13)“I love these women,” Carole says, watching as her troops engage in a barrage of gluing, pinning, sewing and puppet making. “Anne has been a dynamo in getting everyone involved. And look at all they’ve accomplished since we started in mid-September,” she beams, pointing to stacks, trays and boxes of finished materials spread throughout the spacious art room.

“Well, just think of how much it would cost to pay people to do this,” Anne replies. “Anything we can do to help children is of the utmost importance. This project is our contribution to literacy: It’s a way for us to donate our time and talents to a cause we all believe in.”

Her fellow volunteers agree. “I love to read and it breaks my heart when I see kids who don’t have that ability,” says Judson Park resident and retired chaplain Bea Thompson. “I get real joy out of knowing that there’s a young person who may learn to read because of my efforts.”

And for Ruth Miller, a retired social worker and professional harpist, the benefits run both ways. “I get a good feeling that I’m helping children to learn,” she says. “And it’s a good time too!”

Cathy Bryan, Judson’s creative arts and art therapy coordinator, confirms the importance of the weekly volunteer craft sessions. “It’s human nature to want to be useful; it connects us to one another,” she says. “These volunteers are bright, capable people and their work can make a difference.”

“Together, they know they can make change.”

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