Stitching together a bond

By South Florida State College

Estrellita DeJesus-Martinez walked into the conference room at the South Florida State College (SFSC) Hardee Campus recently and got the surprise of her life. Her Take Stock in Children mentor, Sandie Perreault, welcomed her with open arms and guided her into the room. On the table was a sewing machine, fabric, and a variety of sewing accessories.

DeJesus-Martinez is a junior at Hardee High School in Wauchula and met Perreault for the first time in spring 2022 through the Take Stock in Children program.

Take Stock in Children is a statewide, academically focused mentoring program that guides at-risk students toward successful completion of high school and enrollment in college. The program provides students with a mentor and a two-year state college tuition scholarship. The Take Stock staff also help the student obtain financial assistance for housing, transportation, and other expenses. In return, the student signs a contract to earn at least a grade of C in every class, graduate from high school with good attendance records, maintain good behavior in school, and stay crime and drug free.

The SFSC Foundation serves as the lead agency for Take Stock in its service area of DeSoto, Hardee, and Highlands counties.

Take Stock mentors meet with their assigned students for approximately 30 minutes each week during the school year, offering encouragement and advice. They become a friend and a role model, help build a child’s foundation of basic values, assist a student in setting goals and attaining them, guide a child toward an education and a productive life, and give a child hope for the future. A Take Stock mentor will receive training and resources to support their student’s academic success.

When Perreault began to mentor DeJesus-Martinez, she had difficulty pronouncing her name. Because Estrellita is Spanish for “little star,” DeJesus-Martinez suggested Perreault call her “Star.”

Finding a connection

During the early days of mentoring, Perreault looked for ways to connect with the young woman and find a common interest to discuss.

Perreault, who hails from New Hampshire and lives in Avon Park during the winters, is a yoga instructor and focuses on fitness and nutrition. In fact, Perreault presented a 30-minute yoga class on Zoom for the Take Stock student-scholars and staff. She is also a member of a quilting club at the Adelaide Shores RV Resort in Avon Park.

Just before the holidays, Perreault’s quilting club sewed cell phone purses and Perreault made one especially for DeJesus-Martinez as a gift. “When Star opened up the package, she said, ‘You made this? I like to sew,’” Perreault said. “So, I discovered that Star and I had something in common. That’s how it started. She also said that she had an interest in crocheting, so I showed her how to crochet. When we talked about her interest in sewing, I asked if she had a sewing machine, so I could send her some patterns. But she didn’t have one. She said that her mother had taught her how to sew, but everything was done by hand.”

Perreault met with her quilting club and told everyone about DeJesus-Martinez and her interest in sewing.

“All a quilting group needs to hear is that a young person is interested in sewing, and they were ready to adopt Star,” she said. “Before I knew it, people were handing me money and supplies. One of my friends at Adelaide Shores was getting rid of her Brother sewing machine.”

Perreault had the sewing machine checked, cleaned, and oiled because she wanted DeJesus-Martinez to have a machine that works well. “A lot of people gave me fabric,” she said. “Quilters always have fabric left over.” And, after buying other essential supplies, “Star’s fully stocked.”

Perreault and Ben Carter, Take Stock in Children student services coordinator, planned the surprise get-together for DeJesus-Martinez at the SFSC Hardee Campus. “Ben Carter and I met her outside. I said, ’Star, I have a surprise for you.’ She walked into the room and had this big smile on her face. I said, ‘This is for you. You expressed an interest in sewing.’ I told her the whole story about how my club gathered together to do this for her.”

Perreault wanted to give Star a brief project they could work on together. She had brought along nine 3.5” squares that they sewed into a nine-block square that could be used to make a trivet.

Not only is Perreault delighted to have found a common interest with DeJesus-Martinez, but she’s proud of her academic accomplishments. “Star’s a really good student. She’s taking calculus and she had a 104 average in it. She’s taking English and she’s starting a class on Adobe Photoshop. That will be great for her, because she’s interested in computer graphics and animation.”

“There’s such a need for Take Stock mentors,” Perreault said. “It’s so rewarding to be one. You’re helping a low-income student, eventually, go to college. Personally, I have a full schedule and fitting another thing in was not an easy task, but it’s been worth it. Now, I feel like I’m being rewarded through Star.”

This article originally appeared here.

South Florida State College

is located in Avon Park, Florida.