An enormous, brightly colored quilt adorns a classroom at JCPS’s Teenage Parent Program, or TAPP as it’s called.
Each piece of cloth, hand-dyed by teenage moms in the program, comes together to form an image of a “tree of life.”
“It represents the strength of women, with roots to our past and the various seasons of life,” said Martha Bartlett, humanities and visual arts teacher at TAPP, a program that provides support services to teen parents and encourages them to continue their education.
Also woven in are stories and quotes from senior women in the community, including Rosita Kaplin, a daily participant in the JCC’s senior program.
As Bartlett began putting the quilt project together for her students, she realized that many of the girls were unfamiliar with their family histories.
“I found many times girls didn’t know the stories of their own elders, so I thought I’d provide them with examples,” she said.
She invited women from a variety of backgrounds to come and tell students about their lives. The stories were artfully integrated into the quilt and the students wrote a play incorporating them as well.
So, she contacted the JCC to see if a woman here would like to participate in the project. Slava Nelson, JCC senior adult programming and cultural arts director, recommended Kaplin.
Kaplin visited TAPP and told the students her life story, how her mother immigrated from Russia to Cuba, where Kaplin was born, and how she eventually immigrated from Cuba to the United States, not knowing a word of English.
Bartlett said the girls found Kaplin’s story captivating and were particularly inspired by her years of devoted care to her ailing husband.
Kaplin said she enjoyed speaking with the girls and thinks the quilt, which is almost finished, is beautiful.
“I think it’s a wonderful program,” Kaplin said.
Bartlett recently presented the “Oral History Quilt and Theater Project,” to the JCC senior’s group, and had the “unexpected pleasure” of meeting the wife of the late Ernie Marx, a survivor of the holocaust and who facilitated educational visits to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Bartlett said that working on the project has been a meaningful experience for all those involved.
“I think it’s become a very hopeful and collaborative project and the girls just loved doing it,” Bartlett said.
Nelson agreed, saying it allowed for many wonderful connections to be made.
“This is for all of us, a really good example of how collaboration can take off in the community,” Nelson said.