Earl Hopkins, Evansville Courier & Press
EVANSVILLE, Ind. — Lodge Community School students carefully sorted through mounds of thin cotton sheets, heart-shaped stickers and letters to pick items for their Valentine’s Day costumes. A pink mask for the love bandit. Brightly colored conversation hearts declaring messages such as “Cutie Pie” or “Crazy 4 You.”
The importance of each detail is heightened for Kyrah Williams and other Lodge special education students, who are focused on making the perfect fit for babies in Ascension St. Vincent’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). For these students, many of whom were once children in the NICU, seeing their creations being worn by these infants brings them long-lasting feelings of fulfillment.
“The most rewarding thing is watching them have a sense of independence and accomplishment,” Special Education Teacher Darla Chapman said. “To complete this on their own and then see the NICU babies wear the costumes they created … The looks on their faces are just amazing. They’re so proud.” With a wide smile, Williams expressed her excitement for the work she and her classmates have done.
For the past two years, Chapman and others at Lodge have taught students about the significance and history of each holiday before the students begin making costumes for the NICU babies. Then, over a two-week period, students decide how they want to create the costumes and what supplies will be needed. “It’s just priceless to watch them go from looking at pictures and researching different ideas for the costumes,” Chapman said. “Then to see them narrow it down and pick which ones they actually want to make is amazing.”
After her students select all the supplies, they spend a week making a total of 20 holiday-themed costumes. At the end of the process, they get to watch a video of the NICU babies wearing their creations. “Just having them participate in something like this and helping them do it is a privilege,” Assistant Special Education Teacher Charity Reed said. “They smile and laugh once they see the video of all the costumes that they made.” Chapman said since her students first began making the costumes, they have been driven to make more throughout the school year.
“We are so thrilled to receive the costumes the Lodge students made,” said Farrah Allen, the Womens and Childrens Transport Coordinator at Ascension St. Vincent. “They are so creative, and the attention to detail of the costumes are amazing. Seeing the babies in the costumes brings such joy to the parents and their families. It gives them a sense of normalcy in a world that’s anything but.”
This year, Chapman’s seven-student class made costumes for Halloween and Christmas and look to finish designs for Valentine’s Day, Easter and St. Patrick’s Day. Beyond their creative expression, Reed said these students’ efforts will let them know they can make an impact, regardless of their own limitations.