Art students doing their part to show sympathy for victims of local and national tragedies

The Columbia Space Shuttle disaster humbled many Americans, including many Fort Hays State University students. And while most believed that there was nothing they could do to help, two FHSU classes were thinking otherwise.

Two art classes, taught by Adele Rich, instructor of art, have taken this opportunity to put together a quilt made out of sympathy cards that they constructed for the victims' families. The cards will be displayed at the Johnson Space Center in a memorial that has been set up for the victims.

This is the 16th time since 1999 that Rich has completed the project with her art students. Every semester, at least one card quilt is prepared and sent to either a victim of a tragedy or his or her family. The idea originated after the shootings at Columbine High School. Rich felt compelled to show her support and sympathy.

"We needed to reach out, but there was so little that could be done," she said. "This was a way that our class could make a small difference."

So from that semester on, she has encouraged her students to watch the news and bring ideas for victims who could use their support. The victims can be local or national. The cards don't necessarily have to be sympathy. Welcome home, good luck or thank you cards can be sent as well.

After a few ideas are brought to the table, the classes vote separately on who will get their cards. Sometimes the classes choose the same people, and other times, they don't.

Although the cards are created by art students, many of them are not art majors, but are elementary education majors, which is a great way for Rich to keep the project alive.

"I encourage all my students to continue doing this project with their own students," she said.

She added that if each student carried this project into the classroom, it could become a very widespread good deed.

The project, while fun for the students, does teach skills as well. Rich said she incorporates many art methods as well as language skills into the card project. Students can create their cards using either mosaic or collage techniques, or a combination of both.

Mosaic art is using small pieces of different materials to make a complete object and a collage is using bigger pieces and overlapping them.

She also incorporates some language skills into the project by having the students write a thoughtful message on the back of the card.

The cards take about three class sessions to complete and are arranged on a bulletin board in the classroom in a pattern that resembles a quilt. Rich then takes a picture of it and sends it along with the cards to the victims' families. With the cards, she includes a cover letter explaining the purpose of the project and expressing her sympathy.

The students often participate in various other service projects connected to the tragedy. After the events of Sept. 11, 2001, students not only sent cards to the victims' families, but they also collected money for the Red Cross and donated blood.

"What I hope the students learn from doing this project is that they really can make a difference in other people's lives," she said. "They can have a positive impact on people."

As far as feedback is concerned, Rich has received some. She doesn't expect to hear back from the families, she said, but she is pleased when she does.

"It really makes me want to go on with the project," she said.

But Rich doesn't want to take credit for herself. She attributes the hard work to her students.

"The students do all the work," she said. "They put so much of their heart, talent and energy into the cards, and it's a great way for them to show a sense of sympathy, support and empathy towards the victims."

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