News & Announcements

Empowering Women Through the Life Skill of Sewing

06/03/2014, 02:16 PM

Hackettstown, N.J. –Centenary College Trustee and Alumna Ellen Baars-Banks has partnered with Centenary’s Fashion and Centenary’s Enactus Chapter through Enchanted Makeovers for the ultimate community service project.  The goal of the project is to develop a product that will help to not only improve a patient’s experience in a hospital or cancer treatment center, but also empower women living in shelters.

Since January 2011, Baars-Banks has served as the Chief Operating Officer of Enchanted Makeovers, a national charitable organization whose mission is to transform shelters for women and children into places that inspire behavioral and psychological change.  Not long ago, women and children were rare at rescue missions and shelters.  The harsh reality is that today, they are more common than ever.  A recent report by the National Center on Family Homelessness found that 1 in 45 children in the United States are homeless.  That means 1.6 million children are facing a life without a stable environment. 

For 2014, Enchanted Makeovers has embarked on a national tour to transform five shelters by creating a “Sacred Sewing Room” that will empower the residents through the life-skill and coping-skill of sewing.  The tour will span from June to October and will include two shelters near Centenary’s Hackettstown, N.J. campus.  These two shelters, the Domestic Abuse and Sexual Assault Crisis Center in Washington, N.J. and Third Street Alliance in Easton, Pa. will also be involved in the exciting project Enchanted Makeovers is developing in collaboration with the Fashion and the Enactus Chapter of Centenary College. 

The idea for the project came about when Shelter Directors shared with Baars-Banks that a major challenge women face when leaving a shelter is to become employed.  Lack of job opportunities is a chief reason why women will often return to the shelters.

“We realized we had the perfect opportunity to put the skills women are learning in the sewing rooms at the shelters to “work” by helping them secure employment to support themselves and their families,” says Baars-Banks.  “We wanted to create a product that was simple, yet would also help improve and transform the lives of others.  I immediately knew the resources and talent to help develop these products were at Centenary College.”

Kristen McKitish, Assistant Professor of Fashion Design and Merchandising at Centenary College, worked with Baars-Banks to develop a hospital gown or port-a-cath top for cancer patients through her Social and Psychological Aspects of Clothing course.  They worked with breast cancer patient Judi Jensen, who was introduced to the group by Kathy Naasz, Director of the Enactus Chapter at Centenary College. Enactus is a global non-profit that focuses on people in need to increase their standard of living through applied business principles.

Jensen spent hours with the students, providing them with insight on the hospital gown and shirt that would make her most comfortable during her treatment process. As a result, the students were divided in seven separate groups.  Two designed hospital gowns and five developed shirts that can accommodate port-a-caths during chemotherapy treatments. 

“The results were incredible and quite innovative,” says Jensen.  “The students really listened to my feedback and were able to design clothes that reflected what I needed.  It was a very moving and cathartic experience.”

The collaboration process will continue in the fall with the College.

“Our goal is to select the final designs for the port-a-cath top and hospital gown and create prototypes that can be used in the marketing of these garments,” says Baars-Banks.  “The powerful impact on the local community is that the manufacturing of these garments will be done in a local sewing center employing women who have gone through Enchanted Makeovers’ sewing program.  This is a life-changing project that comes full-circle!”

Community service is an integral part of Centenary College and the institution’s longstanding commitment to developing future citizens through co-curricular initiatives.  In fact, Centenary College was the first college in New Jersey to mandate community service as a graduation requirement.  In 2012, Centenary College was selected to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for the number of community service hours students volunteer throughout the school year. 

Founded in 1867 by the Newark Conference of the United Methodist Church, Centenary College’s academic program integrates a solid liberal arts foundation with a strong career orientation. This mix is designed to provide an educational experience that prepares students to succeed in the increasingly global and interdependent world.

Centenary College’s main campus is located in Hackettstown, N.J., with its equestrian facility in Washington Township (Morris County).  The Centenary College School of Professional Studies offers degree programs in two locations: Parsippany and Edison, and at corporate sites throughout New Jersey.  The School of International Programs recruits international students for study at Centenary and Centenary students for study abroad.