Laura Washington: Reupholstering a chair becomes ‘soul changing’

SHARE Laura Washington: Reupholstering a chair becomes ‘soul changing’

Follow @mediadervishI found a new chair on the L.One June afternoon, I was riding the train when a woman handed me a flyer. It touted the Reupholstering with a Purpose Summer Apprentice Program. If you sponsor a young woman TODAY! We will re-upholster a small to medium size piece a (sic) furniture for you during our summer program.The mission of Teena’s Legacy is to provide a soul changing experience, in which young women and women in general become architects of their future, according to the non-profit’s Indiegogo page.OPINION

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The vast majority of Chicago’s African-American youths are unemployed, yet many summer jobs programs are bureaucratic and clunky, just temporary babysitters.Jamika Smith, 37, founded Teena’s Legacy in 2012 to honor her grandmother, Alberteen (Teena) Stredrick, an accomplished upholsterer who helped raise Smith on Chicago’s Southwest Side. The grassroots effort trains low-income teen girls in a lost art.My old wing chair has been around for 30 years. Once plushly and adorned in salmon-and-white stripes.  Now blackened by dirt and sweat, wood exposed on threadbare arms. I love that old wing, but it was headed for the alley.I met Smith and several of the girls at a fabric warehouse on the South Side. The girls’ brother had committed suicide a few days before, at 21. Their mother would later be hospitalized. At first somber and distracted, they brightened as they guided me through dozens of fabric

LEFT: Picking out the material. MIDDLE: Reupholstery is under way. RIGHT: The project is finished.

LEFT: Picking out the material. MIDDLE: Reupholstery is under way. RIGHT: The project is finished.

shades, colors and textures. I selected a flowered print in peach and cream.

Jasmine Miles, 18, was excited about more than upholstery. She was had just attended the Teena’s Legacy “Planting a Seed” retreat, a weekend at a suburban hotel.Teena’s Legacy takes “more of a holistic approach to helping our youth,” Smith explained.  “It’s not just the job.  They have to be exposed. You have to deal with their health, we have to deal with their mental, spiritual.”In five months, Smith raised more than $9,300, mostly from individuals, to support the retreat, training, equipment, school supplies and field trips for nine girls.The retreat was “emotional,” Jasmine recalled.  “Everybody basically told about our lives. Well, me, I can’t see. I am blind in my left eye.” She also suffers from eczema, a skin disease.“I found out I wasn’t the only person” with such challenges. She learned: “Don’t worry about what people say what they say really don’t matter. Because either way it goes, you’re still going to be you at the end of the day.”Jasmine is poised, and lovely. I followed her updates via Facebook, photos of her dismantling my old wing, reassembling the fabric, and applying a soft, new skin.Upholstering can be tedious and complicated, Smith notes. “But once you start to pull back the layers and figure out how they put the fabric on, you tend to realize that it’s not as complicated as it seems.”It’s a metaphor, she said, for “pulling back your own layers, and you know, and taking the old off and replacing with something new.”Last week my “new” wing came home transformed, meticulously outfitted in peach and cream.“The challenge of putting it back together again was like finding out where I want to be in life. It gave me new ideas about life,” Jasmine said.She will enroll in college this fall and major in child care development.  She hopes to eventually open her own child care center.With a purpose.To learn more, visit Teena’s Legacy on Facebook.   Follow the Editorial Board on Twitter: Follow @CSTeditorialsTweets by @CSTeditorials

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