Quilting helps kids sew, learn of AIDS Oliver community project brings together children, seniors.


Slowly and carefully, Bradford Johnson pushes a stickpin through the cut-out patches arranged in a puzzlelike pattern on a large table in the classroom.

The dozen or so patches are components of one of four 5-foot quilts being sewn by youngsters at Dr. Bernard Harris Sr. Elementary School in East Baltimore that are to be given to homeless people, senior citizens or AIDS-infected babies.

Bradford is so preoccupied with making an outline with the pins that he has given little thought to sewing the material.

"I can sew a lot better than I could before," says Bradford, 10, a fifth-grader at the school in the 1400 block of N. Caroline St. "I'm learning it."

As if on cue, Hattie Roseborough, 63, grabs the material and Bradford's hand and helps weave the pin through the patchwork pattern. Although the result is uneven, the quilt is ready to be sewn.

"We worked on this together," says Mrs. Roseborough, flashing her best girlish smile. "I think it looks pretty good. I think they're marvelous. It sure beats just sitting around."

Eighteen third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students at the school work with senior citizens from the Oliver Community Association once a week as part of Project Patches, a program designed to bridge generations within the community as well as to contribute something to the needy or sick.

The effort, which began in October, also has taught the youngsters -- most of whom live near the school, in areas of heavy drug use -- about the deadly AIDS virus.

Teacher Evangeline Roberts says many of the youths have had first-hand experience with people infected by the virus.

Several of the children yesterday said they knew of relatives or older friends who suffer from the virus.

One girl said she had an infected cousin who was "in and out of the hospital" and who now stays in the house most of the time. A boy said his uncle lost his hair and then explained that the uncle had AIDS and would die soon.

Another boy said his aunt had used drugs for many years and was now "pregnant with a baby that will have AIDS when it's born."

James Williams, 9, a fourth-grader, said he was not sure about the symptoms of AIDS, but in his own way he explained how adults bear the responsibility for passing the disease to infants.

"If the parents do drugs, then the baby does drugs. If your parents smoke, then the baby smokes," James said, adding: "If you give your baby beer, then it may have to go to the hospital because of what you've done to it. That's the way it is."

Gloria Bagwell, of the commission on aging and retirement education at the Oliver Senior Center, said the youngsters -- especially the boys -- had easily and quickly adapted to sewing.

"It's instant gratification. They like watching things grow. Every week it gets larger and larger," Ms. Bagwell said. "The boys want to sew. It's not sissy stuff. They don't see it as something that only girls do. They just jump in and go."

But many of the kids said they wanted to make the quilts solely out of concern for others.

"Many people don't think much of the elderly and the homeless," said Christopher Jones, 11, a fifth-grader. "We're making the quilts for them. Some people don't have nothing, and we do. It's something that I don't mind doing."

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