BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (AP) — When Bloomington High School teacher Annmarie Steffen told her sewing class they would be making "superhero" capes for sick children, all of her students embraced the project enthusiastically.
But one student understood the importance of those capes more than the rest.
Eight years ago, Michele Irwin, now 16, was in a hospital in St. Louis, undergoing serious back surgery.
The junior from Bloomington still has the hand-crocheted shawl made by a stranger that she received in the hospital.
"It's really easy to get overwhelmed," Irwin said of being a child in a hospital. "When people outside — people you never even met — take the time to make something for you, it means a lot."
Steffen got the idea from a retired friend who saw a story about similar capes being made for children at St. Jude's Research Hospital in Memphis.
When she explained the project to the class, "they just took off with it. They thought it was great," Steffen said.
The students made 20 capes using the same basic pattern and their choice of material, adding some type of applique to the back.
They included designs with a soccer ball, monkeys, a pink cheetah, fairies and a shooting star.
Next, students in Tom Waterson's English class will write a short story to go with each cape. They will be printed out and attached to the capes before being given to young cancer patients at the Children's Hospital of Illinois in Peoria.
Hilary Reiner, child life specialist at the hospital, said: "The capes are good for our patients. It helps them feel like they have some power over their illnesses."
When patients come into the hospital, they lose a lot of control over their lives, she said. "This gives them some of that control back," Reiner said.
Steffen said her students "did an amazing job. I'm so proud of them."
Malik Barker, 16, liked sewing the cape.
"It's a chance to give back to the kids who need it," said the Bloomington sophomore who has a younger sister and brother. Barker selected material with cars on it.
Irwin stitched a shooting star on the back of the cape she made.
"It has a lot of meaning for me," Irwin explained.
When Irwin was in the hospital, "the nurses all called me their star patient," she said. "They said I was a superstar. So I hope my patient feels like a superstar."
Steffen plans to deliver the capes and their stories to the hospital on Jan. 3, and she intends to make the cape project a continuing part of her sewing classes.
"The thing is, there always will be kids" in the hospital, she said. "That's the sad part."
Source: The (Bloomington) Pantagraph, http://bit.ly/IZkSmP
Information from: The Pantagraph, http://www.pantagraph.com