Weaving course helps Springfield patients restore the fabric of their lives

January 11, 1994|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Staff Writer

An article and headline about the Starting Point rehabilitation program in yesterday's Carroll and Howard editions indicated that its clients are patients at Springfield Hospital Center. Starting Point leases space from the hospital, but is an independent, nonprofit agency.

The Sun regrets the error.

Hunched over the loom, weaving a purple, blue, brown and rose-colored wall hanging, William Albaugh explains the complexities of the craft.

"It takes a lot of coordination, and you've got to watch what

you're doing so that you make a good project," said Mr. Albaugh, a patient at Starting Point, a residential and rehabilitation program for the chronically mentally ill at Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville.


For the past three months, Mr. Albaugh and other Starting Point patients have been learning the art of weaving through a program called "Weaving for Wellness."

Developed by weaver Wendy Bialek, the program uses the weaving process as a therapeutic tool, allowing patients to explore their creativity, use decision-making skills and improve their physical coordination.

"You learn something you haven't done before. It's like a little skill, and that's what 'Weaving for Wellness' is all about," said Mr. Albaugh, 26.

Ms. Bialek, who teaches weaving at her Ellicott City studio, came Starting Point through her friendship with Sondra Tranen, director of the program's community rehabilitation component.

The two women had been discussing the use of weaving as therapy, and Ms. Tranen suggested to Ms. Bialek that she contract with Starting Point to develop a "Weaving for Wellness" course for its patients.

The two agree that the collaboration is a success.

"There are so many benefits," Ms. Tranen said. "Working together on something for their community, being able to take charge of something and really own it, being able to create something."

"So many of our clients have had things done to them and have felt like victims," Ms. Tranen said. "This way, they have control and power over creating this wonderful thing."

A private, nonprofit agency, Starting Point serves chronically mentally ill patients, many of whom have been hospitalized more than 20 years.

Starting Point provides patients with a residence, community rehabilitation programs and mental health services, and teaches them the daily living skills they need to reach their fullest potential or become independent. The program serves 32 people, most of them between the ages of 35 and 55.

Ms. Bialek meets with a group of about 10 twice a week for four-hour weaving sessions. The classes are open to all Starting Point patients, and many of them wander in and out, some stopping to participate or watch.

The class does its work on two looms -- one provided by Ms. Bialek through her business, the Weavers' Connection, and one of which was donated to the project.

In addition to learning the complex skill of working the loom, which improves physical coordination, Ms. Bialek says students benefit in other ways.

"It's a process where you can get lost in what you're doing -- the repetition forces you to concentrate," Ms. Bialek said. "It can be a form of occupational therapy, physical therapy, emotional therapy and spiritual therapy."

Choosing colors and measuring yarn teach patients to make decisions on their own, something they rarely have the chance to do. Working as a group and listening to Ms. Bialek's instructions help foster patience and teach clients to follow directions, Ms. Bialek said.

"It encourages them to reach out if they get into trouble," said Della Judy, a rehabilitation specialist with Starting Point. "They can't just sit back and do nothing."

Donald Dorr, 42, a Starting Point patient who has been learning to weave with Ms. Bialek, said he finds the process difficult but plans to continue weaving.

"I had a bad day on Friday; I had to tear apart most of it," Mr. Dorr said. "It's kind of like tug of war, when you have to pull the thread through the loom."

"I like having a finished product," said Starting Point patient Jonathan Hazard, 45. "They say this is beneficial for us. I guess this is the reason they want us to do some work."

Ms. Bialek, who has a master's degree in special education, says she, too, has experienced the therapeutic benefits of weaving.

"I've had orthopedic problems, and there have been times when I couldn't walk, but I could weave," she said.

The Starting Point group has completed three large wall hangings. One is displayed in the program's common area and two will hang in the weaving room.

The success of "Weaving for Wellness" at Starting Point has inspired Ms. Bialek to try to bring the program to other settings, including hospitals and schools.

Ms. Bialek plans to go to New Mexico and Arizona this winter to market "Weaving for Wellness." During her absence, two Starting Point staff members who learned weaving from Ms. Bialek will teach the course.

When she returns in the spring, Ms. Bialek will continue the program at Starting Point and plans to teach the class to make products to sell at Christmas, including bags, place mats and rugs.

She said she also hopes to invite groups from other agencies, such as an adult day-care center, to come and learn weaving with the Starting Point group.

"It's a very courageous thing to learn something new, for any of us in the world," Ms. Bialek said.

"I've been so proud of these folks [at Starting Point] for taking on something they've never tried," she said.

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