Alumna helps adults reach milestones through weaving

Something incredible is going on at Annandale Art & Textile Center, and a St. Cloud State University alumna is helping to facilitate it.

Diane Nelson teaches weaving at the Center and supervises the Heart of the Lakes Weavers — a vocational weaving program for people with social or developmental disabilities and alternate learning styles. The Center, started by Elizabeth and Joe Bayer, currently employs 10 weavers, who range in age from 18 to 60 years old. The weavers make more than minimum wage for their time at the Center, and proceeds from items sold go right back into the non-profit. While weaving is a job for the adults in the program, Nelson said it has provided much more than money.

There’s a magic that happens here,” she said. I wish we could have somebody study it.”

Dian Nelson in her weaving studio with one of her employeesA number of the weavers were either non-verbal or minimally verbal when they first started working for the Art & Textile Center. But as they’ve worked on projects and started interacting more with their peers, they’ve started to reach personal milestones.

Here’s what happens: they start talking. Because of weaving, I believe because it’s a right, left, right, left, crossing midline, they start having a conversation,” she said. I believe cognitively there’s something that’s happening. That all of a sudden they make a syn-apse and it’s there.”

One weaver, Michael, lives with echolalia — he repeats words or phrases he hears. When he first started working at the Center, if someone asked him a question, he’d repeat the question back in-stead of answering. He has since started responding, even bringing his grandfather to tears by responding to him with a full sentence.

It changes their families,” Nelson said. We’ve had grandparents and parents, cousins, sisters come in and say for them, as a family, it’s opened their eyes to see their adult in different ways.

”Michael’s not the only one to have a personal breakthrough. Weavers who were previously silent now gather to talk during their breaks, ring bells and sing Another One Bites the Dust” when a bobbin has been used up, and all collectively dance to Celebration” when a weaving project is cut off from a loom. The adults are doing all of this without the assistance of paraprofessionals.

We celebrate a lot,” Nelson said. They’re independent, which is what we strive to have any adult do or young adult do. They thrive on that, given that opportunity.

”Annandale Art & Textile Center has helped Nelson to thrive as well, combining her educa-tion from SCSU with her work experience.

Diane Neslon in her weaving studio with an employeeI never would have believed that I’d find a weaving job, or a job in something that I love doing, that would help this group of adults,” she said. Nelson first learned weaving from now-re-tired professor Merle Sykora, and took weaving classes every quarter. She then spent about 14 years working with special education students in the Annandale school system before starting with the Art & Textile Center about two years ago.

Once I walked into Merle Sykora’s class in weaving, I don’t think I ever dreamed there would be this place available for me; I fell in love with weaving,” she said. If anyone would’ve told me I would’ve taken that degree 20 to 30 years later and transformed it here, if he knew that his skill in teaching me has trans-ferred on to change their lives, but also their families’ lives ... I honestly believe Merle Sykora doesn’t know the gift that he gave me.”

Nelson credits her education at St. Cloud State with where she is today.

I had a great education there,” she said. I think it’s important for people to realize that whatever they get their degree in, it can morph into something so totally different. The gifts and the skills they have after that degree, also their life experience, can lead to so many different possibilities.”


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