Women’s shelter art bike ties for first at Gaithersburg festival

“Patches” represents reassembly of lives

Kate F. said no — at first.

She had been attending weekly knitting lessons through the Wilkins Avenue Women’s Assessment Center in April when Theresa Ford, the center’s assistant volunteer coordinator, approached the shelter’s residents to gauge interest in decorating a bike for a contest.

But a month later, as the project went underway, Kate reconsidered. “I thought it would be fun,” she said.

Kate, who declined to be identified, and six other women from center — the only all-women emergency homeless shelter in the county — spent the past few weeks covering a donated bike with their knitting and crocheting in a process called “yarn bombing.” Then they entered it into an art bikes contest at the 32nd annual Celebrate! Gaithersburg in Olde Towne, a street festival featuring art, food and live music, on June 8.

They call the bike, “Patches,” a name Kate came up with. She said she chose the name because she sees Patches as symbolic of both the shelter’s women and their world.

“We have a lot of different women here,” said Kate, who just moved out of the shelter this past week. “And I guess we’re all trying to put our lives back together, in a more beautiful way.”

Patches is a amalgamation of yellows, blues, pinks, greens, purples, reds and oranges, but it hadn’t always been that way. The group initially thought the soft pastel colors of the donated yarn reminded them of children.

“There had been a few women who have had babies and gone onto someplace else. So we thought we’d do a baby bike in celebration of that,” said Julie R., a shelter resident who declined to be identified.

But as they looked into the other colors, they considered patchwork, to reflect the diversity of the shelter’s residents instead of a subset.

“We wanted to bring it all together to incorporate all the women here,” Julie said.

At the festival, the public was asked to vote for their favorite entry, and Patches tied for first with local a cappella group Clear Harmonies, the City of Gaithersburg announced Wednesday. The festival committee also recognized Patches for the “most skillful use of yarn,” according to the press release.

Other honors include Clear Harmonies (best use of color); Headbands of Hope (most whimsical); Positive Energy Art Studio (best use of shape and design) and Victor Litz (most unique and musical concept).

Patches and the 11 other entries were on display through June 16 at the Bohrer Park Activity Center in Gaithersburg. The women are hoping to find a permanent home for the bike, said Diana Bernhardt, the Wilkins Avenue center’s program director.

“We’re still looking for a place to put it, but it will be here at the shelter,” she said. They plan to display the bike with a framed copy of the contest results, she said.

This is the first year the center entered the bike contest. And because many of the women were novice knitters, the group spent about 20 hours a week for about two months on the bike, Kate said. Their daily lives also kept them from working full time on the bike, shelter resident Danielle Frisby said.

“We’re normally busy throughout the day with what we have to do personally and for business purposes, so when we have leisure time, we take the time out,” she said.

And though there were seven women who primarily worked on the bike’s knitting and crocheting — including Melissa Cress, Faith Jonas, Celestine L. and Deborah M. — the rest of the shelter chipped in by writing down one wish and one goal they were working on — all anonymous, Julie added.

Dreams such as “prosperity,” “college degree” and “sobriety” were then transferred onto painted glittery cardboard stars, which were later placed inside the bike’s basket.

“I feel like bike is a work of art,” said Frisby, who Julie dubbed “painting expert” and decorated the bike’s spokes in alternating rainbow colors.

Others were equally pleased with the outcome.

“It’s been really rewarding because people have really liked it. I’ve had people say they sneaked in at night to see how it’s progressing,” Kate said.

The bike project is part of a larger set of programming that the center — which serves about 300 women per year — offers to its residents. Other activities include the MoverMoms’ “Cupcakes and Conversations,” a self-awareness group; “Master Gardeners,” which teaches residents to plant; a weekly peer-to-peer group; free yoga lessons; and NIH health briefings, Bernhardt said.

“When I go to [the peer-to-peer group], if I’m upside down, I always walk out with a smile on my face,” Frisby said.

The women’s shelter also hosts a party each month to celebrate residents’ birthdays, Bernhardt said. For some, it’s the first time they’ve celebrated their birthday, she said.

These activities together enhance the community experience at the shelter, said Charlotte Garvey, spokeswoman for Interfaith Works, the shelter’s parent nonprofit organization that works to support and counsel the homeless in Montgomery County.

“It’s shelter and it’s food, but it’s more than that. It’s an opportunity to engage in community activities like the one on Sunday,” she said. “It’s to build on the foundation of people’s needs, to get them to a different place.”AR-140619075 EP-140619075 (1) EP-140619075 (2) EP-140619075 (3) EP-140619075 (4) EP-140619075

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