When students, caregivers, and staff return to any of Matrix Human Services’ Head Start Centers for the start of the 2023-2024 school year, they’ll notice something new and unique to their specific locations: handmade “quilts” created by their respective Head Start faculty!
Begun as part of a larger wellness project, the quilts came together under the direction of Cass Higden, a Senior Manager focusing on continuous improvement in the Matrix Head Start Education Division. Higden, who minored in Art History during her undergraduate studies, saw the benefit of not only creating a one-of-a-kind piece for each center but also understanding the wellness aspects of making a single, personal panel to be later incorporated into the larger whole.
“Making art is very personal – I know it is for me – and it also allows for time to reflect,” said Higden. “When the project started [in late 2022], the prompt was ‘Find Your Why.’ This was important because we have a range of people working in Head Start. Some have been with the program for decades, others just recently came on board, but it’s vital that everyone knows why they chose to be part of Head Start.”
Everyone who wanted to make a square received the prompt along with a box of materials to use in any way their creativity flowed to tell their personal story of coming to Matrix Head Start. Materials included fabric squares, puff paint, and embroidery floss, but two of the most critical pieces of the panel puzzle weren’t materials at all.
The first was a brief history of story quilts, which are integral to not only Black and women’s history but also to the canons of visual art and the craft movement. Information about Faith Ringgold, a Black American visual artist known for her vibrant quilts, was included to provide inspiration as well as the rich history of quilting and its connection to female artistry and communities of color. Along with its own special quilt, each Matrix Head Start Center received a copy of Ringgold’s 2004 children’s book, Cassie’s Word Quilt, which follows a young woman as she moves through her home, neighborhood, and school.
While the majority of the squares were created when the makers were away from each other and their Head Start Centers, common themes emerged, such as the need for healthy eating and the bonds of kinship – with students, other educators, family members, and animals. Higden wasn’t surprised that relationships were often at the center of many of the panels.
“Those bonds between us, that’s why people become teachers, and that’s absolutely one of the most important reasons behind Head Start: the kids,” she said. “When I think of what we do and why we do it, it always comes back to the kids.”
Once the squares were assembled into a perfect patchwork for each center, the quilts were unveiled on May 26, 2023, at Tabernacle Church so that all Matrix employees, along with their families and community members, could see “the story of our why” through the eyes, hands, and hearts of our Matrix Head Start staff. For Higden, this quilt project was one of the best ways to practice self-care: creating something deeply personal that reminds each maker of why they do what they do while allowing those inside and outside of Head Start to understand how much care and concern are present within each staff member, their team, and their center.
“This work we do is vital, and we carry it with us whether at work, home, or elsewhere. The quilts remind us of that every day, and that can make each of us so happy and so proud to be part of Matrix Head Start.”