Options NCSD mosaic tile installation

Students at NCSD made six large mosaic tiles to install at Options.

 
 

The building housing Options is looking a little more colorful these days.

Students from the North Carolina School for the Deaf, under the direction of art teacher and Art 4 a Purpose founder Kimberly Lajzer, created six large mosaic tiles for the side of the building for clients staying there to enjoy.

Options is a shelter for victims of domestic violence, rape and sexual assault. Lajzer, an Options board member, recalls brainstorming ways to be of service to the women and children in crisis there.

 

“I wanted to do something that would make a difference to them,” Lajzer said. “I wanted to use my gifts to inspire them and let them know they’re not alone and that there is help. Then it hit me – I wanted to use my “art for a purpose.”

Lajzer’s organization uses art to address the issue of child abuse, something she started doing as a teenager in her own family.

“I made a proposal to the board that the stark brick wall (facing) the outside entryway be transformed into an inspirational, welcoming entryway, because people need to be inspired and feel confident to hold their heads up high,” Lajzer said. “This is the gift I wanted to give.”

The proposal, which her students helped to draft, was for a community service art project that would involve Art 4 a Purpose, NCSD and some local businesses. She started by taking her students on a tour of the Options facility, which was a learning experience in itself.

“We had a few students who had never heard of such a thing as domestic violence,” Lajzer said. “But we had one student in particular who understood first-hand what ‘battered’ really meant, because she grew up with it in her home. She was thankful to know there were places women could go, places she could go, if she ever needed to. She also got interested in volunteering in the shelter near her hometown.”

It was that particular concept of community service that Lajzer was hoping students would take away from the project.

“I have always tried to center my professional development plan goals on community outreach and service,” Lajzer said. “I wanted to build a bridge between our deaf students at NCSD and the hearing world that surrounds the school and the hometowns in which our students live. It has been so important for me to try and get the students to realize and recognize they are a part of something so much bigger than themselves, and show them they can make a great, positive impact in that world and on the people in their community.”

Once Lajzer decided she wanted to do a mosaic tile installation, she received help from three companies.

“Oak Hill Iron welded and donated all the frames for the pieces,” Lajzer said. “They have been a support to Options for a very long time. Lowe’s cut and donated all of the backer-boards and Ace (Hardware) donated a bag of thin-set to adhere the pieces.”

Lajzer held a design contest for her students to choose which designs to use in the mosaics. She explained that each mosaic features a flower that symbolizes concepts such as peace, love and hope, and ribbons that symbolize different types of abuse. Over a two-year period, more than 100 students and staff at NCSD helped to inlay the glass tiles to create each design.

“Each piece was put in place with thought and meaning, so anyone walking up to those doors could see their reflection and be inspired they were on their way to something that didn’t have to hurt anymore,” Lajzer said. “Everyone was invited to bring something special to add, (such as) pottery from an abusive marriage, chipped china from a beloved set that could never be used again and stained glass from the old windows at Grace Episcopal Church.”

 

She recognized Cherie and Bethanie Chiles as vital to the completion of the project. She said Bethanie, a home-school student interested in a possible career working with the deaf, traveled with her mother, Cherie, from Charlotte once every other week to work on the mosaics, and that Cherie designed the letters for the words on the ribbons. NCSD staff member Carol Michaels and her friend, Beckie Gwynn, spent a great deal of time on the project as well.

Right before Christmas last year, Lajzer recruited maintenance staff members Wade Vance, Wayne Whisnant and Dennis Smith to install the mosaic tiles on the Options building. When her students returned from Christmas break, she took them there to see the result of their hard work.

“Watching the students walk the path up to the Options doors brought goose-bumps to my arms and a flutter to my heart,” Lajzer said. “They are typical teenagers – their hands are their voices and usually fling a mile a minute, but not on that day. They just looked at what they created. The comments started as they pointed: ‘This is the one I worked on,’ ‘They were just starting that one when I left class last year,’ ‘I’m glad we made the decision to change the grout color on this one.’ The students had taken their art to heart. There was no better gift to my 25-year career in art education.”

NCSD Director Audrey Garvin said she appreciated the rich experience students got from participating in the project.

“The staff members are always collaborating with students as a method of teaching, modeling and leading,” Garvin said. “The project for Options is one example of students and staff working together to create a symbol of beauty for others to enjoy. The project also prepares students for understanding the needs of others and recognizing and responding with empathy.”

Options Director Kristy Graf expressed her gratitude for the thoughtful effort.

“I am thrilled and humbled by the time and care put into this project,” Graf said. “It has made our home so much more welcoming and beautiful for the families we serve. Burke County lifts us up daily with their love and support, and the mosaics are a reminder of that support. We cannot thank Kimberly, NCSD, Oak Hill Ironworks and so many more enough for this gift.”

Tammie Gercken can be reached at tgercken@morganton.com.

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