Drama teacher Michael Naffziger had just wrapped up a student production at Indian River Charter High School when a big brawny dad approached him.
“Are you the man who taught my son to sew?” he asked.
Yes, Naffziger told him, resisting the urge to cower.
“Well, I want to shake your hand,” said the dad. “I think that’s a great thing to know.”
Today, Naffziger beams before a gleaming row of $10,000 worth of new sewing machines, just donated to the drama department by the manufacturer, Baby Lock, through a Port St. Lucie sewing shop.
The effort began a year ago when three Vero Beach women involved in the local chapter of a statewide sewing club, The Florida Sewing Sew-ciety, volunteered to help students in the theater department with costume making. The idea came from a chance meeting at a Burger King of Susan Humanes, an avid seamstress, and Gary Miller, the choral director at Charter. Humanes, a retired branch manager for the beachside branch of Bank of America, was looking for ways for the club to get involved in the community and Miller directed her to Naffziger.
Within days, Humanes, Mary Ann Gentzler and Marie Knick were training 25 students on five used machines in Charter’s arsenal of donations, each a different brand requiring separate training to use. With the volunteers’ help, the students whipped up a scene’s worth of 16th century prison garb – tattered capes and wrap skirts with Velcro closures, stained with tea and dirt – for “Man of La Mancha.” But time was short; the hour-long classes, three days a week, were largely taken up by physically moving the machines to whatever space was available – the art room, the black box theater, even a hallway. Sometimes they hauled them outside to work under the large canopied space known as the Dome, Humanes says.
And progress was hampered by the machines’ incessant breakdowns.
“They were forever jamming up,” says Humanes. “When you don’t know that much about sewing, it can be really frustrating.”
Enter Baby Lock, a respected manufacturer with a reputation for generosity. When Gentzler and Humanes saw Baby Lock regional manager Rose Smith at an embroidery conference in May, they approached her about Charter’s drama department. Smith suggested they work through Laura and Dave Jordan, owners of the Laura’s Sewing stores in Port St. Lucie and Palm Beach Gardens. With their help, they were able to sew up the deal: an astounding gift of 10 top-notch digital sewing machines, valued at $800 to $1,000 each.
“We asked for 10, and we got 10,” says Humanes. “We are just thrilled.”
The credit goes also to Charter, she says. “I’m so glad to see a school start something like this. I think this can be a great program. What would be great is if there could be a dedicated room so the sewing machines could just stay there.”
Barring another major donor stepping up – or increased funding by the county school board, which has opted to allocate less to charter schools – Naffziger must rely on another source of income: ticket sales. He and his students are maximizing that resource by producing one sell-out show after another.
While the 20 students – including boys – whirring away at costumes for the Charter’s February production of “The Wizard of Oz,” another group of students are nailing two-by-fours into tiered seating for the Black Box staging of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” which opens next Friday, Oct. 5.
That production, whose cast includes Naffziger’s most advanced acting students, will go on to compete at the state level in Tampa.
“When I came here the competitive acting team had seven kids,” says Naffziger. “Now, there’s 40. The musical theater program didn’t exist. Today there are over 100 in the program.”