‘Lean on Me’ cane project helps students to SkillsUSA competition
The canes Highlands High School students Sara Dawson and Daneasha Berry carry into Manor Care Health Services in Monroeville are eye- catching conversation starters.
And heads turn in a therapy room as they enter, the canes glittery, wrapped in a blue camouflage design and a woodsy leaf pattern.
It was their second stop of the day, having earlier presented canes at Independence Court, also in Monroeville, for patients’ and residents’ use.
“I made a breast cancer cane. I painted it all pink. My teacher (Cherie O’Neal) printed out pink ribbon images. It was for a breast cancer survivor,” Dawson says.
“I just use things I thought people would like. Glitter makes anything better. … It felt good. They liked them,” Berry says.
“A lot of people use canes to get up and down steps, in and out of bed, anything to give them stability,” says Deanne Yates, a physical therapy assistant at Manor Care.
Sometimes patients move from using a walker to a cane, she says, admiring the new canes’ wooden handles.
“These are very stylish, too,” Yates says.
The students delivered 18 finished, decorative canes to the two sites, says Katie Bischak, marketing recruiter with Forbes Road Career and Technology Center in Monroeville, which the students attend.
The students worked with “Lean on Me” project founder Jen Costello, who creates and donates decorative canes to help increase recipients’ pride, confidence and self-worth.
Dawson, a senior health science student; Berry, a senior early childhood student; and Kaleb Walker, a sophomore computer networking student, all will travel to Hershey April 10-11 to present canes they have designed for community members as state SkillsUSA competitors.
SkillsUSA has students studying trade, technical and health occupations compete in a variety of categories to develop job and leadership skills and promote high standards in trade ethics, workmanship, scholarship and safety.
The students are participating in the community service category, Bischak says.
Students in other center programs, including advertising design and landscape design, also made canes, starting last winter. School officials expect the project to continue and expand to other student organizations as well.
Dan Overdorff, career and technology center landscape design instructor, also serves as gallery curator at Jeannette’s You Are Here art gallery, which Costello co-founded.
He brought Costello in to speak with students about her Lean on Me project. She introduced the project in 2017 to students at Northgate Middle/Senior High School, who also have designed and donated canes for local senior citizens.
“I met with the students at Forbes and we went over different ideas for canes. The students sanded, painted, varnished,” Costello says.
“Having the students make the canes and donate them — it really does affect them,” she says.
Costello sees mutual benefits for the students and the eventual cane recipients.
“There is connection with the community and understanding people of diversity and disability. We hope to work with a few more schools,” she says.
Some of the canes the Forbes Road students make will go to the art gallery, Costello adds, where Lean On Me canes are made available to visitors.
Instructors seek out opportunities for students to become involved in the community, Overdorff says.
“This sounded like something that could breathe life into the kids,” he says.
Colorful, creative transitions
One student was so enthusiastic he immediately made a cane for his elderly neighbor without telling Overdorff.
“He did take a picture. He told me, ‘My neighbor started crying,’” he says.
Students have used fiber cable, acrylic paint, even paper napkins to customize the canes.
Overdorff also has made canes, and offers them to people he sees using more traditional versions.
“I’ve become more bold in approaching people with canes. I’ve succeeded and I’ve failed,” he says.
Recipients have told him that people previously focused on their condition requiring a cane’s use. “Now, the focus is on the cane,” he says.
He hopes the project will continue next year, with an inventory of available canes possibly growing to 200.
Costello hopes the project will continue to grow in regional school districts.
“We (Lean On Me) are still word of mouth. But word is getting around,” she says.
Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-836-5401, [email protected] or via Twitter .