Clarksville, TN – When the coronavirus pandemic forced Austin Peay State University (APSU) Professor Leni Dyer to stay home in mid-March, she wanted to find a way to help during the crisis.
“My first instinct was how can I help, what can I do other than just sitting at home waiting for this to end?” Dyer said. “What can I do to help people?”
Dyer, who teaches costume design for the APSU Department of Theatre and Dance, found a way to help as she worked to move her sewing and advanced makeup classes online in response to the crisis.
She saw a social media call for volunteer sewers from Operation Come Together – a locally run effort working to produce fabric masks and face shields for health care workers in the region.
“Being a costume designer one of my skill sets that I’ve learned over the years is how to sew,” Dyer said. “Sewing as part of a way to help people is really very gratifying to me.”
Helping from home
Dyer had just returned from a cruise and was in self-quarantine at her house when she contacted Operation Come Together.
“I didn’t leave the house,” she said. “I didn’t see anybody. So, they actually brought people to the house. They’d leave a bag (with materials) on the front step, and I’d go get the bag and make the masks.”
Operation Come Together then retrieved the finished masks from Dyer’s front step.
Dyer has made well over 100 masks in several exchanges with the operation.
“I’ve gotten the one down to a science, and it takes me eight minutes to make a mask,” she said. “That’s with the fabric already cut out and everything prepared.”
Dyer said her masks have gone to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and to Tennova Healthcare, among other local places.
Operation Come Together needs help
Operation Come Together’s Clarksville operation has produced more than 20,000 masks since it started on March 20th, said founder Victoria Shoulders.
The operation has more than 200 volunteers, but it needs more.
“The demand is growing more and more,” Shoulders said. “We need more sewers. We need more volunteers here cutting fabric and T-shirt ties. College students are greatly needed right now to volunteer from our site to prep kits for our sewers.”
Operation Come Together has operations at Fort Campbell KY, Hopkinsville KY, Clarksville TN, Dover TN, Erin TN, Dickson TN, Cookeville TN, as well as Robertson County, Sumner County and Davidson County. Every operation is responsible for its area’s needs.
The main distribution site is at 327 Warfield Boulevard in Clarksville.
If you want to help, visit www.operationcometogether.com or call 931.220.9896.
‘Anything I can do to help’
Dyer said helping was a no-brainer for her, especially with her sewing skills.
“To me it’s a great honor because I feel like anything that I can do to help somebody, anything that I can do to give back is always at the forefront of anything that I do,” Dyer said.
If she still had face-to-face classes with her students, Dyer would ask them to help.
“I would have gotten my whole class in on this, and we would have been making factory-level masks,” she said.
Teaching a sewing class online
After APSU moved spring and summer classes online, Dyer had to adapt her sewing and advanced makeup classes.
“I sat down, and I really thought about the two classes,” she said. “On ground, if somebody’s machine was messing up, I could go over and explain it to them, I could sew something and show them how I did it. It’s really a hands-on kind of class.”
“I’ve offered to FaceTime with them or anything like Zoom to be able to help them if they’re really having trouble,” she said. “What (the pandemic) actually has done is made me much closer with those students. When they’re in class, they ask the questions, but this has been more personal.”
To learn more
- If you want to help Operation Come Together, visit operationcometogether.com or call 931.220.9896.
- The APSU College of Arts and Letters has launched a YouTube coronavirus-coping series named “We Can’t Make It Without the Arts.” You can watch it at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSkVyz5sPG2i-uqrpuvWXSQ.
- To learn more about the APSU Department of Theatre and Dance, go to https://www.apsu.edu/theatre-dance/.
- To learn more about Leni Dyer, visit https://www.apsu.edu/theatre-dance/departmental-info/faculty/leni-dyer.php.