Brookings woman teaches sewing in Belize

BROOKINGS – While Brookings native Dee Shanley was in high school here, her Girl Scout troop visited Costa Rica. And as a student at South Dakota State University, she visited Mexico. 

Now she’s making her ninth trip to Belize and will stay for a full school year as a sewing teacher: she leaves Aug. 24 and returns to Brookings in June 2020.

“I kind of fell in love with these Central American countries,” she said. Following some time at SDSU, she finished college at Mankato State University (Minnesota), earning a bachelor’s degree in home economics education, and got married.

“I didn’t use it much,” Shanley said of her degree. “I did some adult teaching and substitute teaching but never taught full-time as a home economics teacher. I worked in fabric stores, lighting stores, paint and home decor stores.”

Following her husband’s death in 2003, she “moved back here to my hometown to be with my brother who lives here, a brother in Sioux Falls, and rejoined the (First Lutheran) church and reconnected here. That is how all of this mission has come about.”

She worked full-time as a salesperson and secretary for her brother, who owns Courtesy Plumbing, before retiring at the end of 2018.

“I really had no plans as to what to do in retirement,” she said. “So this opportunity to do volunteer work in Belize is filling my retirement time. This will be my ninth trip.”

Belize, formerly British Honduras, is located on the eastern coast of Central America. It occupies about 9,000 square miles and has a population of about 390,000. English is its official language.

Short time to long haul

“Our mission started nine years ago with a small group – 10 of us, a few of us from First Lutheran Church and a few others,” Shanley said. “We started on a short-term mission trip for one week.

“That led to meeting a pastor from a little village in San Jose Succotz near the Guatemalan border. He invited us to return to Belize the following year and come to his church and his school and work there.

“The second year we added team members and kept going one week per year for the next several years. Over that time it developed into more than just a ‘church mission trip.’”

The annual event included SDSU students and then-professor Mary Moeller offered the trip as a “service learning course” for her students.

The annual trip became a combined effort: the church mission and the service learning group from SDSU. Adults worked with and mentored the SDSU students.

In for the long haul

With that history behind her, Shanley is now going to take one big step and go much further: “I have been asked and I volunteered to go as a full-time volunteer teacher. The last year was my first year full-time teaching.

“The school where we were is beginning to develop technical programs. Dr. Lon Moeller (retired SDSU ag professor) helped develop an ag program, which is going well.”

Then a bit more than a year ago, the principal and the school wanted to start a sewing and home economics program; but they couldn’t find a qualified teacher.

“So I volunteered and made a commitment to see the program through for four years,” Shanley said. During her first full-time year, she went for a few months of the first semester and came home for Christmas; she returned for the second semester and came home early.

Her ultimate goal is development of a sewing program, with a curriculum and supplies. Someone from the community could then keep the program going.

When the mission team came to Belize this March, a few members brought with them a Cricut machine for Shanley to use in her sewing class; and they taught several students how to use it.

“It’s a machine that cuts vinyl letters and then it stamps them with a hot-press machine onto T-shirts or pillows, like logos on T-shirts,” she explained. “The exciting part about this is that it wasn’t really something that I felt I needed to do in the sewing program, so we gave it to the IT class, the computer class.”

For Mother’s Day, the sewing students and the computer students worked together and designed and sold decorated pillows as a fundraiser for the school. 

That in turn led to the addition of a technical component to the computer class and the start of a graphic design course. Added to that were supportive funds from the church and the community for the wiring of a computer classroom that should be equipped with new computers and operational when Shanley arrives in August. 

Best student a boy

“They come in knowing nothing about sewing,” Shanley said of her students, high school freshmen through seniors. “Most of them don’t have sewing machines at home. Maybe a few of their mothers sew.” Overall her classes are about half girls and half boys. However, her small senior class was five boys and one girl.

“I would say my best student is a boy,” Shanley said, smiling. “I have great hopes for him. My hope is that he will continue and graduate from high school this year. 

“I hope that he will take a class that I offer to adults, so he can get a sewing certificate. And then I hope that he can get some financial assistance to get a two-year degree and come back, be a teacher and take my place. That’s my goal for him.”

As far as living arrangements, Shanley is pretty much on her own for lodging, meals and transportation.

“I found a family where I rent a room and buy my meals,” she explained. “I take a taxi to school. It’s expensive to volunteer.” So she’s taking some interesting steps to raise money to help meet her personal expenses.

“I’m having a rummage sale to sell some of my things and I’ll rent my house for the school year.” Items for sale will include furniture, clothing, gardening equipment, and household equipment. 

She had a rummage sale this past weekend and will have a rummage sale at 202 Ninth Ave. on Friday and Saturday, from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

COURTESY OF: The Brookings Register

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