When children enter Judge Lynn Tepper’s family courtroom in Dade City, they’re often welcomed with healthy snacks, stuffed animals, and lots and lots of books.
Another staple in Tepper’s courtroom of late: Dozens of homemade quilts, stitched with an assortment of bright colors, shapes and other unique designs.
The quilts are given to adoptive parents and caregivers of infants and young children, to help form a nurturing bond for families navigating custody cases.
They’re made and donated by members of the Rotary Club of San Antonio, as part of one of its many community service projects.
Creations range from small baby quilts to full-size bed quilts. Handbags have even been designed for older children.
“The quilts have been amazing,” said Tepper, who oversees dependency, delinquency and domestic violence cases for the 6th Judicial Circuit Court of Florida.
“It’s a positive thing for (parents) to wrap around the baby or when the baby is now starting to come home with them. It’s just such a positive — the expression is so positive that they’re coming here, giving them something.”
For Tepper, the quilts are part of a broader theme of facilitating positive, impactful relationships for youth in her courtroom, many of which have experienced adverse childhood experiences, such as abuse and neglect.
“It is a buffering relationship that makes the difference,” said Tepper, who’s served on the bench for 34 years. “You should see the look on the parents’ faces. …They just get such a kick out of them. My bailiff loves to give them away.”
Rotary club members last week handed off another batch of quilts to Tepper, who was the featured guest speaker at the organization’s monthly dinner meeting at the Tampa Bay Golf & Country Club.
Her talk centered on trauma-informed care and the importance of getting to the root of societal problems through rehabilitation, as opposed to outright punishment.
“She likes to take care of the children,” San Antonio rotary club member and past president Winnie Burke says of Tepper. “It’s good when they come in, for them to have something to be happy…”
Fellow Rotarian Betty Burke earlier this year came up with the idea of donating quilts to Tepper, after she picked up the craft.
“I have a great time (quilting),” Burke said. “I just started doing it, but I’m having a wonderful time, enjoying it.”
Burke enjoys it even more knowing the creations are being put to good use — uplifting the spirits of children going through challenging circumstances.
She explained: “You know, these kids come to court, sometimes they have nothing. If they’re abused and taken out of the homes in the middle of the night, they might not have any clothes but what’s on their backs, so we thought, ‘Well, if they get a quilt, this is theirs (and) something that belongs to them.”
Burke has also enlisted the help of a few quilting friends, like Darlene Kirkpatrick, who work together on producing creative, thematic patterns.
“I just love creating things,” said Kirkpatrick, who’s been quilting for over 20 years using scraps of materials from yard sales. “And then when you get a quilt, (it’s fun) trying to decide what kind of pattern to put on. Some have flowers, others have Xs. You just kind of look at the quilt for awhile and try to decide what you’re going to do.”
About 40 quilts have been donated to Tepper already this year.
Many feature squares with vibrant colors. Others have more unique patterns much like the American Flag or Christmas designs. Some are designed with characters, like Snoopy.
The rotary club plans to continue donating quilts “as long as somebody can use ‘em,” Burke said.
“We try to make different ones that appeal to different kids,” Burke said. “I call mine ‘happy quilts’ because they’re bright colors and they make me happy, and they can make somebody happy.”
The Rotary Club of San Antonio was founded in 2005, and is one of eight clubs in east Pasco County.
Rotarians are governed by Rotary International, which has about 1.2 million members in 32,000 clubs in 200 countries and geographic areas, according to the international organization’s website.
Published August 8, 2018