Tigard seniors send color, fun and warmth north to Forest Grove preschoolers

The way the oohs and ahhhs kept exploding from St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Forest Grove last Friday, passersby might have guessed acrobats or magicians were dazzling the preschool crowd inside the Adelante Mujeres classroom.

They’d almost have been right. It was a little like magic every time a small folded square of fabric unfurled into a large colorful quilt, sparking 27 cheers for 27 quilts for 27 preschoolers in the Adelante Mujeres program.

Minutes earlier, the children — ages one to five — had sat silently, listening to “If You Were A Penguin” and letting their eyes flit from the picture book in their teacher’s hands to the giant holiday-themed gift bags sitting mysteriously behind her.

Finally Early Childhood Education Coordinator Francisca Perez and Adelante Executive Director Bridget Cooke began calling students up and reaching into the bags and pulling out their low-tech contents: A tiny, yarn-stiched Christmas basket packed with peppermints; a felt board with a felt human and felt clothes to dress it; a fabric teddy bear; a bell on a string of yarn; and of course, the quilts.

The gifts all came from the busy hands of Summerfield Estates’ ad hoc outreach team, which had never heard of Adelante Mujeres before last year, when they were making felt boards for another group and Shellee Baidenmann suggested they send some to the Forest Grove nonprofit.

Baidenmann, activity director for the Tigard retirement community, knew about Adelante from her friend, Bobbie Rodriguez, a devoted Adelante volunteer.

This year, the outreach team decided to do even more. Ellina Spyker crocheted the candy holders. Virginia Boutllier led the felt-board brigade. And Betty Murphy, 71, made all 27 quilts, despite having to change position frequently because of a broken back.

For Murphy, the fact that the children were Latino made it even better. She has fond memories of the Latino children who used to visit the soda fountain she ran with her husband in Dayton 30 years ago.

“I don’t have children, so I ‘adopt’ all the kids I can,” said Murphy.

Her young Latino fountain patrons ‘adopted’ Murphy right back, going so far as to bang on her apartment door Sunday mornings—“My only day to sleep in”—and call, “Masa! Masa! Get up! Get ready!”

Murphy, a Lutheran, didn’t attend Catholic Mass. But “they thought I should,” she said. “So I would go to Mass with them every Sunday morning.”

The service was in Spanish, so during the sermon, the priest would occasionally stop, look at Murphy and tell the rest of the congregation, “I have to catch Betty up,” she said. “And he’d catch me up in English and then go back to Spanish.”

“I fell in love with Latino kids,” she said.

The Summerfield bus was unavailable last Friday, so the outreach team members weren't on hand to hear the exclamations of the preschoolers and their mothers, who scrunched into the tiny chairs lining the room’s walls.

They couldn’t hear the jangling bells and excited chatter or see the teddy bears being tossed joyfully into the air and children nearly tripping over their quilts as they rushed to show them to their mothers.

“I would have loved to have been there,” Murphy said. “The thrill is watching the kids.”

Instead, Murphy tried to imagine the scene. “Utter chaos and lots of giggles,” she guessed. “Is that what happened?”

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