With the help of her stagecraft class and more than 140 volunteers, NKU theatre and dance professor Ronnie Chamberlain sewed and delivered 163 pillowcases to children at the Ronald McDonald house. 

RonaldMcDonald Photo by Timothy D. Sofranko

“They were making magic they didn’t even know was possible. It was really empowering for them…”

By Jayna Morris
NKU Marketing + Communications

To infinity and beyond. Once a ninja, always a ninja. This was made just for you. Have a magical day.

Northern Kentucky University students and faculty members included messages like these with 163 pillowcases they sewed for the Ronald McDonald House in Cincinnati—enough for each child that stays in the house for a month. Ronald McDonald House averages 2,000 families each year. 

The pillowcase project was part of a stagecraft class taught by Ronnie Chamberlain, professor of theatre and dance in the School of the Arts at NKU. Chamberlain and her students delivered the pillowcases last week.

Mike Weinberg, director of volunteers at Ronald McDonald House, says the donation made all the difference for the children who received the pillowcases.  

“Our organization provides a home away from home for families when they are faced with the most difficult time in their lives,” Weinberg says. “What better gift to give than something that reminds them of home and gives them the sense of normalcy that they crave.”

The stagecraft class is one of many on campus that participate in service learning through the Mayerson Student Philanthropy Project, which is hosted through the Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement.

The class researched three local charities, but most were interested in monetary donations instead of hand-crafted items. Ronald McDonald House frequently uses and celebrates donor creativity, Chamberlain says. She has worked with various Ronald McDonald locations for other philanthropy projects as well.

When the class began in August, none of the students knew how to sew. Chamberlain taught them how to pattern, cut, and sew in order to prepare them to create the pillowcases on their own.  

“Excitement grew quickly,” Chamberlain says. “They were making magic they didn’t even know was possible. It was really empowering for them. They were definitely invested with love and enthusiasm.”

Students chose fabrics covered in themes like Star Wars, Dr. Seuss, My Little Pony, Minions, and many others. The class spent $350 on brand-new fabric swatches for the pillowcases.

Although the students were confident in their sewing skills, they put together a plan to get more volunteers to help make as many pillowcases as possible.

“A lot of what we do in theater is event planning,” Chamberlain says. “We put on major events. Most of the students are one of the cogs in the wheel and don’t see the whole picture. They really worked through how they were going to do everything and how far they could reach.”

And it worked.

“The pillowcase event was an empowering experience of what education should be: applying skills I learned in class, teaching others those skills, connecting the community, and working toward a better world together,” says Grace Francomb, an integrative studies junior. 

More than 140 people—15 of whom were faculty members—came together during a 2-day period to sew the pillowcases.

This isn’t the first time Chamberlain taught a service-learning class. Last December, Chamberlain purchased dolls and taught students to sew clothes for the dolls from scratch. Those dolls and clothes were donated to the Guardian Angel’s children’s home.

“My favorite part of the pillowcase project was definitely getting to see people get genuinely excited about making something by hand,” says Lindsey Risch, a stage management sophomore. “They surprised themselves and gave their time to charity.”