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‘Repair Café’ plan for Shelter Island students moving forward: Seeking seed funds and volunteers

When Kyle Karen brought the idea of a “Repair Café” program to the Shelter Island Board of Education last November, she was already busy, finishing her doctorate studies and working as a part-time assistant professor.

That didn’t stop her from taking on the program she believed could benefit the Shelter Island community, involving college students working with high school students in a “capstone project” — a multi-faceted assignment to serve as a culminating academic and intellectual experience for students.

According to the Repair Café website: “Repair Cafés are free meeting places and they’re all about repairing things (together). In the place where a Repair Café is located, you’ll find tools and materials to help you make any repairs you need. On clothes, furniture, electrical appliances, bicycles, crockery, appliances, toys, et cetera. You’ll also find expert volunteers, with repair skills in all kinds of fields.”

As Ms. Karen said, the program is an ongoing learning process. If you have nothing to repair, you can enjoy a cup of tea or coffee, she added. Or you can lend a hand with someone else’s repair job.

Fast forward to this spring and find a still-busy Ms. Karen pushing forward with three graduate students at Stony Brook University’s Division of Rehabilitative Sciences — Julie Hedger, Kirby Schneider, and Kyle Walter —  meeting with Shelter Island High School seniors and staff last month to achieve three initial goals:

• Introduce the seniors to the concept of the Repair Café that’s designed to provide those with ability to fix items others might otherwise throw away and return the items to the original owners or, if they aren’t wanted, to new owners who can put them to use.

• Encourage the students to complete a survey created by the college graduate students on community interests related to the program.

But perhaps most important, it was the third goal the graduate students wanted to impart to the seniors, introducing them to occupational therapy as a profession. The Stony Brook students wanted the seniors to learn that occupational therapists work with individuals, groups and communities to improve health and the quality of life.

Students were attentive to the messages from the grad students. Social studies teacher Sean Brennan called the Stony Brook students “rock stars” for their ability to capture the attention of the high school students at a time of year — close to graduation — when it’s not easy to grab and hold their attention.

Eleven students completed the survey, Ms. Karen said.

Added to the Island program was Shelter Island Library Director Terry Lucas. Ms. Lucas plans to include a link to the survey in the library’s June newsletter.

“We’re excited to support the Repair Café project,” Ms. Lucas said. “Sustainability is important to the library and we were so happy that Kyle approached us.”

Ms. Lucas and the library staff want to assist Ms. Karen’s team that will see items repaired rather than taking up space in a landfill, Ms. Lucas said.

Hurdles to overcome are the need for seed money to keep the effort pushing forward and the fact that those involved have busy schedules.

There’s also a need to meet with community members to familiarize them with the program, get more people to fill out the survey in order to design a program that meets local interests and needs, Ms. Karen said. Anyone can get involved in the project, whether it’s to render services or to get assistance in getting items repaired.

Ms. Karen aims to hold informational sessions at the library in August or September about the project and the research plan.

As for finances, Ms. Karen has applied for a small grant from the Shelter Island Educational Foundation and will also be seeking funding through the New York Institute of Technology where she is an assistant professor.