Allendale's embroidery, screen-printing program has local impact

Allendale Association's sewing, embroidery and screen-printing class has rapidly become one of its most popular vocational programs, and not just with students. Local groups and businesses have discovered it, too.

Take Daisy Perez, owner of Daisy's Artish Cafe, a popular Lake Villa coffee shop that also sells artwork and hosts art classes. Once she learned about the program (many Allendale staffers are cafe regulars), she began ordering custom-embroidered aprons and silk-screened T-shirts for her staff.

"I think it's great that they are providing an opportunity for kids to learn a vocation," she said. "I'm glad to support that. The students I've met are excited to share what they've learned."

Allendale's residential facility - which provides therapeutic and educational services to area kids who struggle with learning and behavioral challenges - not only runs a day school, but offers vocational programs to help kids succeed after graduation.

"Some of our students go on to college," Allendale CEO Jason Keeler said. "But others want to jump right into the workforce, and we're preparing them. We also offer auto mechanics, carpentry, landscaping, food service, retail and horticulture prep programs."

Under the leadership of job coach Dan Garza, the embroidery and screen-printing shop has come into its own. The students learn a variety of skills, starting with basic sewing. In addition, they learn how to embroider apparel, which involves everything from setting up the artwork using special software to operating commercial embroidery machines.

The same goes for the screen-printing process, which includes designing the artwork, creating and machine cutting vinyl pieces, and then using a heat press on the apparel.

"What I enjoy most is watching the kids learn," Garza said. "It's gratifying to see them be successful - and to watch customers be amazed when they see their completed project and realize students did the work."

That's happening more and more these days as word gets out. Round Lake's Police Department and Harvard High School commissioned the class to create T-shirts, and Antioch High School's JV cheerleading squad had team jackets embellished. The class has also made aprons for Allendale's cafeteria and greenhouse programs.

But Garza and his students have bigger dreams.

"At some point, I'd like us to add direct-to-garment printing to our capabilities list," he said. "And we would really love to get more orders from local businesses."

At Allendale, one good turn frequently leads to another. Last fall, Perez held a school supply drive for students. She regularly holds art classes for the kids. Soon, she'll be featuring succulent arrangements in recycled containers for purchase that were grown by Allendale's horticultural students.

"It's really beneficial for Allendale kids to feel like they belong to the community," Keeler said. "And for the community to get to know our kids. Every interaction matters."

For information on Allendale's embroidery and screen-printing services, or to discuss a project, contact Dan Garza at (847) 245-6188 or

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Students in Allendale's sewing, embroidery and screen-printing class learn a variety of skills to let them make and decorate custom clothing. Courtesy of Lekas & Levine Public Relations
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