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Spreading cheer, stitch by stitch

There are holiday elves at STAR Education Center in Brooksville. They're creating and selling custom embroidered Santa hats to raise money.

It's not a tedious chore - they're having a great time.

The project involves learning to operate a Baby Lock four-color space-age embroidery machine that can stitch custom designs, logos, monograms and names on almost anything made of fabric.

"It took me about five minutes to learn it and I love doing it," said Angel Ghosh, 16, who manages the sewing room.

The machine was purchased last year, said assistant principal Debbie Harris, who wanted an incentive to encourage productive behavior among her students.

She noticed that students loved being creative, resolving frustrations and working on projects using the school's woodworking tools. Harris polled students to see what else she might try. They chose sewing, but not traditional sewing.

Harris surfed the Internet to find the machine, which is now in the guidance office.

Students generally spend a year or two at STAR, where they learn to make good decisions, Harris said.

There are about 80 students, in grades 4 through 12.

"Hands-on type of kids," said guidance counselor Vicki Hughes.

Meagan Stromberg, 13, spends a lot of time working with the new equipment. She said she's proud of a T-shirt she made for homecoming at West Hernando. She emblazoned the front with "Go Golden Eagles," in gold metallic thread.

"People thought it was cool," she said. "It was different."

Stromberg, Ghosh and a team of other students said they have become embroidery experts. The computerized speed and instant gratification of seeing a design unfold magically onto the cloth is intriguing.

Students have filled several hundred orders and a thick stack is waiting.

Their most enthusiastic customer spent $117.

In a coming Brooksville holiday parade, Central High's three dozen cheerleaders will sport Santa hats featuring Central's name.

A crew of electricians working at STAR last week spotted the hats, ordered them and wore them for the rest of the day on job sites.

STAR Center's entrepreneurs take pride in handling the business end of the job. Students take orders, collect payment and disburse receipts. They organize the workload and produce the goods.

They take the machine to Ergle Christmas Farm on Wednesdays and fill orders on the spot. They also hope to make a hat or stocking for each student at the Withlacoochee Juvenile Residential Facility.

Hughes says the customized articles make great holiday gifts.

To order, call 797-7013.