The beautiful glass pumpkins adorning various locations on Scott Community Colleges’ campus this semester probably looked like impressive fall décor to the average of passerby.
But these fragile works of art carry a very special meaning, especially to SCC’s student Veterans.
If you did not know, there are at least 20 Veteran suicides every day. That is more than 9,000 former service members each year we are losing to Veteran suicides. These men and women volunteered and fought for our freedom, but are not getting the help they need after returning home from war. These numbers are reflective of an immediate need for preventative help.
Using the skills of Quad City artist Joel Ryser, owner of Hot Glass, the college will create a one-of-a-kind wall of glass art handcrafted by SCC Veteran students in dedication to their fellow soldiers who have fallen to suicide. This project is being called “Fragile.” The title is symbolic to the glass connection, but also representative of the opportunity for SCC Veteran students to be vulnerable and share their creative expression through this project.
Lysa Hegland, Scott Community College Foundation Director, said the project was born after the loss of one of SCC’s student Veterans.
“Our Veteran students were outraged, upset and heartbroken,” Hegland said.
“They wanted to memorialize him at the campus. However, by the time we sat to look at this suggestion from the VA club we had lost another Veteran student to suicide. We knew then this was a larger issue and we could not just recognize one person, this was an issue that we needed to collectively address.”
“So we met with Joel Ryser, who had worked with Veterans, and realized there was a partnership opportunity with Hot Glass,” she said.
Rebecca Geiken, EICC Veteran’s Coordinator, said she had worked with Ryser in the past and noticed how blowing glass and creating art made her feel personally.
“When working on my glass piece nothing else mattered, I was focused. For our Veterans, being given this space to focus and block out all other noise is important.”
Ryser said when handling an object reaching temperatures of 400 degrees, you have no choice but to focus.
“On most projects you work in teams of three and just like in the military you must trust in your buddy. We are excited to offer this experience to our Veteran students,” Ryser said.
Hegland said a group of five Veteran students were the first group to do a workshop with Hot Glass last summer, creating beautiful glass pumpkins.
“You could visually see the emotional lift of pain on the faces of the students. They came in uncertain and perplexed and they left excited and eager to learn more about the process of blowing glass. Several of them have been back to work with Joel at various times in his shop.”
At the SCC BASH, an annual fundraiser for the Scott Community College Foundation, students sold the glass pumpkins to raise money for an endowment fund that will annually provide the money needed to send Veteran students to Hot Glass for training.
“We raised $1,500 from the sale of the 150 pumpkins for the project, the Lammers family donated $5000 and the attendees at the BASH donated the difference to establish a $10,000 endowment,” Hegland said.
She said seeing this project come to life and give Veteran students an outlet has been very rewarding.
“I am a military wife and to know that we have helped make an impact through this project made me proud both personally and professionally.”
Plans for the memorial wall of glass art are still being made, but Hegland said she hopes the opportunity to create these glass works of art will encourage anyone struggling to seek help.
“These soldiers don’t tell you they are struggling as that is not how they have been trained. So, the signs are not always recognizable. I think this opportunity with Hot Glass is one step in the right direction to help those who want to break away and heal.”