WILDWOOD — Ivan Perez, of Egg Harbor Township, was a teacher Sept. 11, 2001, when terror attacks changed America.
They changed him, as well.
He left teaching to join the Air Force, serving from 2002-09 in Operation Enduring Freedom.
The 1995 Wildwood High School graduate is back in the district, teaching English as a Second Language to middle and high school students.
On Thursday, Sewing Club students and members of the local Quilts of Valor chapter presented him with a red, white and blue quilt they made to honor his service.
Carrying son Finnegan, 8 months, Perez accepted the quilt and promised to use it.
“It’s beautiful,” he said.
The project culminates a yearlong sewing program in the after-school 21st Century Community Learning Center program. About a dozen students participated.
Sharon Cadwell, of Cape May, chapter coordinator for Ryan’s Cases for Smiles, began working with the students to make colorful pillowcases for hospitalized children.
As students became more proficient, they expanded into purses, pajamas and backpacks.
Jane Pszczolkowski, of Ocean City, decided to challenge the students to do more.
“Students don’t learn to sew anymore in school, and some had a real interest,” she said.
Students who made the quilt included Ninoshka Moya-Soto,14, Alison Snyder, 14, My’Air Henry, 13, Annabella Phelps, 14, Yahaira Corona-Juarez, 14, Juliet Casasola-Morales, 13, and Tahira Spencer, 13.
“I like emojis,” Ninoshka said as she displayed the collection of emoji-patterned items she made. Her grandmother, who sews, got her interested in sewing.
Cadwell contacted Ruth Ann Bosworth, of Woodbury, a leader of the South Jersey Quilts of Valor. Students began working on a quilt for Perez with help from Lori Fernandi, of Cape May, Kathy Doerr, of Marmora, and Crystal Smith, of Tuckahoe. The group made and distributed about 100 quilts last year.
The Quilts of Valor Foundation’s mission is to cover service members and veterans touched by war with comforting and healing quilts. The local group made and distributed about 100 quilts last year.