Jenny’s her name and crafting’s her game: Puzzle pins bring awareness of those living with autism

SOO HILL – When Jenny Schiltz takes part in the “Walk a Mile In My Shoes” handicap awareness event at the Delta Plaza Mall on Saturday, she will be offering a unique keepsake that symbolizes her struggle as a young woman with autism – jigsaw puzzle pieces. The three puzzle pieces are glued together and attached to a pin and suitable for wearing as a symbol of support for those who deal with autism in their lives every day. Along with the autism awareness pin is the message, “Like someone with Autism,” which best describes the mystery and complexity of autism.

“Autism is like trying to put the pieces together,” explained Jenny’s mother, Carol Schiltz. “The puzzle piece represents the complexity of autism and the difficulty with finding a cure. It also represents the many people a person with autism needs in order for them to make a contribution and to fit like a piece of a puzzle into their community.”

And Jenny seems to be finding her niche in the community, not only by making autism awareness pins, but also small crafts that occupy her time and give her a chance to earn a little money in the process.

One of the items is a handcrafted gift tags made out of recycled business and greeting cards and pictures from magazines. She decorates each bookmark with a piece of raffia and a button. She also makes beaded bookmarks, prayer beads and magnets.

“The packaging for everything I make is made of recycled cardboard, coffee cup holders and paper,” said Jenny. “My mom and the staff where I live help me with some of the more difficult steps.”

Carol said she got the idea for the craft items from a book by Danny Seo entitled “Simply Green Giving” and decided to work with her daughter on variations of Seo’s ideas. Because persons with autism function best when their lives follow a routine, Carol said the crafts Jenny makes are ideal for her because the process is the same for just about everything.

For her projects, Jenny gets jigsaw puzzles and other craft items from rummage sales and St. Vincent de Paul. Friends and family also donate materials to help her out. Jenny has been able to keep up her small business by selling her creations at the Rapid River Senior Center craft sales and at the gift shops in Stonington and Garden. Because it’s difficult for Jenny to be in an environment with a large crowd, she limits her craft sales to the smaller venues.

“Jenny really benefits from having something to do and being with people,” Carol explained, “but conversation and socializing is difficult for her. When someone comes to her table, she’s certainly able to talk about her project, but she has a hard time dealing with more than a few at a time.”

In 2010, Jenny donated 100 of her bookmarks to a woman on the island of Rota in the Northern Pacific Ocean. The woman was looking for donations after a typhoon destroyed their library. She has also donated prayer beads to Hospice in Mount Pleasant where her aunt worked and to Operation Christmas Child which her church supports. Last year she started making autism awareness pins for a friend who is president of the Eastern Star in Lower Michigan. Her friend was able to sell these and raise money for autism research.

Born and raised in the Rapid River and Stonington area, Jenny recalls being picked on as a child by some of the other students in her school.

“It was worse in the younger grades,” she said. “People would pick on me just because they thought I was different.” But, according to Jenny, it got better when she reached high school. While in school, Jenny attended a combination of special education classes and regular mainstream classes. She graduated from Rapid River High School in 2007.

Jenny has been a resident of a group home, Bridgewood Apartment in Soo Hill, for the past nine months and said she appreciates her new-found independence, although she admits to particularly missing her family dog.

“When she lived with us in Stonington, it was hard for her because our closest neighbor was a mile away,” said Carol.

Along with her craft business, Jenny works at Lakestate Industries and volunteers at Grace Church in Gladstone where she can be found each Friday morning folding upwards to 500 bulletins in preparation for the Sunday service.

Jenny appreciates the opportunity to not only be on her own, but also to have something constructive to do in the process. As she looked over her small collection of craft projects she brought along to share during her interview, Jenny smiled shyly and said, “I’d like to say that I put a lot of effort into it (crafting). It’s good for me and I like doing it.”