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Expert Shares Her Craft by Getting Amateurs to Feel Accomplished

All her life, Nina Lee Mills has had a knack for making crafts. She has become so good at it that seven cities have hired her to teach crafts to their residents in 2-hour classes, two times a day, 7 days a week.

“I’m booked solid until the end of July,” Mills said, and that includes classes in Los Alamitos, La Palma, Seal Beach and Garden Grove. The others are in Los Angeles County.

Mills, 56, said she started making crafts as a hobby 25 years ago and hasn’t stopped. “I heard you were good,” she was once told while being interviewed for a crafts class job. “Yes I am,” she replied, but not to boast. “When you spend as much time as I do on crafts and enjoy it, you really become accomplished at it.”

And the ease in making crafts is part of the message that she tries to get across in her classes.

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“Anyone can do what I teach in the class, and it doesn’t take long,” she said.

Most of her classes are filled with women, and Mills would like to see that change.

“I get the feeling men would feel they would be sissies if they took the class,” she said. “But I don’t buy that. I have an engineer from Douglas Aircraft that made things for his wife, and he thoroughly enjoys it. If more word got out to men, I know they would try it.”

Mills said that more young people are becoming involved in some of her craft projects, such as her class in painting sweat shirts.

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“Kids go back to school wearing what they make, and that really makes them feel special,” she said. “The idea of being involved in craft making will stay with them the rest of their life.”

Painting sweat shirts is her most popular class, both for young and old, but Mills said her classes for floral arrangements, basket decorating, statuary, quilted photo albums and Victorian Christmas decor are also full.

“There’s a lot of people who have a lot of leisure time and want to do something for themselves and have fun doing it,” she said. “And a lot of people don’t have money to buy the things they want, but they can afford it if they make it.”

Mills notes, for instance, that a person can buy six plain shirts and paint them for what it would cost to buy one painted by someone else.

There is another reason some people take her classes. “There are a lot of people out there who want to meet other people,” she said. “You’d be surprised how many friendships are made.”

Besides teaching, Mills spends about 80% of her free time working on her own crafts, which she sells out of a boutique in her Lakewood home.

“I once thought of selling my crafts at swap meets, but it’s too much of a hassle loading and unloading my work,” she said.

In May, Christopher Kenney, 16, will spend 2 weeks bicycling through California, stopping at elementary schools in Anaheim, Santa Ana, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, Irvine and Laguna Beach to talk about the dangers of drug use. It will be a 1,000-mile trip.

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Christopher decided to join the war against drugs after being surrounded by illegal substances at his junior high school in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., where he was raised. He has since moved with his father to Santa Cruz.

“When I was in the sixth grade, they were selling drugs in the bathroom of my school,” he said. “I thought it was wrong, and I want to tell people that this is not something they need to be involved in.”

He uses the theme: “Say Nope to Dope.”

This is the teen-ager’s third 1,000-mile bike trip to talk about the evils of drugs. The trek will stretch from Reno to San Diego. “I’ve gotten a lot of support from corporate sponsors, and now I know how to teach the kids better and what I need to do it,” Christopher said.

He plans to give away T-shirts, buttons and movie passes during his stops, explaining that “it makes it fun for the kids and then they’re more interested in what you have to say.”

Acknowledgments--The Fullerton Transportation Center was presented an award by the U.S. Department of Transportation for restoring and reusing three historic railroad depots and blending them into an activity facility. The award program recognizes exemplary solutions to transportation problems involving historic preservation issues, said Terry Galvin, manager of Fullerton’s Redevelopment Agency.


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