Every photo is a wonderful memory. In these moments frozen in time, Deondre “Day Day” Howard is still pitching, leaping, smiling as a young athlete. Three and a half months ago, Howard was still alive.
His mother and aunt admired these photos of their boy on Wednesday at Stitch Master Custom Embroidery in northwest Fresno while designing a patch for a quilt that remembers victims of violent crimes in Fresno County.
Howard will be a face on the 2016 Crime Victims’ Memorial Quilt, created by volunteers through The James Rowland Crime Victim Assistance Center.
The 21-year-old’s death sent waves of shock and outrage across the community. Howard was murdered Aug. 29 by an unknown gunman outside his mother’s condo. Police said the shooting is not gang-related.
The 2013 Edison High School graduate had dreams of becoming a professional athlete. The baseball and football player at Fresno City College was expected to concentrate on baseball and was in line to start as an outfielder and pitcher next year.
In the embroidery shop Wednesday, his memory lives on. His mother, Jonte McCreary, and aunt, Latoya Goodwin, are not sure what to expect when they walk in, but as Stitch Master staff begin to scan photos and design Howard’s quilt patch on a computer, the women open up.
They smile and walk around the room, sometimes bouncing with enthusiasm as they recall how fast Howard could pitch, how high he could jump, and how much they loved his big, beautiful smile.
“I want him to be remembered as that big star athlete with that big smile and that friendly face,” McCreary says of her son. “I just want people to remember how Deondre Howard was when he was here on this Earth. … This is like a very special event to me, to have my son put on that quilt. It brings joy to my heart for somebody to think about that.”
I just want people to remember how Deondre Howard was when he was here on this earth. … This is like a very special event to me, to have my son put on that quilt. It brings joy to my heart for somebody to think about that.
Jonte McCreary, mother of Deondre “Day Day” Howard
Beside a picture of Howard’s smile, they scan in a portion of something he wrote for a class at Fresno City College:
“My family is also a huge factor that contributed to my decision to go to college. My family means everything to me, and I would do any and everything to make sure they are taken care of and proud of me. I am the first person in my family to go to college, so you can imagine the amount of pressure I face but I know they are here for me and I am here (college) for and because of them.”
These words and a collage of sports photos are sent to a special printer that dyes the design into a piece of cloth. As Stitch Master’s production manager, Selena Torres finishes the patch, and shop owner Thomas Nakazawa stands nearby brushing lint off Howard’s varsity letterman jacket with a lint roller.
Nakazawa runs his small shop with heaps of compassion, donating much and often moving orders for veterans, funerals and weddings to the top of his priority list with a day’s notice. He lives by something his mother told him as a boy: Help at least one person a day.
Making the patch for Howard was a comforting experience for Howard’s aunt.
“It makes me feel a little bit more secure, that somebody cares that we don’t even know,” Goodwin says. “And then, not just the community, a valley of people.”
Howard’s patch and those of other Fresno crime victims will soon be sewn together to create the 2016 Crime Victims’ Memorial Quilt that will be unveiled during a special ceremony in April.
The James Rowland Crime Victim Assistance Center, which coordinates the project, is part of the Fresno County Probation Department. The center serves the loved ones of victims in many ways, including crisis intervention and counseling, covering burial costs, and offering support at court and parole hearings.
Nancy Dominguez, probation services manager with the center, says the quilt project was created to bring more awareness about the many impacts of crime and to remember victims.
There were 12 patches on last year’s quilt. Since the first one was made in 1994; the project has helped honor the lives of 482 people. Families don’t have to create a patch in the same year the crime occurred.
The project has made a big impact on Gwen Pfost, a victim advocate with the center.
“It’s very emotional, but it’s very uplifting, too, because this is something that is very meaningful, not only for family and friends and coworkers. It’s meaningful for us, too, because it connects us a little bit more to our families and our victims.”
Dominguez paraphrased an intern from her office to describe the importance of one of the quilt unveiling ceremonies.
“Here you have this room full of people and they are of all walks of life, different circumstances, different situations, but what was really neat is that they were all there for each other.”
The James Rowland Crime Victim Assistance Center
Family and friends of victims of violent crimes who are interested in learning more about the center and the memorial quilt can stop by their office, 2233 Kern St., Fresno, call 559-600-2822, or visit their website, www.co.fresno.ca.us/cvac.