Michelle FitzGeraldMichelle (Ferris) FitzGerald ’09 is not what you would call a traditional teacher. Yes, she spent four years teaching middle school students in South Bend Community Schools and had once imagined herself educating students in other countries. But a few years ago, the strong desire to find herself as an artist led her to explore new art forms and eventually open a business where she could grow her own skills, while supporting others to do the same. Make South Bend was founded on the idea of educating people, while helping them build confidence and self-esteem.
“It felt like our artists were secluded and neglected. I wanted to see a community of supportive, collaborating artists and makers who would encourage and challenge each other to be better,” says FitzGerald.
In the community of River Park (just down the street from Bethel), FitzGerald teaches classes, hires experts to teach, and opens up new experiences to students young and old.
Her studio perpetuates the ideology of the Maker Movement – encouraging and empowering people to make anything – and is evident in her classes that range from textiles to 3D printing. She also rents private studio space to artists.
Raised in a creative home, FitzGerald says her business idea came after sketching jewelry and needing a way to laser cut designs into wood. In that moment, she realized others might have the same need for shared space and equipment.

Make South Bend features work spaces for artists and makers (shown), as well as classrooms and gallery space in the newly expanded shop.

Beyond fulfilling her desire to create and teach, her endeavor helps her live out her life statement, written in the class of Associate Professor of Communication Elizabeth McLaughlin, Ph.D.: “To create and restore dignity in others, through love, service and education.”

While she accomplished this as a schoolteacher, her business enables her to reach more people of all ages.

An English major at Bethel, she served as a tutor in the writing center, and as editor for The Beacon. As she was considering pursuing TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), she did a semester abroad trip to the Dominican Republic. Placed at an art school, she witnessed firsthand how art, education and evangelism can meld.
This idea of using art to reach people for Jesus was appealing and something FitzGerald carried with her when she established Make South Bend.

“I can serve people and give them valuable skills and be part of their lives, just by having this space and continuing to meet with them. This is a way I can do ministry.”

She and her husband, Nat FitzGerald ’09 (Christian Ministries), feel called to stay in South Bend. He is the worship leader at Northpoint Vineyard Church, which the couple helped plant four years ago.
From the study abroad experience and her other travels, she has come to appreciate her hometown.
“Most importantly, it reinforced to me that you can serve in your community and love where you are.”
For the future, FitzGerald plans to build on her original vision of creating a space for connections to happen and hopes to welcome more people in her newly expanded class space, or to the retail space featuring the work of more than 30 local artists.
“When I quit my job teaching, it was definitely a step of faith and I didn’t know what I would do, but there was peace around it – so I felt like God was in that,” she says. “I really think as I look back, there were a lot of things that kept us going – and I can’t explain it – but God had His hand on it somehow.”
Learn more at MakeSouthBend.com.