Quilting Together A Community
Writer / Katie Burrell . Photographer / Amanda DeBusk
A hobby has turned into a labor of love for a group of needle workers at the Baxter YMCA. As many as 11 individuals have spent more than a decade sewing, crocheting and knitting blankets, shawls, beanies and scarves to donate to those who need a little extra warmth in their hearts.
The Quilting Club meets weekly to work on their projects, share stories and brainstorm their next opportunity to give to the community. Facilitator Mary Kenworthy said that although they have worked on large quilts as a group, they typically spend two hours each Wednesday working on individual projects.
“Sewers like sewers,” Kenworthy said. “We make our quilts individually and meet [at the Baxter YMCA] for show and tell.”
Their ongoing project includes making blankets for the premature babies at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Franciscan St. Francis Health Hospital. Each year, they donate more than 100 blankets. Placed over the incubators they muffle the humming of the machines and shade the babies from the harsh overhead lighting in the NICU. When the babies finally go home, the families take the quilts with them.
“Their parents have shared that the gift of a baby blanket have brought joy and encouragement to them and helped them to cope with the stresses of having a baby born early or with medical problems,” St. Francis NICU Nurse Manager Paula Stanfill wrote in a letter to the group. They know that “someone was thinking of them” and cared enough to devote a lot of time and talent to make something so unique and special just for their baby.
When the group delivered their blankets last summer the eager and grateful nurses greeted them. They toured the hospital and ate lunch. Club member Dottie Bowman said she understands how important it is to show the babies love.
“If they don’t have enough blankets, the nurses use towels [to cover the incubator],” Bowman said.
Kenworthy added, “There are more babies than we can make quilts for.”
Not Just for Babies
Still, the group works constantly to provide for the hospital and other worthy organizations. In 2014, they logged 1,994 volunteer hours between their weekly meetings and at home in their own sewing rooms. Although they are an independent, member-run club, the Baxter YMCA logs the group’s volunteer hours to recognize their efforts and to keep a room open for their meetings. Many of the women who now participate in the club serve in other capacities and participate in YMCA programming.
“I can’t say enough about this group and what they do for the community,” Baxter YMCA Associate Wellness Director Bobbi Finley said. “I love to watch them interact with each other, working together to help others and sharing their passion for sewing. I think they’re a great representation of what the Y stands for. It’s about the relationships you build and the friendships you form while doing something to help those in need.”
Other projects that they have worked on since the group’s conception in 2003 include lap robes for veterans and amputees, shawls for cancer patients and their families, scarves for the volunteers working at the 2012 Super Bowl, and cotton beanies for soldiers overseas. They have also made large quilts for YMCA fundraisers and hats for disadvantaged YMCA families at Christmastime.
Despite having so much experience as a group, Kenworthy is one of the only club members who had quilting experience before the group came together. In 2002, a tornado tore through the Baxter YMCA. While the center was rebuilding, an employee of the YMCA, Beth McMahon, decided to sell 9-inch fabric squares to decorate and to sew into a quilt. The profits would go to benefit the YMCA Annual Campaign which raises funds that makes YMCA memberships and programs available to community members facing financial hardship. McMahon and Kenworthy connected, and the rest is history. Kenworthy donated her time and taught anyone who was interested how to piece together the quilt. Looking back, she says she is “amazed at how well they turned out with so many people working on them.” The quilts now hang in the building located at 7900 S. Shelby St.
The Quilting Club welcomes new members — even those who without sewing skills — and they also welcome donations. The club does not receive any money through the YMCA; they bring their own supplies. Their needs are unique, so while they appreciate product donations, they find that it is best if they are able to purchase fabric specific to the project they are working on. All monetary donations will go to benefit one of their community-based projects. For more information about becoming part of the group or donating, contact Bobbi Finley at 317-865-6464 or firstname.lastname@example.org.