Story by Megan Whitehead | Oct 31, 2017
Photography by Keith Borgmeyer

These ladies use their gifts to give back to their community.

There’s something special about a hand-sewn quilt or blanket. The craftsmanship and care going into each stitch makes it unique and special for the creator and the receiver alike. For the ladies at Heisinger Bluffs, they get to experience the joy of using their talents to help others and fellowship in their group, Sewing for a Cause.
“A year and half ago when I started, we decided we wanted to have a sewing group, but it needed to have a purpose. The group started by helping Vera Backman make little pillows for the Special Learning Center here in Jefferson City,” says Sarah March, director of resident services at Heisinger Bluffs.
Heisinger Bluffs is a Lutheran Senior Services Community and is Jefferson City’s only continuing care retirement community. They offer five levels of service: independent living, REACH short stay, assisted living, memory care assisted living, and skilled nursing. “No matter where a resident lives in the community, we are all one family at Heisinger Bluffs. That way when a resident moves to another level of living, the transition is very easy,” says Dianne Lowry, senior living counselor at Heisinger Bluffs. “We are a faith based community – an organization with heart.”
Sewing for a Cause is led by resident volunteer Vera Backman. Vera Backman“One of the residents here would see me sewing in the craft room and drop in to ask what I was working on. They would offer to help. Sarah would ask us for clothing protectors and walker bags, and it started and grew from there,” says Vera.
“Everything we do has a goal; it’s more than just socializing. We want them to value their well-being, give back and find their real purpose in the community. Giving back has been rewarding for all of us,” says Sarah.
The core group is comprised of both independent and assisted living resident volunteers. The group has between Eileen Smith & Agatha Maasen15 to 20 members and meets once a month to decide what projects to work on, then the ladies work on the projects throughout the month. They also enlist help from skilled nursing residents for pillow stuffing parties, putting together sewing kits, and general fellowship. The group has also taken projects over to St. Joseph’s Bluffs skilled nursing to help with pillow stuffing and other projects. Most of the materials for the sewing projects are donated by community members or the residents donate them themselves.
“It’s wonderful to see how residents come to take part in the projects and visit. It makes you feel good,” said Leona Mengwasser, resident at Heisinger Bluffs. The sewing group creates a community with the residents. “It brings together assisted living and independent living residents. It starts with sewing but leads to other things. It helps people get out and enjoy being with other people, and it’s appreciated.”
What Vera enjoys most about the group is the fellowship. “You get residents out of their rooms and enjoy getting to know each other,” she says.
Sewing for a Cause makes pillows for the Special Learning Center, Ronald McDonald House, and pediatric patients at SSM Health – St. Mary’s Hospital and Capital Region. In 2016, the group made 161 pillows. The residents normally make pillows all year and deliver them around Christmas time. Last year, the ladies went to deliver the pillows to the children at the Special Learning Center in December, and one of the residents even dressed up like Mrs. Claus. One resident used to teach at the Special Center and taught Debbie Hamler, the current executive director of the Special Learning Center, so it holds a special place for the group.
“Whenever you take a pillow you made and give it to a child their face will light up,” says Vera.
“It makes you feel good to see them having something of their own,” added Leona. “I have two special needs grandsons that are grown now, but I know how appreciative they were of the small things like this being done for them.”
Sewing for a Cause also makes bibs and little graduation outfits for the children at the Special Learning Center, pillow cases for the RAC (Rape and Abuse Center), and clothing protectors and walker bags for residents at Heisinger Bluffs and St. Joseph’s Bluffs.
“We get tons of letters from the stuff we deliver. The hospitals and shelters always send us thank yous. Both the residents and the community benefit greatly from these ladies giving back,” says Sarah.
A new project Sewing for a Cause worked on this year was creating 31 sewing kits for Haiti. One of the Jefferson City community members who volunteers at Heisinger Bluffs had recently been on a mission trip to Haiti and noticed several Haitian children were missing buttons on their uniforms. She mentioned this to the ladies with Sewing with a Cause and they decided to put together sewing kits to send to Haiti with her on her next trip. Around 25 ladies helped with this project and Vera made little bags for the kits. The kits included scissors, straight pins, needles, thread, buttons and handmade pin cushions.
Nearly all the volunteerism at Heisinger Bluffs stems out of the ladies in Sewing with a Cause seeing a need and working to fulfill it. The group also takes part in Wednesday Walkers where they walk around the Heisinger Bluffs community for a little exercise and to socialize with residents at all levels of care. “We like to go over to the Care Center and walk and offer a cookie and speak to them. If you can cheer them up and put a smile on their face it brings a smile to our face,” says Vera.
“We find these lovely people to be so inspirational to their family, staff and community. People are the happiest when they’re helping others – it’s contagious,” says Dianne.
A few months ago, Vera started a new project by making a beautiful butterfly quilt to place on the bed as remembrance when someone passes. “We’ve used that quilt twice in the Care Center. I’m making four more. When someone passes away, they strip the bed and it’s bare. I came up with the idea to have a bedspread on it as a way of remembrance. To see it on the bed is special,” she says. She plans to make more butterfly quilts and another red, white, and blue quilt with religious tones.
“Vera always feels like there is more to do. She is a great leader for the rest of the ladies who want something to do. The butterfly quilt that she is making now has a unique purpose and special meaning.” says Sarah.
“Leona and I both grew up during the depression. When you saw someone in need, you helped them. And it just has carried on the rest of our lives,” says Vera. 

 

Read more about interesting people in Jefferson City here.