Community Quilting: Building Community One “Square” at a Time

Community Quilting: Building Community One “Square” at a Time

Washington Island is a small Wisconsin community of about 700 full-time residents located on an island in Lake Michigan. People get involved in this small community in a wide variety of ways. One of the best-known ways is by showing up for the TLC Quilting Group. 

Stop by Trinity Lutheran Church (TLC) on Washington Island on most Tuesday mornings and you’ll find a hive of activity. A group of 6-15 quilters meets each week to make quilts together. Many years ago, the group started meeting to create “comfort quilts”, as well as quilts for Lutheran World Relief. The beautiful “comfort quilts” are shared on the Island with anyone going through a challenging time, such as a hospitalization, a death in the family, a new baby. The sturdy, simpler quilts created for Lutheran World Relief are sent around the world and used for a wide variety of purposes, from bedding to keeping animals warm to creating roofs on rough homes. 

Today’s quilters continue the tradition of creating these quilts but have also added some special quilting projects along the way. Quilts are often made for special causes, such as a silent auction fundraiser for the church’s women’s group, or to raise funds for a local family experiencing financial or health hardships. A more recently added project involves making backpacks, filling them with donated school supplies, and sending them to children around the world through Lutheran World Relief.

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Perhaps the most notable, on-going project is the creation of the annual “graduation quilts”. In the early to mid 1990s, one of the quilters, Nancy Thiele, and her husband, Al, participated in a Mission Builders project in the community of McKinley, Wisconsin. During that project, Nancy learned that the church there created quilts as a gift for each graduating student who was a member of their church. Considering that Washington Island has the smallest K-12 school district in the state of Wisconsin – approximately 70-75 students, with 1-6 students graduating in any given year – Nancy returned home and suggested that their quilting group create quilts for every graduating senior in their community. A new tradition was born!

An individualized graduation quilt is created for each specific senior. On the wall of the quilting room is a chalk board, listing the names of the graduates, their favorite colors, favorite themes (e.g., horse lover), and anything else that might personalize their quilt (e.g., his parents have his baby blanket or grandpa’s blue jeans to contribute). Specific quilters are designated to design and organize each quilt, while the actual quilting is done by a mix of members. The presentation of the quilts has become a beloved and highly anticipated part of the graduation celebration. When asked if she was looking forward to graduating, one senior replied that she was really looking forward to seeing her quilt! 

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You may be wondering where the money comes from to purchase all the equipment and supplies for these projects. The truth is that almost all of it is donated. They currently have eight sewing machines that have been added to the quilting room. Repairing the machines, creating special quilting tables, building storage shelves, and more are all done by volunteers. The cloth, batting, and even the thread are all donated. Some Tuesdays feel like Christmas when the quilters come to quilt and find bags of donated items sitting in the quilting room!

Since the start of the pandemic, the quilting room is a lot quieter but that doesn’t mean that nothing is happening. Indeed, all the usual quilts – including the graduation quilts – are still being lovingly created, mostly at the homes of individual quilts who happen to have “an abundance of fabric”.  In addition to the usual quilts, they’ve also taken on the making of masks to help protect people during the COVID pandemic. At last count, approximately 6000 masks have been created. Some of these have been shared with other communities, but masks are made available free of charge to anyone who lives on or visits the Island, through the grocery store and other businesses.

Each year, the quilting group makes around 200 quilts, as well as numerous other projects. The love of quilting pulled this group together. The love of community has led them down this path of creating beautiful quilts, backpacks, and masks that are given away as gifts of the heart. 

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As I was surfing the web one day, I came across this wonderful story about a town that organizes its own "popup" university each year during the month of March. This is how they describe it:

A pop-up university for the community, by the community!

Bethel University is a unique community pop-up university in Bethel, Vermont. During the month of March each year, anyone can teach courses on any topic under the sun.

How does this work? To start with, anyone in the community can teach a course and anyone can take a course free of charge. Community members are invited to submit proposals. In January of each year, these are reviewed by community members who form the Bethel Revitalization Initiative Team (BRI Team). Anyone is welcome to join this team. BRI contacts professors soon after.  (Again, you should note that anyone can be a professor if they offer to teach a course.) They then announce courses publicly and open registration in early February.

According to their website, the town of Bethel Vermont US (population around 2,000) has been doing this since 2014. Here's their list of nearly 70 great courses and meet-up groups (informal gatherings) that were offered in 2019:

  • Acoustic Music Jam
  • Coworking
  • Fraud and Scams: Self- Defense in an Age of Attacks
  • Nutrition to Prevent and Heal Dental Problems
  • We are Changing: We are the Change!
  • Bethel Outing Club & Snowshoe
  • Intro to Improv Comedy
  • Love Your Life in 30 Days
  • Art & Science of Foam Rolling
  • Firefly: Bethel’s Burning Man
  • Introduction to Linux OS
  • Learn to Meditate
  • Nerf Gun Fun
  • Risotto 101
  • A Rainbow of Spring Salads
  • Traditional Dances of Vermont’s Italian
    Immigrants
  • Build a Little Library
  • Let’s Talk Politics
  • Exploring Minecraft
  • Farmers Market / Craft Fair Success
  • Logo Design Basics
  • What Do You Do with Tofu?
  • Investing with Your Values
  • Quilts Unplugged: Grandmother’s Flower Garden
  • Stress Management
  • Core Strength for Everyone
  • Wine Tasting
  • Dodgeball
  • Roll Your Own: Sushi
  • Resilience: The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope
  • Healthy Eating on a Budget
  • Nail Art 101
  • Not Your Grandparents’ School
  • Home Composting
  • World Celebration in Song
  • Baking Biscuits with Kids
  • Grow and Store Your Own Food and Flowers
  • Beauty and the Budget
  • Startups and Sidehustles
  • BCorps: Using Businesses as a Force for Good
  • Vintage Gas/ Wood Stove Meetup
  • Find Your Voice: Giving Great Talks and Presentations
  • Rites of Spring: Medieval European Folklore
  • Holistic Approach to Fibromyalgia/CFS
  • Shape Note Singing
  • National Parks and Wildlife of Africa
  • Healing Without the High: Hemp & CBD
  • Brisket: Hot and Fast Method
  • iPhone Photography
  • Kombucha
  • Landscape Plan Graphics 101
  • Placemaking with Community Art: Chelsea Barn Quilt Trail
  • Fairy Gardens
  • Quilting for Beginners
  • Evaluating the Condition of a House
  • Chainsaw Safety
  • Stress and Hormones
  • Make Lace Beads with Polymer Clay
  • Soiree: Cultural Heritage Dance Party
  • Baking Craze: Kids’ Cupcake Class
  • Easy, Colorful Polymer Clay Earrings
  • Introduction to Signed Languages
  • Solarize Bethel Region 
  • Art of the Grill: Cooking with Fire
  • Lego Time

To learn more about Bethel University, check out their website and the Facebook page for Bethel Revitalization Initiative.

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Emergence: What is it? Why should we care?


By Deb Wisniewski, 2012-02-09

I just received this article from a colleague of mine - Using Emergence to Take Social Innovation to Scale, by Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze. I'd love to know what other people think of it.

Emergence is a new term for me, so I'm still pondering what it means in te scope of the work that I do. What do you think? How do these ideas affect your thinking/working?

Here's the article...

Building Caring Communities, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada is looking for a new Director of Community Development and Social Networks.Learn more about the position here.

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Working in the Gap (The Abundant Community)


By Deb Wisniewski, 2015-04-01

The following post was written for the Abundant Communityby Deb Wisniewski, with Dan Duncan and Tom Mosgaller, as a support piece related to theupcoming online/audioconferencewith John McKnight, Peter Block and Tom Mosgaller.

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Working in the Gap

Often, when you get together with a group of people interested in Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD), you find a conversation about the gifts of individuals and what communities can do for themselves. But what about institutions? Institutions have been primarily focused on identifying community problems (deficit-based) and bringing in outside experts to solve those problems. Does ABCD give us a way to think about institutions and their relationships with communities in a different way?

It had become evident that the ability of institutions to respond to deficiencies as the primary model was doomed to failure, especially given the growing complexity and unpredictable events taking place in communities. Many local institutions began exploring how they could do their work differently if they thought of it from an ABCD perspective. What would happen if they changed the nature of their relationships with the community? Instead of trying to take over or fix a community, how could they actively support and empower people and the communities they live in? And what would it actually look like to have their staff do their work differently?

A transformation of thinking and doing was taking place. Communities have to become partners and co-producers of our future. The mental model of government or not-for-profits as vending machines where we put in our money, pull the lever and expect service is no longer viable.... Tom Mosgaller

As a result, the transformation that had been taking place was given a name - "Working in the Gap." The "Gap" is that space between the Institution andthe Community. "Gappers" are both the staff who do the actual work in communities, as well as the institutions who are working to put ABCD into practice through their organization.They have one foot in their institution and one foot in the community they serve. Gappers are a visible expression of the transformation that has been going on in institutions that are actively changing the way they thought about and worked with communities.

Gappers understand that, to build stronger and healthier families and neighborhoods, they must engage the people they serve as the primary producers of their own and their communitys well-being. They see their work as not just delivering services to meet the needs of the people they serve (filling in their emptiness). They see their role as working to create opportunity so that the people they serve can use their gifts. Gappers help people they serve move beyond the role of client to that that of a community participant, by asking not just "what do you need?", but also asking "what can you contribute?" They work to identify and unlock the assets present in neighborhoods and communities where they work. Gappers are in key role to remove the barriers that keep community members from sharing their gifts and contributing to their communitys well-being.

There are challenges to working in the gap for both the individual Gappers as well as the institutions. Some of these include:

  • Does changing the way your organization function conflict with its mission? How does leadership (including board members) feel about the changes?
  • Are Gapper staff fully supported by the organization or do they feel that they need to fly under the radar?
  • Are there staff members who are still committed to maintaining the old way of helping people (focusing on needs rather than assets, fixing problems identified by outside systems, etc.)?
  • What do Gappers need in order to navigate the institutional structure, while trying to fully support and empower individuals and communities? How can they juggle the expectations and demands of two different worlds?
  • What are the institutional barriers that get in the way of supporting and empowering people and communities? What can the institution do about those barriers?
  • How do you work with your primary funders to understand and support the changes that happen when you are committed to working in the gap? As an organization, can you continue to respond to funders who ask you to identify and fix the needs in a community, even as you realize that there are better ways to build stronger and more sustainable communities?

So are you a Gapper? Do you work directly to identify the gifts of those you serve, their neighborhoods and communities, and to remove barriers so that people can share their gifts?Does your organization or institution work to put ABCD principles into practice, changing the way your organization "does business"?

Conversations about working in the gap are taking place on ABCD in Action (http://abcdinaction.ning.com), the online community of practice for Asset-Based Community Development. Wed love to have you share your challenges, your questions and your stories.

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ABCD Festival Scholarships - Apply Now!


By Deb Wisniewski, 2015-04-01

The deadline for this offer has been extended! We are also currently checking to see if any of the scholarships areavailableoutside of North America. Please contact Deb Wisniewski (scgwis@gmail.com) or Caroline Tomlinson (caroline_tomlinson@icloud.com)and let us know if you're interested in a scholarship.

Are you interested in attending the ABCD Festivalin England this coming June, but aren't sure you could afford it? Good news for people in North America! An anonymous North American corporate sponsor is offering partial scholarships for the conference.

But you must act now! Please contact Caroline Tomlinson (caroline_tomlinson@icloud.com)ASAP since the funds must be completely accounted for by the end of March. Caroline will also answer any questions you may have.

Details of the scholarships:

The total cost for booking with a scholarship will be 160.00 (decreased from the full cost, which is380.00) . This will cover your conference fee, food, accommodation, and entertainment for the whole five days. Unfortunately it cannot be extended to travel.

The conditions are simple:

  • You've got to be from somewhere in North America and an ABCD Enthusiast;
  • You've got to be prepared to share with four other people you don't know, or self-organise into a group of five and contact Caroline as a group;
  • You've got to ask yourself could you possibly get support from somewhere else, such as institutional support-if the answer is no, you're in
  • Ask yourself: 'could some else do with one of these places more than me?' if the answer is yes, self deselect, and encourage that person to apply. (or you could both apply!)
  • Must complete all payment and arrangements by March 29th.

Festival organizers will not be policing the above criteria. They are doing this completely on trust and a code of honour among friends.

If you're not sure about whether you would be eligible for a scholarship, I encourage you to connect with Caroline since we want to be sure that none go unused!

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Working in the Gap


By Deb Wisniewski, 2015-02-17

People who are familiar with ABCD are familiar with the assets of community and the assets of institutions (government, nonprofits). "Working in the Gap" is a newer ABCD concept that has been evolving over the lastseveral years as individuals and organizations try to change how they do their work. The "Gap" is that space between the Institution andthe Community. "Gappers" are both the staff who do the actual work in communities, as well as the institutions who are working to put ABCD into practice through their organization.They have one foot in their institution and one foot in the community they serve.

We define gappers as those individuals that work in institutions who understand that to build stronger and healthier families they must engage the people they serve and their communities as the primary producers of their own and their communitys well-being. Gappers see their work as not just delivering services to meet the needs of the people they serve (filling in their emptiness). They see their role as working to create opportunity so that the people they serve can use their gifts. Gappers help people they serve move beyond the role of client to that that of a community participant, by asking not just "what do you need?", but also asking "what can you contribute? They work to identify and unlock the assets present in neighborhoods and communities where they work.

So are you a Gapper? Do you work directly to identify the gifts of those you serve and their neighborhoods and communities and remove barriers so that people can share their gifts?Does your organization or institution work to put ABCD principles into practice, changing the way your organization "does business"?

We are starting a series of conversationsabout Gappers and would like to hear from you. You can find the first conversation here. Please feel free to post your own questions in the Conversation Forum and/or to post comments below. We'd love to hear from you!

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World Book Night US 2014


By Deb Wisniewski, 2013-12-10

I participated in this in 2013 and loved it! So cool to give out free books to folks The Deadline to sign up to be a book giver is Jan. 5th. Learn more about this...

World Book Night is an annual celebration dedicated to spreading the love of reading, person to person. Each year on April 23, tens of thousands of people go out into their communities and give half a million free World Book Night paperbacks to light and non-readers.

World Book Night is about giving books and encouraging reading in those who dont regularly do so. But it is also about more than that: Its about people, communities and connections, about reaching out to others and touching lives in the simplest of waysthrough the sharing of stories.

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Deb Wisniewski
About Deb Wisniewski
Greetings! I'm a connector... I love to help people connect to each other, to share their ideas and to get involved in in their communities. I'm also a Faculty member of the ABCD Institute and a co-founder and lead online community coordinator for ABCD in Action. Feel free to contact with your suggestions, questions, etc. about this great online community.

State or Province:

WI

country:

US

what are your gifts and talents?:

Connecting people, ideas, communities

why do you want to join abcd in action?:

Connecting