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 of ABCD in Action.

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Category: Stories

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.


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! 


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 quilters 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
  • 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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