Individuals Learn New Skill for Veterans Project

Clients at Willamette Vocational Resource Community are learning a new skill that will not only benefit them, but will also produce a nice gift for veterans and others.

WVRC is a nonprofit organization that provides vocational services to individuals with disabilities, including life skills, training and employment alternatives.

When Gae Laurance’s daughter joined WVRC, Laurance began volunteering her time at the organization and asked if anyone would be interested in learning how to sew. Being familiar with Quilts of Valor – handmade quilts presented to veterans and service members – she determined pillowcases would be a good project to work on and give to residents at the Oregon Veterans Home in Lebanon.

A patriotic handmade quilt will be raffled off as a fundraiser for clients at WVRC. Photos by Sarah Brown

“I presented it as kind of a give-back project,” she said “We’re never going to be able to make the veterans’ Quilts of Valor – there’s specific requirements for those – so I thought pillowcases are kind of fun, and that was our very first project.”

Using fabric mostly gleaned from her personal stash, she pre-cut fabric to make 50 “burrito” pillowcases (a sewing method for how the pillowcases are made).

“They can get one done in an hour, so it doesn’t tax anybody’s patience or brain,” Laurance said.

The clients responded positively to the sewing project as they began, she said, noting one who was so fascinated with the machine that he would closely inspect the movement of the needle as it went up and down.

“I think this is a good idea to do this,” said Terry Diaz-Lopez, a client at WVRC

He wanted to participate in the project because it sounded fun.

“I do like sewing,” he said about the experience. “I like the part when we sew these pillowcases with this machine.”

As the project progressed, other personal sewing projects began turning out of the class. Clients made quilts, aprons, bags, beanies, blankets, scarves and art projects.

Sharon Johnson made a baby blanket to donate, and Diaz-Lopez said he would like to make a blanket for the veterans and he wants it in the parade.

“It’s a really good experience in this facility to have us make these for the veterans parade and the people that want to use them because even the homeless really, really, truly need a blanket,” Diaz-Lopez said.

While Laurance helps guide some clients’ hands during the sewing process – a skill, she noted, that is good practice for hand-eye coordination – some choose to instead participate in the activity at a minimal level by just selecting the fabric and then visiting while Laurance does the sewing.

Gae Laurance, left, helps guide the hands of Terry Diaz-Lopez, right, as he sews a pillowcase on an electric sewing machine. Sharon Johnson, center, watches.

As a side project, Laurance made a patriotic red, white and blue quilt that she’d like to raffle off as a fundraiser for the clients at WVRC. She explained that sometimes the clients don’t have enough money for a trip or they forget to bring their money, so she’d like the fundraiser to go into a sort of “community chest fund” for those moments.

“We’re trying to get enough to do the Enchanted Forest this year with them,” noted employee Jennifer Millsap. “We would love to take them to the Enchanted Forest, and some people can’t afford that.”

Johnson said in her entire life she’d never learned to sew until Laurance taught her how. She likes that she can make things for herself.

“I have a doll and it feels like a real doll, and I want to make some clothes for it,” Johnson said.

She also noted it’s a nice opportunity to relax.

“To me it’s relaxing,” Johnson said. “We shut the door and I don’t have to hear anybody.”

WVRC Executive Director Erica Andrews expressed gratitude for Laurance’s time spent for the clients.

“When Gae started volunteering to teach sewing, it began with just a few people and many curious onlookers,” Andrews said. “Fast forward to now, and several people in our program have created something through her sewing instruction. You can tell they feel a great sense of accomplishment from the pieces they complete, and it is wonderful to see the confidence it gives them. We are incredibly grateful to volunteers like Gae who share their time and talents with us.”