Tiny Homes Fulfill Big Dreams

   

Owning your own home, it’s part of the American dream, right? Not if you’re homeless. But in Detroit, one fearless woman, Rev. Faith Fowler is making that dream come true.

The nonprofit, Cass Community Social Services (CCSS), run by Rev. Fowler, initiated the Cass Community Tiny Homes as the first project of its kind to offer rent-to-own properties to those on the lowest rung of the economic spectrum. Fowler started the project to give people who would otherwise never have an opportunity to own a home, just that, a home of their own.

“We were looking for a way to help homeless and other low-income people gain an asset,” Fowler explained over email.

 

You’ve probably seen the tiny homes, perhaps on a trailer behind a pickup truck or maybe on TV. They’re cute, they’re cool and they serve a purpose. And while the Detroit Tiny Homes are like what you may have seen, they are also atypical. The Cass Community Tiny Homes (CCTH) is the first to offer rent-to-own properties.

Here’s how it works: CCTH finds people in shelters and through neighborhood canvassing who would like to move into a home, but don’t have the financial wherewithal to do so. I mean, these folks are homeless. Who thinks about owning a home when you don’t know where you’re going to sleep tonight? For people who can’t qualify for a regular mortgage, much less have a down payment, but have a steady source of income, the tiny house project offers a solution to both homelessness and rebuilding a life. Prospective residents must apply. Then the organization begins a review process, culminating in an interview. Once accepted, the tenants start a yearly lease, paying rent no more than a third of their monthly salary.

Each unit rents for $1 per square foot, which comes to $250 – $400 a month for a 250-400 square-foot house. Because the tiny homes are built for energy efficiency, utilities aren’t all that expensive; they usually run about $35 a month. After renting for three years, tenants will be offered a land contract to “rent to own” their homes within four years.  Could CCTH shorten the process? Sure they could. The lengthy process is intentional and meant to help residents develop financial discipline about paying their bills on time. No one wants to see them lose their houses to unpaid water bills or taxes.

After seven years of paying rent, the lease converts to ownership. Sounds easy, but there are requirements. The renters must attend monthly financial coaching and home-ownership classes.

At this writing, the Detroit Tiny Homes community has enough property to build 25 single-family homes ranging from 250 – 400 square feet. Seven tiny homes are currently occupied and six more are in the process of being built.

One of the most heartwarming aspects of the project is that the tiny homes border the CCSS campus. This is significant because unlike many low-income housing projects, residents live side-by-side, mixed in with the local community rather than apart from it. It’s not just houses, albeit tiny ones, it’s a community.

Ultimately there will be 25 different house styles in Phase One for singles and couples, a different design on each lot. Phase Two will be for families and a commercial strip. And as the photos illustrate, unlike most shelters, these residences aren’t bleak or cheerless. Each one sports a beautiful façade, chock full lots of details and a unique architectural style.

While you might assume that the project is government-funded, it’s not. The development is funded entirely by private donations and foundations, including the Ford Motor Fund, the RNR Foundation, and the McGregor Fund.

If successful, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be, these tiny housing developments could change everything for Detroit’s low-income families. Where once there was despair, these families can settle into a life they only dreamed about – the American Dream of owning property that they can pass down to their children and future generations. It doesn’t get any better than that.

For more information please click here.

 

 

Chopper the Biker Dog, San Diego’s Beloved Celebrity

If you live in the San Diego vicinity, no doubt at some point you’ve seen a little Boston Terrier dressed up as a biker in a black leather vest, biker goggles, sporting a “doo rag”, bandana around his neck, and riding a miniature motorcycle that looks like a pint-sized Harley Davidson. He’s always with his “dad”, Mark Shaffer, a man with a heart so big, and so kind, one wonders if he wasn’t born with two. Mark and his dog, Chopper, define the term “earth angel.” They do more good for people in one year than most people do in a lifetime.

Mark and Chopper’s story began eight years ago, when Mark acquired him as a three-month-old puppy. A year before, Mark had lost his first Boston Terrier, Bandit, to cancer. Losing Bandit, who had been his biker buddy, hit him hard. Once he healed, Chopper came into his life. Though Chopper was a cute little tike, Mark wasn’t sure if he would take to the miniature motorcycle that Bandit used to ride. A month later, a local organization called The Nice Guys, invited Mark and Chopper to their annual Christmas party where they give out gifts and food to people in need. Mark used to attend every year with Bandit. He had no idea how Chopper would react to the bike, if he would even get on it.

“I took Chopper and the little motorcycle, the goggles and his little Harley T-shirt, put him on the motorcycle and he rode that little motorcycle just like he knew what to do,” Mark remembers. “It was his first time and he never tried to hop off. Who knows, maybe Bandit’s spirit was riding with him.”

Mark knew then and there that he and Chopper could continue what he started with Bandit.

Initially, Chopper rode Bandit’s bike, then some fans from Florida came to town and asked to meet Chopper. The husband was an engineer and wanted to create a new bike, just for Chopper. The man returned home, bought a little bike, took it apart and rebuilt it to look like Mark’s Harley, all at his own expense. He customized the paint, added LED lights, a sophisticated remote-control system, and better steering control. It was going to cost $800 to ship the bike to San Diego. Not to be deterred, Mark and the engineer raised the funds online to pay the cost.

The two pals attend about a dozen fundraising events a year to support their favorite charities. Events like the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, the Breast Cancer Walk, Tip a Cop, the Special Olympics Law Enforcement Torch Run, where cops carry a torch from Chula Vista to Los Angeles, the Law Enforcement Teddy Bear Drive for Rady Children’s Hospital, and the Hornblower Cruise to help raise money and blankets for the Helen Woodward Animal Shelter.  That sounds like a lot, but that’s just a part of what they do. When they’re not attending events, they make about 30 visits annually to patients in local hospitals, nursing homes, memory care centers and hospice, including visits to our local veterans. As a certified therapy dog, Chopper brings smiles to patients’ faces when he rides his mini motorcycle into their rooms, dressed in his leather duds. Once the chuckles die down, he gets onto the patients’ beds, curls up and snuggles with them, imbuing them with therapeutic doggie love.

Chopper has fans everywhere, especially in the law enforcement community. Check out the video of the day Chopper got stopped by a San Diego policeman here. The two buddies have an affinity for law enforcement and the military; if Mark hears about a need, he and Chopper make it a point to visit before anyone asks. One particular law enforcement officer story stands out in Mark’s memory.

“A deputy sheriff and his wife from Oregon were vacationing in Mexico when they stepped out of their hotel and were run over by a car,” Mark says. “When the police arrived, the wife was in such bad shape they covered her with a sheet, signifying she was dead. They soon discovered she was alive, barely. The couple was transported to a trauma unit in San Diego.”

As soon as Mark learned of the tragedy by the Eugene Sheriff’s Department, Mark scheduled his first visit. The husband had already been air-lifted back to Eugene, while the wife stayed hospitalized in San Diego. Chopper and Mark began visiting her as often as possible, Chopper curling up next to her on the bed. When they arrived for their second visit, the woman’s brother met them in the hospital lobby and told Mark that she suffered so much brain damage that she wouldn’t remember them when they entered the room. However, when Chopper rolled in on his motorcycle, the woman pulled herself up off her pillow and said, “Chopper, buddy!”

“All her relatives in the room broke out in tears, because it proved that her brain was healing and her cognition was coming back. Chopper gave them hope that she would recover,” he says.

The day Mark learned that the wife was going home, he called San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman, who gave her blessing to do whatever Mark planned to help support the Deputy’s wife. Mark arranged to have six San Diego police officers and two California Highway Patrol officers, escort her from her hospital room to the waiting ambulance. Once secured inside, the Highway Patrol escorted the ambulance to the airport with their lights going all the way.

“We wanted her and her family to leave San Diego with ‘respect’ and something positive,” Mark says. “She was life flighted home with doctors on board.”

Two years later Mark and Chopper took a trip up the coastline, stopping to visit patients in memory care centers, hospitals, veterans, police officers and nursing homes along the way. The trip ended in Eugene, Oregon where after two years, he and Chopper were reunited over dinner with the now retired deputy sheriff, his wife and their family.

“It was a very emotional reunion,” Mark recalls.

Then he received a call from a local television station telling him that a man phoned the station because he heard that Chopper was in town and the man’s daughter wanted to meet the canine celebrity. The station directed Mark to the school where they found the entire student body waiting for them in front. He learned that about the time the deputy sheriff and his wife were injured, the girl had been given a class assignment to write about a hero, but it couldn’t be an entertainment celebrity. The girl had heard about what Chopper had been doing for the wife of their local Deputy and wrote her school paper about Chopper.

While that was one of the big ones, Mark could fill an encyclopedia with stories about what Chopper’s presence has meant to people, how his very being comforts and soothes like a balm. From hospitalized law enforcement officers injured in the line of duty, to family members in nursing homes grieving the loss of a loved one, to patients in memory care centers whose faces light up when they see the quirky little dog in biker leathers ride in on his customized motorcycle, Chopper makes an impact wherever he goes.

In San Diego, Chopper is more than a local celebrity, he has built a world-wide fandom through social media, (over 117,000 followers on Facebook and growing) and not just because he’s adorable in his biker outfit and sports a biker-dude persona. More importantly, he is known for his unflagging work ethic and the immeasurable hours of volunteering in the community, never asking for anything in return. It’s easy to get caught up in Chopper the legend. After all, he is really, really, cute and as sweet as a dog can be. Sometimes people don’t realize, or they forget that the extraordinary little dog in leather biker duds is one half of a duo. A selfless man and his selfless dog who spend their free time doing good. And if that isn’t the best example of The Goodness Principle, I don’t know what is. I’ll tell you this much, San Diego is proud to call them our own.

Want to learn more about Chopper? Be sure to visit his Facebook page here,  and his website here.

Making a Difference on Make a Difference Day

Those who regularly read this blog know that when I find a person or an organization “doing good” I write about it. I stumbled across Make a Difference Day. Sounds nice, but what is it, you may wonder? Well, it’s a movement, it’s an opportunity to do-something-good to make our world a better place, and who doesn’t want that? It’s also one of the biggest annual single service days nationwide. It started in February of 1992 and has evolved into a national event held the fourth Saturday every October. In this, its 26th year, MDD will take place on October 28th, just a couple of months away. People come together from around the country with one common goal – to better the lives of others.

The point of Make a Difference Day demonstrates that everyone and anyone, regardless of age or circumstance or background, can make an impact on their community. Each October, individuals and groups get involved and they indeed make a big difference in their communities. Some are big, some are small, but they all matter. So what kind of things do people do to make a difference? It’s simple, but really, really important stuff. Acts that truly improve the lives of those around us. Here are a few stories from the Make a Difference Day website that made my heart sing:

Have you heard of the kids’ book, Loukoumi’s Good Deeds? In 2009 the book inspired children to do good, just like one of the characters, a cuddly lamb. That same year, the book’s author, New York lawyer, Nick Katsoris, used the book to launch a Make a Difference Day Project. Ultimately 1,000 children joined in and raised $10,000 that went to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. That inspired Mr. Katsoris to write more Loukoumi books. By Make a Difference Day 2013, the volunteers grew to 40,000, and the year after that – 50,000 kids helped 100,000 people. I particularly love what Mr. Katsoris said about his books inspiring kids to do good:

“The long-term impact of Make a Difference Day is that teaching children at a young age that doing good deeds can be fun is something that they can carry with them for the rest of their lives.”

In New Albany, Indiana, Belinda Jacobi, a member of the Moving Forward limb loss support group at the Southern Indiana Rehabilitation Hospital saw an opportunity to help a larger population – their local homeless. They knew that frostbite is a leading cause of amputation among the homeless. With more than 6,000 homeless in their community, including 1,200 children, they decided to collect socks to help keep their feet warm and hopefully prevent amputation. Members of the group placed collection boxes at doctors’ offices, the hospital and a fire station. By Make a Difference Day 2016 they collected 864 pairs of socks that they donated to the Salvation Army to distribute.

Daniel Soupiset of San Angelo, Texas was responsible for helping to save dozens of animals from being euthanized. He organized a project to increase pet adoptions from San Angelo’s animal shelter, where sadly, about 75% of its animals end up being put down. In 2014 during the month leading up to MDD Daniel and 25 volunteers raised funds for his “Canine and Kitty Coupons” project. On Oct. 25, Daniel and many volunteers set up in front of the shelter and handed out coupons to cover the adoption cost. They didn’t just raise over $4,500, they saved the lives of 57 animals who went onto their Forever Homes.

Maggie Leach, a Minnesota 12-year-old learned a big lesson when her family lived in a hotel for six months while their home was under construction. She discovered that many homeless families could not afford to do their laundry more than once a month. Laundry seems like something minimal, but to someone who must choose between food and doing laundry, it’s a no-brainer, food will always win that contest. But it has its consequences. Not being able to do laundry, and having to wear odiferous clothes over and over, can greatly affect self-esteem and one’s dignity. Maggie figured that out and decided to help by collecting laundry soap and quarters for families living in shelters. On last year’s Made a Difference Day Maggie collected $810 in quarters (81 rolls), 21 baskets of laundry supplies and a pack of diapers. Her effort assisted numerous families living at Lewis House, a shelter for families fleeing domestic violence.

How Make a Difference Day started is really cool and all because of our crazy calendar. When Leap Day fell on a Saturday in 1992, Gannett’s USA WEEKEND magazine suggested to their readers to spend their extra 24 hours doing something good for others. Pretty simple, right? Absolutely and the response was stupendous; it’s been going on ever since. Then in late 2014 sponsorship of Make a Difference Day shifted to USA TODAY and Gannett’s portfolio of newspapers, TV stations and digital properties. The following year, Gannett’s broadcasting and digital businesses spun off to form TEGNA Inc. Lest you think this is just one more corporate spinoff, it’s not. Tegna awards $140,000 annually to 14 honorees who are chosen by a panel of judges. Award winners designate their charity of choice to receive the grant money. Kinda a double-good, don’t you think?

Starting a service project on your own is easy. Projects can be as simple as cleaning up your local park with your family and friends or hosting a lemonade stand and donating the proceeds to charity. The ask is simple – just do something good for somebody else. Submit your project in advance at the MDD website and you could win a $10,000 grant for your project’s charity. If Make a Difference Day sounds like something you’d like to do, click here to find out more on  their website. Together we can all make a difference.

 

 

 

Texas Shows Harvey a Thing or Two

It’s been said that the worst brings out the best in people. The past few days has shown this to be true in the Lonestar state of Texas. When Hurricane Harvey hit, no one could foresee the devastation that would hit the coastal areas. No one could fathom the massive flooding that would turn the region into one big bayou. In other low-lying states where similar devastation has hit, the residential response has been, how should I say it, less than eloquent. But Texas is not like other places. Texas takes care of its own. Texas did what Texas does, the state and its residents ran to the aid of their friends, neighbors, and people they didn’t know, regardless of their own safety. In countless cases people didn’t wait for the authorities to rescue them or rescue their neighbors. They took matters into their own hands. They pulled out their canoes and boats and dinghies and anything that would float and paddled to the aid of anyone who needed help. They became emergency workers and rescuers. Never mind that no one asked them to do what they’ve done. They stepped up even though no one asked them to.

I have family in Texas whose roots go back to the 19th century. However, it is not just my family connection that makes me proud to be “part” Texan. With all the political and societal divisiveness of late that seems to be splitting our country apart, I have taken great pride in witnessing how when the going gets tough, as it has in Texas, all those things that have pitted people against one another has dissolved. All that mattered was that people came together to help each other out, just as they should.  As a friend said to me, “it was not about politics or color, it was about humanity and compassion, people helping one another.”

God bless all the police, fire, coast guard, sheriff, swat teams and other first responders who have worked tirelessly to save thousands of lives. And not just those in Texas, but also first responders who came from all over the country. And then there are companies, like Anheuser-Busch that shut down beer production at their Georgia plant and switched to filling cans with water to ship to Texas.

However, it’s been the unsung heroes who stepped up and did the right thing that formed lump after lump in my throat. People like the Houston pastor who waded through chest deep water checking submerged vehicles looking for people who needed rescuing. A man named Aaron Jack who stopped for gas and when a lost, wet dog jumped into his vehicle, he set out to find the dog’s owner, and did. John Griggs, who used his kayak to ferry 22 people to higher ground out of harm’s way. One of the most dramatic rescues I saw on Facebook was of two men riding horseback through the flood waters to save livestock left behind to fend for themselves. The clip showed the men freeing a penned-in horse standing in water up to its neck. Then there are the stories of the news media, who had to step away from reporting the news and become a part of it like KHOU reporter Brandi Smith who flagged down a sheriff’s boat to rescue a man stuck in the cab of his truck that was rapidly filling with water. And a news photographer who freed a dog tied to a pole who was going to drown in the rising water and took him to shelter. How about the group of teens in Meyerland that weren’t old enough to drive but they used a boat to help people in their neighborhood? And the boat owner who was asked by a reporter what he was going to do and answered, “try to save some lives.” The stories of heroism are endless, and beyond heartwarming. They renew one’s faith in humankind.

And then there are the celebrities who can always be counted on to chip in, especially when the disaster hits home. You don’t realize how many of them are Texas natives until disaster strikes. They didn’t disappoint. I can’t possibly keep up with all the donations; here’s a small sampling of what I found as of this writing:

JJ Watt – set up the Houston Flood Relief Fund to raise $1,000,000. It quickly reached the goal and kept going. As of this writing it’s at $4,796,074, with a goal of $5 million. I suspect it will top that too.

Sandra Bullock donated $1,000,000 to Harvey Red Cross relief

Country music star, Chris Young: $100,000

Jim Crane and the ownership group of the Houston Astros: $4,000,000

The Kardashians: $500,000 to the Salvation Army and the Red Cross

Kevin Hart: $50,000 and then challenged fellow celebrities to follow suit

The Rock, Dwayne Johnson:  $25,000

The Houston Texans pledged $1,000,000 to the United Way of Greater Houston Flood Relief Fund.

Until the end of September, Chip and Joanna Gaines of Fixer Upper fame are donating 100% of the proceeds of their “Texas Forever” shirts toward restoring homes and lives in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Just after that announcement posted I went on to order a shirt and they were already sold out. The website said they would be restocking soon.

This list would be the length of an encyclopedia if I tried to include all the many donations celebrities are making to the relief effort. God bless them too. I just hope that when the waters recede and the cleanup begins that they come to Texas and pitch in however they can. Texas is going to need a whole lot more than money. I know in every part of my being that the Lonestar state will come out stronger than ever. Why? Because that’s what Texans do. Texas Strong!

Finding Happiness One Stitch at a Time

There’s been a lot of talk about happiness these days, mostly because there are a lot of unhappy people walking around. Seems everybody is complaining about something and a lot of people are downhearted. Despite having lost my job last year and spending months finding my way back into the work force, which I did the end of February, I should have been unhappy, but I wasn’t. Part of what got me through my bump in the road was keeping a positive attitude and quilting. It’s my sanity check because it makes me incredibly happy. I got to wondering, what about other quilters; do they feel the same way? Is quilting their bliss too, is it their source of happiness? So I asked several quilters and here’s what I learned, key lessons that can be applied to anyone in any situation.

Betsy M. of Ramona, California says that “Each time I look for a quilting pattern to create, the excitement starts right away.  I love looking at the quilting shapes and colors and imagining what the person I’m going to make this quilt for will feel about my choices. It continues as I create the colors I’d like to implement in my creation. I love touching the fabric and auditioning the color combinations. This is when I enter my own world where nothing else matters, I’m the creator!”

Betsy likes every aspect of it, even cutting out fabrics, because to her it gives her a sense of a job well done. Her spirit soars as she “lovingly sorts and stacks the precious pieces of different colored fabrics that are now ironed and crisp. I admire my work, it’s stimulating, like looking at a bowl of fresh fruit that has multiple colors and textures. As I stitch the pieces together, the quiet hum of the sewing machine is melodic and soothing.” As she quilts, she is at “one” with the fabric, the machine and her objective — to imbue love and security into every stitch.

“Each quilt contains a piece of myself that I joyfully pass on with the hopes that its new owner will “feel” what was made for them. I love sewing for friends and family as well as making quilts for babies in the NICU at one of the local hospitals. I see my woven intentions every time I look at one of my quilts. Others may not see those intentions but I hope they can feel them. The best part about quilting is that I complete each quilt, then step back and admire my work. I did this! I took a piece of cloth and made it into something beautiful.”

Gillian Moss of San Diego told me “Quilting, sewing, creating is a huge part of who I am, I can’t imagine a day without doing or at least thinking about it.” She’s involved in various quilting and sewing groups and guilds, plus she runs the critique group at Visions Art Museum and occasionally teaches. Gillian says that each of them, in their different ways, feeds her soul. But it wasn’t a quilt that recently made her spirits soar.

Her daughter, who she says was never much of a ‘clothes horse’ type of girl, paid her a visit and entered Gillian’s studio with a very old shirt in her hand. “It’s finally done” her daughter said. Gillian immediately recognized the beloved shirt with a seahorses pattern. Her daughter had worn it for many years and now it had two tears and was on its way to the trash.

“Memories of a rare mom and daughter shopping trip made me say ‘ let me try to mend it’,” Gillian recalls. “Is the shirt salvageable? Is it worth my time and effort?” Gillian decided that it was. “As I sit and sew the fabric back together, working out how to give this shirt with all its memories a new lease of life, I am happy. I think of my daughter, much changed since the day I bought her the shirt. The fact that I can mend this one small thing in her life — that makes me really happy.”

Lindy Chrivia, El Cajon, California got talked into taking a beginning quilt class by her sister. She remembers thinking that only old ladies quilted; at age 55 she didn’t think of herself as old yet. She was hooked from the first class. Over the years she has made traditional pieced quilts for family, graduating to hand-appliqué. In 2015 she won two impressive prizes at the San Diego County Fair, a best in show and another quilt won second prize. Lindy recalls it was “a highlight that reduced me to tears!”

At age 65 Lindy received news that no one ever wants to hear; she was diagnosed with stage four cancer. She says that years of chemotherapy have taken their toll on her.  She has very little energy, saving whatever she has for making quilts. Cancer doesn’t stand a chance with Lindy; she has better things to do.

“I happily sew for hours; the quilt making gives me peace and the pain and nausea seem to disappear.” It must be incredibly therapeutic for her. Lindy’s doctor originally gave her a prognosis of living 18 months, at most. Lindy has more than outlived that dire prediction. She says her doctor calls it a miracle, but Lindy sees it differently. “It seems part of the miracle is making quilts.”

VCB, who asked to stay anonymous, was divorced and suffering from an ailment her doctors could not diagnose. To put it mildly, she was not in good spirits. One day she walked into a quilt shop at a mall, bought a magazine on Miniature Quilts and some fabrics to give it a try. At home she cut out the tiny pieces and assembled the little quilt by hand. She was pretty pleased with herself, adding that it greatly improved her outlook. Years later, after overcoming cancer she went back to work, taking a position that proved to be one of the most atrocious jobs she’s ever had. Day after day VCB would come home and cry. She was just plain miserable and realized it was no way to live; she had to do something to counter all the negativity at work. She knew how much joy she got from making her mini quilts and decided to join a quilting guild, a wise decision that has helped maintain her sanity. Besides improving her state of mind she’s now making big quilts!

Darlene Piche of San Diego started quilting 30 years ago.  She still remembers the delight she felt putting together different prints for her very first quilt. She says, “that thrill has never left me.  Putting prints, colors, and textures together is a creative expression.  It is my go-to happy place.  When I am creating a quilt, I’m able to forget about the responsibilities of my normal life.  Yes, I’ll admit, it is an addiction. ”

Darlene adds that quilting has been the foundation of many meaningful friendships with people who share her passion.  “With my quilting friends, I am always learning new things,” she says.  “It’s a wise way to age and still stay young at heart. I cannot imagine my life without quilting. Any day I have a needle and thread in my hand is a great day!”

So my friends, what makes you happy? For me it’s getting lost in the creative endeavor of making a quilt. I love visualizing the initial style concept, choosing the colors, the patterns of the fabric, the style of quilting stitches. The whole thing—keeps me engrossed in the process and relieves my mind of the travails of everyday life.

Everyone should find at least one thing that will alleviate stress they can rely upon for solace. And as a bonus, perhaps even give additional meaning to their life.

A Simple Act Makes a Difference

Sometimes it’s easy to become complacent whether it be in your own community or beyond. Many people question if anything they do can truly make a difference and often, assuming that they can’t, don’t even try. If you find yourself falling into this rut, take a look at what two women are doing to bring joy to veterans and active service members.

Bonnie Aker and Kathi Henderson of Albuquerque, New Mexico are quilters with big hearts, huge hearts actually. They don’t just make quilts; they make quilts with a purpose. Since 2011 they have made 45 Quilts of Valor, 25 of which have been donated to veterans on dialysis at the VA Hospital in Albuquerque.

What is a Quilt of Valor? It’s an organization full of volunteers who make quilts for veterans and service members touched by war. As of this writing QOV volunteers have made and donated 151,768 quilts. Just to give you an idea of what this entails, most quilts without a lot of complicated design take 25-45 hours to complete (some longer, some shorter). Averaging 35 hours per quilt that comes out to over 5.3 million hours! Now that’s a lot of heart. You must be wondering how all these people came together to make these quilts for our deserving military.

To give you a little background, the Quilts of Valor Foundation began in 2003 while founder Catherine Roberts’ son Nat was deployed in Iraq. She had a dream that her son was battling war demons and in the next scene he was wrapped in a quilt, his demons at bay. She knew what she had to do and QOV was born. The organization awarded its first quilt in November 2003 to a young soldier from Minnesota who had lost his leg in Iraq. From there it grew, went viral in internet-speak.

Fast forward to 2011 when Kathi and Bonnie got involved. They learned that Sue Wolf of the QoV Foundation put out a call for quilts. That was all the impetus they needed to start sewing. Several of the quilts they made were for what Bonnie and Kathi call “woodworkers”, veterans who were having a hard time with issues ranging from depression to alcoholism, vets who seemed to come “out of the woodwork” when presented with a handmade quilt.

Several quilts stand out in their collective memory. When they heard about Marine SSGT Andrew Saiz, awarded a Silver Star, who was killed with six of his MARSOC Raiders 5 team members in a training helicopter crash off the coast of North Carolina in March 2015, they made one for his parents.

Another quilt took on personal significance. They designed and personalized a quilt to honor a close friend, one of Albuquerque’s true heroes, John Bode, who was awarded an Air Force Cross for valor in Vietnam.  They created a “T-shirt Quilt”, with pictures, logos and airplanes depicted on the shirts. John Bode is a pretty stoic guy, but even he couldn’t keep his eyes from welling up when given the quilt that documented his years in Vietnam.

        

And then there is “Ted’s Quilt”, that will probably stand out as one of the most significant quilts the women ever made. It was conceived after a trip to Spartanburg, South Carolina in September 2016. John Bode received a call that one of his buddies from his Air Force fighter pilot training days over 60 years ago was going through a rough patch. As soon as he spoke with his old friend, Ted, he knew he had to fly east.  You see Ted had been captured and imprisoned in the notorious “Hanoi Hilton” (yeah, THAT Hanoi Hilton); he was a POW for 6-1/2 years in what can only be described as a hell hole. It was Ted’s imprisonment that compelled John to volunteer to go to Vietnam. With a history and bond like that it’s no wonder that John sprung into action when he heard his buddy was having a hard time. Kathi and her husband, Air Force Colonel (ret), Wally Henderson flew with John and his wife, Diane, to South Carolina.

At his home Ted showed the group around his “I-Love-Me Room”, the study that his dear wife Ruth had decorated for him with all of Ted’s medals, pictures of all the jets Ted had flown in his Air Force career, all of his unit patches, all of his commendations and achievement awards, and his pictures of being released as a POW. After Ruth’s passing the room took on even greater meaning.

The tour of Ted’s study haunted Kathi. She couldn’t forget Ruth’s careful placement of each item and the love that permeated that room. It was as though Ruth took up residence in the study. The moment Kathi returned from the trip to Spartanburg, she knew exactly what she needed to do and began to design a personalized quilt for Ted. It had to be a T-Shirt quilt, though different than John Bode’s.  It had to have all the elements that Ruth had included in Ted’s study, not an easy task. But given the wonders of the internet she was able to find a number of websites that offered military T-Shirts including all the military jets Ted had flown – the F-86 Sabre, the F-100 Super-Sabre, the F-104 Starfighter, the F-105 Thunderchief, as well as the POW/MIA logo, a map of Vietnam, and a “TAC Patch” shirt. First Kathi made fabric transfers of pictures that she had taken in South Carolina and incorporated them into the quilt design. She found two of Ted’s unit patches on eBay – the 13th and the 44th – to appliqué onto the quilt as a finishing touch. She framed the design with fabric featuring grey pilot wings on a red background; the sashing (strips between the blocks) displayed a blue sky with clouds. She even found US Air Force licensed fabric for the back.  After Kathi completed the top and made it into a “quilt sandwich” with the batting and backing fabric, Bonnie machine-quilted it with a military jet pattern on her 12-foot long-arm sewing machine.  Kathi hand-bound the quilt, sewed a label onto the back and appliquéd on the two patches.

Now this is where serendipity chimes into the story. On the following Monday, out of the blue, Ted emailed John and Kathi a letter he had written to Ruth when he was a POW; it was dated Christmas 1970. All it said was, “After four years. No end in sight. Ted”.  Kathi felt like the email was asking for some response, though she wasn’t sure what could be said. She wrote back, “Your letter from 46 years ago touched my heart. Is this your first Christmas without your beloved Ruth?” His reply, “It’s the second. She passed away Dec 16 last year. Ted”.  This unexpected exchange of emails happened on December 13th.

Suddenly everything fell into place. Kathi said, “The quilt positively, absolutely, unmistakenly HAD to be delivered on Friday, December 16th, the first anniversary of Ruth’s passing.”

After Ted opened the package on that Friday, the delivery right on schedule, he wrote, “I am amazed, flabbergasted, dumbstruck. I could not believe what I was unfolding! What wonderful workmanship. My sister came over later and took  pictures. She wants to hang it on one of my walls. I said not until I spend the rest of the winter keeping warm with it. You are right. I can feel the warmth and love that comes with it. PS. Ruth loves it too.”

Kathi replied, “Ted, I believe our visit in September, the conception of a QoV for you, the design, the timing — were all meant to be. Call it the work of angels; call it kismet; call it karma; call it quantum entanglement. It was just meant to be. I know Ruth loves it…”

Talk about making a difference. So the next time you think you can’t do something to brighten the life of another, think again. The simplest act can make the greatest impact in ways you can never imagine. Kudos to Kathi and Bonnie for keeping the spirit of giving back alive.

For more information on the Quilts of Valor Foundation please visit them here.