A Million Pillowcases

It started as a simple idea and grew into a passion, a movement to make a difference one pillowcase at a time. In 2010 the magazine, American Patchwork & Quilting, issued a challenge to the quilting community: Make 1,000,000 pillowcases and donate them to charities in their local communities. If you know a quilter, then you know that quilters take challenges very seriously and boy did they take on this one.

Why a pillowcase? It seems pretty basic, right? It is, but to someone who just lost their home in a fire or to a teen moving from one foster home to another or to a child undergoing cancer care in a hospital surrounded by sterile white everything to a homeless veteran or to a woman seeking respite in a domestic violence shelter, a colorful pillowcase can mean the world. It can mean comfort. It means that someone cares.

The project took off and it’s still going strong. As of the 24th of March 2016 countless groups around the country have made and donated 663,684 pillowcases to their local charities (donations are reported and the magazine keeps a tally on their website). So who are the people who make and donate the pillowcases? They are individuals, groups, organizations and children. One group in Bloomingdale, Ohio, led by Mary Albaugh, illustrates the deep commitment these sewing volunteers make to the project.

In 2013 Mary lost her mother to accidental death in a nursing home. That was bad enough, then there were birth complications when her granddaughter was born. Little Karly Jean survived but it left Mary in a distressed state of mind. When her son told her to “get a life” she knew she needed to do something productive. She had heard about the pillowcase challenge and decided to start sewing. And she did. She sewed and sewed and sewed. Before long she had made 350 pillowcases; she donated them to Pillows of Hope for the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. As much as she liked making the pillowcases she missed the camaraderie that comes with sewing in a group.  Then she did something she had never done before – she founded a ministry, called Amazing Grace Pillowcase and launched it on Facebook.

On a Friday the 13th she scheduled her first “sew-in” at a local training center. Despite horrible weather, construction in the parking lot that forced everyone to park far away, and difficulty finding the sewing room at the center, over 30 women showed up to sew. By the day’s end the group had made 137 pillowcases. Mary said it’s a prime example of “If you build it, they will come.”

Mary fondly calls the volunteers her “sewing angels” because they bring joy to others, one pillowcase at a time. This humble group has made and donated well over 5,500 pillowcases as of this writing. If you ask Mary, she will tell you that they don’t just make  pillowcases, they’re an act of love and a symbol of hope.

Then there are the kids, lots and lots of kids who have taken to this project like the proverbial bee to honey. In 2015 Mary began holding events for kids to sew pillowcases for sick children in hospitals. Kids like Girl Scouts, 4Hers, and children inspired to learn to sew, if they don’t already know how. Even little ones in kindergarten. Kids who jumped at the opportunity to do something to help a sick child. Kids like Mary’s granddaughter, Karly Jean Otto, who at five years old made her first pillowcase (see this cute photo).

And Amanda Boring, an incredibly generous child. After attending sew-a-thons for the 4H and Girl Scouts, Amanda was so inspired that she saved her own money, made from doing chores around the house. She bought patriotic fabric for Amazing Grace Pillowcase, instead of spending it on clothes for herself. And there are others like Owen and Tina, grandchildren of one of the sewing angels. I don’t know who gets more out of these acts of love, Mary, or the kids who relish the opportunity to help other children. The kids certainly understand the significance of their efforts.

One time after finishing two events Mary asked the group “What did you learn from this experience? What did you use to help make these pillowcases?” A shy little girl raised her hand and said, “We used our hearts.”

Mary is incredibly proud that the kids get it, that they understand how good it feels to give to someone in need, to give back. Yes, they get it and so do the adults. They sure know how to raise good kids in Ohio, they sure do.

A Home of Her Own

Diana, Proudly making her own way

Dreams come in all forms. Some people want a puppy, others want a carefree life, a good job, to be thin and never gain weight, or maybe riches and fame. Other people merely want a home to call their own, a happy ending.
A young woman named Diana got a bad break in life, a seriously bad break. She fell from a bed when she was a newborn and suffered a brain seizure as a result of the fall. That started a cascade of problems. These days Diana suffers from short term memory loss, which means she requires constant, albeit patient, prompts and suffers from mild retardation. Not a pretty word, but that is her life.
Diana is 28 years old. Not really that old, but old in suffering, old in how society turns a blind eye to someone who doesn’t fit the mold. She fell through the cracks and until a few years ago no one really took the time to see a person that needed help.
Five years ago she lived with her grandparents, her father and uncles. She didn’t have a job, had no income and felt she was a burden on her family. She wore the same clothes for years on end, because she lacked the funds to buy herself new ones. Then her fortunes changed. She was referred by the San Diego Regional Center to Toward Maximum Independence, Inc. (TMI) an agency that provides assistance and support to children and adults with disabilities. She was assigned to Keltoum, an Independent Living Case Manager. From their first meeting Keltoum jumped into action, assisting Diana in applying for health insurance, food stamps and social security benefits. Within a month she received her health insurance coverage and food stamps. Social Security proved more difficult; they denied her benefits. TMI kept applying and Social Security kept denying her. Finally in 2014 TMI appealed the SS decision and she was granted her benefits.
Diana was elated. Recalling that day she said, “I felt independent, free, I would have my own money, health benefits and I could support myself. I didn’t feel that I would be a burden on my family members.”
TMI helped her to save money so she could move into her own place. That wasn’t so easy. Due to her limited income and the high cost of housing in San Diego she couldn’t afford to rent an apartment. Diana didn’t want to continue feeling like a burden though so started paying rent to her grandparents and contributing to the grocery budget. Then in September of 2015 the family situation soured and despite her best efforts she no longer felt welcome in her grandparents’ home. Her problems at home started affecting her work performance (she had gotten a job at Goodwill) making her emotionally unstable. Just when it seemed things couldn’t get any worse TMI found her a roommate situation and in October 2015 she moved into her new home. Now we’re getting close to that happy ending; her story doesn’t end there however. Diana explains:
“The area where I moved to was new to me and I was not familiar with their buses. My Case Manager worked with me tirelessly, and trained me on the bus route, weekdays, weekends, late at night, until I felt comfortable taking the bus to and from work on my own.”
She says that her goal now is to move in to her own apartment. She’s pretty excited about that. TMI found her an apartment in a new development that will be ready by April 2016. Soon, very soon, Diana will be living on her own for the first time in her life. Her journey to independence has almost reached its end; however she realizes that she could never have come this far by herself.
“I don’t know where I would be without TMI. When I felt alone and desperate the most, they were there to tell me that I am okay and that I am not alone.” Diana says that they changed her life; they gave her hope, independence, and made her dreams come true. That’s all anyone can hope for. Cheers to Diana for keeping her dream alive and living it!

To learn more about TMI at their website, click here; and on Face Book, click here.

One Cuddle at a Time

Cuddle 3

Darlene Piche of San Diego has always loved to cuddle babies. She got her fill when her two children were young and her five grandchildren were growing, especially when they would climb into her lap all at one time. Then all the kids grew up; the youngest grandchild is now 14.

“I needed to have some babies in my life,” she says recalling how much she really missed her cuddle time.

Prior to her retiring from UC San Diego she applied to be a cuddler volunteer at UC San Diego Health’s 28 year-old cuddler program that trains and hosts volunteers to hold and cuddle tiny infants in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). She was told there was a three year waiting list; she was prepared to wait and was ecstatic when she got called after two years. That was 14 months ago. She underwent four hours of training and began cuddling one morning every week for a four hour shift. She has always been the type of person with a smile on her face, but these days Darlene sports a constant grin; her joy emits like sunlight breaking a darkened morn.

Cuddling a full term, healthy baby is a no-brainer for most people. Not everyone has the capacity to cuddle a tiny, oftentimes sick, premature baby, so tiny its arms are the diameter of an adult’s finger, its little body attached to beeping monitors and a mind-boggling array of tubes. Darlene does, because she says she gets as much out of it as the babies do. She especially relishes seeing how the babies progress from one week to the next.

“It’s always gratifying to see a smile, even from the tiniest baby. I’ve seen cuddling truly make a difference. When I stroke their brows or put my hand on their heads or just hold and cuddle and burp them they feel my heart beat. It’s reassuring to them.”

NICU volunteering runs in Darlene’s family. Her sister has been a cuddler in the program for 10 years. For Darlene it’s a continuation of a previous career. Before she worked at UCSD she had a massage therapy business where she massaged both pregnant women and assisted in birthing. She remembers it as a wonderful experience adding that this is even better.

“I’ve told the nurses that I love retirement because this is the best job I’ve ever had.”

It seems easy enough, right? Holding a precious baby, giving it that human contact, watching it react to your touch? Sometimes it’s not so simple.

“The neediest ones are the drug babies because they have such a reaction to withdrawal; they’re in so much pain and kind of jittery,” she says. “Cuddling calms them.” Darlene estimates that she cuddles drug withdrawal babies every other week; it’s a common occurrence in the NICU. “When they’re awake they can’t just be laying in their cribs all the time. You gotta be interacting with them.”

Though cuddling is good for the babies and gives great purpose and joy to the cuddlers, it’s the parents who are probably most grateful to have a loving hand helping to take care of their child. Michelle Brubaker, who works with the NICU at UC San Diego Health and is a mother of two young children says that the parents want to be with their babies 24/7, but depending on where they live and what other responsibilities they have, that isn’t’ always possible.

“The role of the cuddler is so critical because it allows parents a break without feeling guilty,” she says. “They know that the cuddlers are filling that role for them. As a parent you want to be there non-stop, realistically that isn’t always possible.” She says that the cuddlers allow them to attend to children at home, jobs and preparing for the new baby who likely came much earlier than expected.

Lynne Trumbore, R.N., coordinator of the NICU’s cuddler program, says that the positive TLC and human contact the cuddlers provide help the babies grow quicker allowing them to go home sooner, adding that cuddling helps them develop neurologically, preparing them for their lives ahead. She says that research has shown this over and over.

A classic study on premature infants published in Biological Psychiatry offered an explanation as to why humans are hard wired for cuddling. Twenty years ago Dr. Ruth Feldman, a psychology and neuroscience professor at Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv assembled two groups of 73 babies at two Israeli hospitals. One group received no kangaroo care (holding babies) and in the other group the mothers held and cuddled their premature babies one hour per day for two weeks. They ran the study twice, once in 1996 and again in 1998, switching which hospital provided kangaroo care. They examined the babies at 3, 6, 12 and 24 months, and later at ages 5 and 10 years. Feldman discovered that the kangaroo group outperformed the non-kangaroo group in multiple ways from improved sleep patterns to heart and respiratory rates to attention to the ability to direct their gaze and enact actions to achieve a goal. A decade later the children who were held showed better stress management skills too, as determined by the measurement of cortisol in their bodies. Feldman stated that the most remarkable aspect of the study was how little kangaroo care resulted in such a pronounced outcome – just 14 total hours over 14 days.

Although research confirms that cuddling premature infants has far reaching effects, Trumbore also views the cuddlers as a kind of Godsend, especially when other babies need immediate attention and nurses are pulled away to assist in a critical situation.

“We can’t be everywhere. Having the cuddlers there to help really decreases the nurses stress levels.” She adds that the cuddlers are critical to the operation of the NICU, noting that the cuddlers see it differently.  “The cuddlers say that they’re the winners because there’s something very therapeutic about sitting and holding and cuddling a baby.”

Darlene agrees. “I get as much out of the cuddling as the babies do.”

Sometimes goodness presents itself as angels among us. If those babies could talk they would probably say that Darlene Piche of San Diego is one of them.

Interested in being a cuddler? Contact your local hospital or if you are in the San Diego area contact the NICU at UC San Diego Health: 619-543-6560.



How Romeo Gave Lee Her Spirit Back

A happy, talkative boy
A happy, talkative boy

Lee Fulbright suffered a double whammy in 2012. She lost both her husband and her sister in one year. For a long, dark time it took everything she had to get up each day and simply live. It was just her and Baby Rae, her 13 year old cattle dog.

The following year, as she slowly adjusted to a new life she read an article in a small newspaper about a local San Diego physical therapist, Trish Penick, who specialized in physical therapy for dogs. Trish used water therapy to help dogs recover from surgery and stroke paralysis. The swimming pool therapy also provided pain relief to dogs suffering from arthritis whose joints throbbed when they walked on cement or trails. She read how once in the pool those pups were soothed by warm water as they played, weightless in the water; all while getting much-needed exercise. Reading further Lee learned that Trish was losing access to a donated private pool and was looking for another centrally located San Diego pool as soon as possible. Lee vividly remembers the thoughts that raced through her head.

“I was reading this and thinking, I love dogs and I have a pool. I’m in the city, on Point Loma. And it’s just me and Baby Rae now–those babies can yip and play and get worked on all they want– I’ve no problem with dog “singing.” I have a pool with two shallow areas for hands-on procedures, with a decent-sized length in-between for laps.”

She quickly realized that her pool could work. She contacted Trish and invited her to take a look. It turned out that Trish lived just blocks away. Trish and her yellow lab, Tori, came right over. As Lee likes to say, the rest is history. Two plus years later worth of history. Lee says that some weeks she has counted as many as forty dogs in the pool. Dogs whose hind ends have given out, who’ve had strokes, who’ve recently had knee or hip surgeries, or any kind of surgery really, who’re recovering from car accident injuries, who are overweight or whose human parents can’t exercise them for one reason or another, or are debilitated rescue dogs and need to be built back up so they can be adopted out. Good story, right? Oh, but it gets better. Here’s where the silver lining of this story emerges.

The Southern California German Shepherd Rescue has been one of Trish’s charities; she has taken on some of their most hopeless-seeming cases pro bono, Romeo was one of them. Lee recalls the day she met with him with precision clarity.

“He was approximately 10-11years old, a HUGE German shepherd with an un-German shepherd, bear-like head, hair sticking straight out all around, like a halo,” Lee says. “He was funny-looking, oh, but such intelligence in those brown eyes. A very tall dog, but completely emaciated, with a thin, dry coat, and sores all over any visible skin.”

Romeo couldn’t walk on his own; his back legs were paralyzed. He was found in some bushes and taken to Southern California German Shepherd Rescue, who cleaned him up, and got a medical done on him. His hips were deemed “gone”; he needed surgery, but at 30 pounds underweight, he was too debilitated to undergo, much less survive surgery. The veterinarian treated his sores, recommended a special protein diet to put weight on his emaciated frame and physical therapy to rebuild and strengthen muscle. Sounds pretty grim, huh? Seeing him was worse.

“I about died when I first laid eyes on him. He was so, so thin and dependent. His angel of a foster mom managed him with the aid of special rear-end harness that allowed him to move his front legs while she held up his hind end. The second thing, after his shocking condition, that set Romeo apart was his personality. Sweetest, gentlest dog ever. And the most vocal. But he didn’t bark, he “talked.” Almost constantly. He talked even while swimming (Romeo learned to swim in about ten minutes). He loved the warm water. He talked and talked and talked. Eventually, he did wheelies. He fetched toys. He did laps. He stretched those front limbs and paddled like crazy, and he was beautiful–and before we knew it– this was about three sessions out– his back limbs fluttered. And he talked some more. Long story short, because Romeo’s rehab was not an immediate thing– it took a few months– Romeo was ready for his first surgery (a very expensive surgery paid for by German Shepherd Rescue).”

Lee says that the surgery was successful, relieving Romeo of pain on dry land, giving him some mobility on the ground, under his own steam. Who could not love a dog like that? His foster mom officially adopted him, and for more than a year he lived the good life, sheltered and pampered, swimming in Lee’s pool for exercise, and, she says, always talking. He was lucky. Instead of dying behind some bush on the side of the road, Romeo died of natural causes in his sleep, loved and pain-free. Lee will never forget him.

“I still get teary-eyed thinking of him. All he’d been through, and yet he never lost his amazingly beautiful spirit. In many ways, because of the journey I’d been on, of recovery from care-giving and loss, it was Romeo who first made my heart soar again. Because he was majestic. And he was magic. And he’d been down, but was starting over, getting a new life, and it seemed he understood he’d been given another chance. I’d watch him and think anything was possible, because the impossible–his healing– was happening right in front of us.”

The very same can be said for Lee Fulbright. From a dark place full of grief, through the selfless, simple act of providing her pool for canine physical therapy, she found healing and a renewed spirit.

To learn more about Trish’s work at Cutting Edge K-9 Rehab, please visit her website http://www.cuttingedgek9.com/about/about.php


With the many blogs on the Internet you might be asking “Seriously? Do we really need yet another blog?” Good question. Is a new blog going to answer unanswered questions, heal our psychological wounds or do something, anything that makes a profound difference? Something that other blogs do not? Yes, I believe that this blog will do exactly that because that is the reason for its creation. Continue reading “Genesis”