Like a quilt itself, a series of seemingly random and unrelated good acts have been stitched together into a whole that warms hearts as well as people.
Now, every Thursday Brett Cochran, 44, and Rachelle Murray, 33, sit in front of sewing machines for two hours stitching quilts that are auctioned off to benefit the Arc of Grays Harbor. At last year’s auction, their first quilts netted $300 for the nonprofit organization that works toward a better quality of life for people with developmental disabilities and their families.
“The smiles on their faces … it makes you smile with them because it is just so awesome,” said Gloria Hall. Hall is an employment consultant for Morningside in Aberdeen, a nonprofit providing employment services to people with disabilities.
The pieces began falling into place from different corners at about the same time. The first was when a widower donated to the Arc a literal truck-full of quilting fabrics and supplies left by his late wife. Then Kaufman Scroggs furniture store in Aberdeen donated a large number of discarded upholstery samples to Quilt Harbor, an Aberdeen shop. The Warm Company of Elma donates the batting materials for the quilt.
Todd Faulkner, executive director of the Arc of Grays Harbor, began a casual conversation with Susan Rausch, owner of Quilt Harbor, while the two were working at Grays Harbor Expo in March 2011. He told her about his quilting supplies, she told him about her upholstery samples.
Faulkner contacted Hall at Morningside to see if that organization had someone who would be available to help ready the upholstery for sewing and even possibly make quilts. Hall immediately thought of Cochran, who has always liked working with material. Cochran is deaf and has cerebral palsy. He understands sign language but seldom signs himself. “The only thing he has signed to me, and I’ve known him six years now, is he wanted to work with color and with clothes,” Hall said.
Cochran has also worked at Salvation Army, but he is clearly enjoying his current job. Through an American Sign Language interpreter, Cochran said he particularly likes the color red and the sewing itself. “He loves this because he is creating with his own colors,” said Hall.
The other quilt maker is Murray, who has Down syndrome. She wears a huge grin as she works at stitching together squares. The two quilters are nearing completion on their latest quilts. The design, a patchwork of squares with frogs, seems in keeping with spring as the amphibians are being heard at night throughout the Harbor.
The first quilts both Murray and Cochran made were from the upholstery squares from Kaufman Scroggs.
It took Cochran five months to make his first quilt. Since last August, he has completed four and is starting work on his fifth.
While the two quilters would have been allowed to keep their first quilt, both chose to donate their work to the ARC auction. “When he sold his first quilt at the auction, he was very excited,” Hall said. “The next quilt he made I asked him in as many ways I could possibly ask, ‘Do you want to keep this quilt or do you want to give it to the ARC?’” He wrote in reply: “Give Arc. Help other people,’” Hall said, “So he knows the concept of what he is doing.”
It’s a circle that keeps giving. Both Cochran and Murray are learning life skills and job skills. The money raised at auction goes to Arc. The money raised from the quilts this past Christmas went to Special Olympics. Cochran participates in track events at Special Olympics meets.
One of the key components for making this whole quilting enterprise work is Susan Rausch, owner of Quilt Harbor, who has chosen to take on the two amateurs. “It’s the fastest two hours in my week, I enjoy it immensely,” she said.
She didn’t necessarily intend to become a volunteer, but it just evolved naturally. Cochran and Murray both showed up at her shop, at first just to help sort the upholstery samples. “When they came in, I thought, ‘I bet they would enjoy sewing.’ I hadn’t even thought of that until they came in. Well, Brett can’t walk, but I’ve got a machine he can use with a push start button. We just sat down and experimented and had a wonderful time,” Rausch said.
“I just feel bonded to these guys, and I’ve enjoyed working with them,” she said.
Currently, Arc is trying to raise some funds to purchase one of the sewing machines that is being used until it is sold. “If they sell it, Brett could be out of a machine,” said Faulkner. “We are trying to raise some funds so that we can actually own a machine they could use and have access to long term.”