Louisville partnership creates an enterprising community of caring
July 25, 2017
Peals of laughter and lively chatter mingled with the whirring and humming of busy sewing machines in the small, makeshift classroom that STITCH volunteers and students now call their temporary home.
STITCH — an acronym for Sewing Together in the Caring Highlands — is a mission of Highland Presbyterian Church in partnership with the Louisville-based Kentucky Refugee Ministries. The 6-year-old ministry provides sewing lessons for refugee women while offering them opportunities to learn English and practice it at the same time.
“The mission is to teach them to sew, to teach them independence and to be able to provide something for their family, whether it’s clothes or curtains or bedspreads or actual money from selling the items that they’ve made,” said Anna Gray Slagle, STITCH’s co-director and a member of Second Presbyterian Church in Louisville. “While our primary purpose is to teach them to sew, we are also a support group and a caring environment where they can practice English conversation.”
Slagle, who has been with STITCH from its beginnings at Highland, reached out in the ministry’s first year to her current co-director, Janet Raderer, at a time when church member and program founder J.C. Compton faced health challenges and moved out of the area.
“This program can’t quit,” Slagle recalled telling Raderer, a ruling elder at Highland.
Raderer — who taught at Baer Fabrics, a Louisville institution that closed in 2008 after operating for 103 years — was “tailor-made” for STITCH.
“We complement each other,” Raderer said. “Anna Gray is our organizer — she does the business end, the volunteers and the scheduling. I do more of the sewing and keep the machines running.”
The program has become so popular that it outgrew its space in the church’s Pleune-Mobley Center, necessitating a move to temporary quarters across the street while extensive renovations are underway.
“They are renovating the south end of the building, all three floors,” Slagle said. “Eventually when it is done, we will have the whole third floor, which will be designed specifically for our needs. The church is funding all of this by way of a capital campaign.”
STITCH relies heavily on donations — everything from thread to fabric to notions to monetary gifts. In addition to receiving support from Highland, the program has received a donation every year from the Mission Committee of Second Presbyterian Church in Louisville, and after the program was featured on the PBS series Sewing With Nancy last year, donations and cash gifts came in from all over the country.
Raderer said that their intent at the beginning was never to sell things. “It had never come up,” she said, “until about four years ago, when a woman approached Anna Gray with something that she had made and asked her, ‘Can I sell this?’”
“I stood there for a while,” Slagle recalled, “and finally I said, ‘Yes, I’ll figure that out.’ By the end of 2016, we had made $16,600 for these women in selling their products, with 100 percent of the money going directly to the women themselves.”
STITCH currently sells its goods at churches around the worship hour before church, after church or in the time between Sunday school and Sunday worship.
When a woman makes an item that is to be sold, it is tagged with her name on the bottom half. That part of the tag is cut off when the item sells, and “that’s how we ensure that the woman who made it will receive the cost of that item when we divvy up the money afterwards. We’re not a co-op,” Raderer said.
When STITCH moves to its new space, the ministry will add a third day to its current two-day-a-week teaching cycle that will be dedicated solely to “sewing to sell,” Slagle said.
“I love every single person that I’ve met here,” said STITCH volunteer Anne Scott, a veteran ESL teacher who is now a local crafter. “I’m encouraged by the students’ bravery, and I’m completely in awe of the volunteers here, who are amazing. All they want to do is make a better life for these women.”
Emily Enders Odom
Today’s Focus: STITCH – Sewing lessons for refugee women
Let us join in prayer for:
Highland Presbyterian Church Staff
Cynthia M. Campbell, pastor/head of staff
Doodle Harris, associate pastor for Christian education and youth
Matthew Nickel, associate pastor for congregational life, outreach and mission
Charles Brockwell, parish associate for member care
Frank A. Heller III, director of music ministries
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
Gracious and wonderful God, we thank you for the magnificent world you created. We thank you for making us a people who seek relationships with others and with you. Keep us ever mindful of your presence among us. Amen.