Quilting with Purpose: The Saint Mark Sew and Sews

This story is written in memory of Donna Lind, a longtime member of the Sew and Sews who passed away in 2021.

Chris, Nancy L., and Nancy E.

About four years ago, women from St. Mark Lutheran Church started a group to make quilts for local nonprofits to distribute to the individuals and families that they serve. Since then, they have donated handmade quilts to Rock House Kids, Mosaic and Remedies. One year they gave 35 quilts to Rockford Rescue Mission. They’ve partnered with Habitat every year by making quilts for every single member of Habitat’s partner families. These women call their group the Sew and Sews, and they use their love for sewing and quilting to impact the community in incredibly meaningful ways. We had the chance to sit down and talk with a few members of the Sew and Sews about what they do and why.

For Nancy Leonard, sewing and quilting have been a part of her life for a long time.

“My grandmother and my mother were both sewers and quilters, so I grew up in the quilting world. But I never did a single solitary quilt until I joined here,” she said. She enjoys using her talents to care for others in her community.

“I have been blessed throughout my life, and it’s my way of giving back. I’m a retired home care nurse, and I have been in homes where there has been very little,” she said. “So when I see this going to people than can use it, that’s what it’s all about.”

Nancy Eckburg shares a similar connection to sewing—she’s even passed along her passion for sewing to her granddaughters.

“I have always loved to sew. I always wanted to learn to sew. I would take my doll to my grandma, and she would make a full outfit for my doll,” she said, smiling as she remembered. “I sewed all the way through high school. I had 4H and HomeEc, and then when I was in nursing school I kept sewing when I had time. I even taught for awhile at JoAnn Fabrics. I just love sewing, and I taught my granddaughters to sew on a machine.”

Chris Allen’s involvement in the Sew and Sews started with a t-shirt quilt.

“I call my sister-in-law the quilting queen. She’s the one that taught me how to do everything. I sewed in high school—I used to make clothes,” she said. She took a break from sewing for awhile, until she wanted to make a t-shirt quilt for her son.

“My sister-in-law was quilting, so she helped me, and then I just kind of fell in love with it. It’s just a way to give. Doing something I like to do, and still being able to help people out,” Chris said.

Nancy presenting Tracey, a Habitat homebuyer, with quilts at Tracey’s home dedication in 2021.

There’s about seven members of the Sew and Sews, and together they’ve made custom quilts for somewhere around 20 Habitat home dedications. Depending on the complexity of the design, one quilt can take anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months to complete, which means that the Sew and Sews have given literally hundreds—even thousands– of hours toward making quilts for Habitat homebuyers and their families.

We truly cannot thank the Sew and Sews enough for their ongoing dedication to Habitat and its mission. We also want to remember and celebrate Donna Lind, who passed away in September of 2021. Donna was involved in the Sew and Sews since the group began and was always passionate about teaching and sharing her love for sewing and quilting with others. She was dedicated to serving her community, and her legacy will continue to impact many lives in countless ways.

To learn more or get involved with the Sew and Sews, please contact us and we will connect you with the group. They meet twice a month, and all are welcome to attend meetings and help with quilting at any time.

Homeowner Spotlight: Jamecka & Shondale

In 2005, Shondale would ride past the same house over and over on his bike. He was 12 years old, and he was scoping out where his soon-to-be best friend and crush, Jamecka, lived. Shondale’s family had just bought their home from Rockford Area Habitat for Humanity a few blocks from where Jamecka’s mom had bought a house from Habitat three years earlier. 

Twenty years later, Shondale is back to riding past a house over and over – only this time, Jamecka’s by his side, and they’re scoping out the house that will soon be their family’s home. 

Jamecka and Shondale – who have been together since they met as kids and neighbors – decided to apply for Rockford Area Habitat for Humanity’s home-buying program in 2019 after seeing so many family members and friends go through the buying process with Habitat.  Growing up in safe, stable houses that their families owned, Jamecka and Shondale say they have always felt highly motivated to become homeowners themselves. They saw from a young age the undeniable value of having something to invest in, the value of being in charge of your own space. The couple– who have two daughters, 10 and 2 years old– decided to become homeowners because they wanted to give their girls the same sense of stability and safety that they had as kids. 

“We want everything for them,” says Jamecka, “that’s why we’re doing this.” 

At ten years old, their older daughter is the same age now that Jamecka was when her mom bought her house. Jamecka says she knows how much her own mom’s accomplishments motivated her, and she is proud to be in a position to provide that same example. Jamecka says their oldest is already talking about buying her own house someday once she is a famous musician. Until then, she’ll settle for painting her new bedroom yellow. 

As for her Jamecka and Shondale, they are looking forward to building a fence, putting in a fire pit, and generally making their yard a gathering place and oasis. 

The house that the couple is rehabbing and getting ready to buy is a cute, three-bedroom ranch with sage green siding. It is located right in between both of their childhood homes, where their parents still live. They say that in many ways, it feels meant to be to end up so close to the homes they loved as kids, the homes that brought them together as a couple, the homes that made so much in their lives possible. 

In their new home, Jamecka and Shondale are envisioning a place of growth and success, but more than anything, they see a place of happiness. “We already have our little family,” Shondale says. “This house will be our castle.” 

Staff Spotlight: Bryan

Bryan is our ReStore Director, which means he oversees everything that goes on at the store, supports our staff team, and implements plans to help the store grow and flourish.

“How I think of it is that I am the glue that helps keep everything together,” Bryan said. “I’m basically here to bring everybody together in one common goal.”

Before joining our team, Bryan wasn’t familiar with the ReStore.

“I didn’t really know what the store was until I came in for my first interview, and I was pleasantly surprised,” he said. “I love going to work and feeling like I have a purpose and I’m making the world a better place.”

There are several elements of his job that Bryan appreciates and enjoys. He said that from the beginning, he felt welcomed by everyone on the ReStore team. He also loves organization, and he enjoys getting to see parts of the store become more cleaned up and organized.

“It’s nice to get a whole department or section looking good,” he said. “That’s a physical representation of your hard work.”

Bryan’s work is also driven by a passion for Habitat’s mission.

“I love the overall mission of getting affordable housing to people, and helping people buy things for their homes—that’s what we’re here for. And we keep so much out of the landfills.”

When Bryan isn’t working at the ReStore, he’s spending time with his family, playing computer games, or hanging out with his two dogs, Gizmo and Crypto. In Bryan’s word’s, “My two children have four legs, and I love them to death. They’re everything to me.”

We are so grateful for Bryan and the positivity, energy, and joy that he brings to the ReStore team. Thank you for being a part of the Habitat family, Bryan!

Small Steps, Big Impacts: Conclusion to our Housing & the Environment Series

By Caitlyn Baylor, Homeowner Services & Grants Director

Source: Vox’s article “The Best Way to Reduce your Personal Carbon Emissions: Don’t Be Rich

Over the last couple of months, we have shared a series of blog posts about the relationship between the climate crisis and the housing crisis, or conversely, between climate justice and housing justice. The two phenomena are increasingly, inextricably connected, and we have learned that locally, nationally, and globally, we have a lot of work to do to mitigate the climate crisis from disproportionately impacting those already most vulnerable, particularly in their housing. 

The good news is, we are nothing at Rockford Area Habitat for Humanity if not solution-oriented! Whenever our DEI (Diversity, equity and inclusion) discussion group examines systemic inequities, we always like to end the conversation by asking: What can we do? What actions can we take, however small?

So bear with me, but I’m going to step onto a soap box about some of the ways that we, as individuals, can reduce our carbon footprints, bearing in mind that environmental issues are very much human issues and even housing issues.

Despite the fact that most of us grew up learning about recycling and energy efficient lightbulbs, these are actually far from the most impactful actions we can take as individuals to reduce our carbon footprint. Do they help? Sure they do! But, to be frank, they are really not giving any of us an environmental halo.

Besides more significant choices that not everyone is likely to make— like having smaller families or not driving a gasoline-fueled car— the most impactful things we can do personally are 1) avoid air travel as much as possible, 2) find alternatives to driving like biking and carpooling when possible and 3) adopting a plant-based diet.

Air travel

This was a surprise to me, but one of the worst things we can do in terms of generating carbon emissions is travel by plane, especially on longer or transatlantic trips. Climate specialists suggest avoiding air travel whenever we can. Air travel is not a decision we should ever make lightly— it is an activity limited to the most privileged of global citizens and has a tremendous impact on the planet for everyone— yet most of us book flights without a second thought to the broader impact. Eliminating one flight per year can reduce your individual carbon footprint by 1.68 tons of CO2 or CO2 equivalent.

One option when you have no choice but to fly is to purchase a certified carbon offset through a company like Terapass. Purchasing carbon offsets is a great option for those work or emergency trips you just can’t avoid.  

How we get around

Flying isn’t the only mode of transportation that has a huge impact on the environment. Changing our reliance on gasoline-fueled cars can also have a huge impact on our personal carbon footprint. The most impactful thing we can do that’s car-related is cut our ties with a gas-fueled vehicle all together, but for those of us who can’t afford an electric car, we can still do our best to carpool when possible, bike or walk for shorter trips, and generally be more efficient with our outings and even with our driving – experts say slower starts and stops and lower air conditioning can save lot of gas over a year!

What we eat

Buying local food is great for your local suppliers, and it does reduce the carbon footprint of food transportation, but believe it or not, what you eat is a lot more important in terms of carbon impact than where it comes from. A majority of food-related emissions happen during production, not transportation. The worst foods for carbon emission are red meats. Adopting a plant-based diet goes a tremendously long way in improving your personal carbon footprint. Even starting small by reducing your animal-based food consumption can help.

These are just three of the higher-impact actions we can all work on taking. Other achievable and impactful actions include making our homes more efficient and even improving our cookware so it’s the most efficient size for our burners! Who would have thought?! At the end of his final speech, I Have Been to the Mountaintop, Martin Luther King reflects that if he could choose any time in history to live, he would choose the present time in which he lived, despite its tremendous challenges and racial injustices, because living at that time positioned him to be a part of the solution. Those of us alive today are among the first generations to really understand manmade climate change, and we are also the last generations who can halt it. While the gravity of that statement is daunting, the fact that we each have the agency to contribute to the solution is also gratifying. And to the extent that we are concerned about global housing justice, human rights issues, and overlapping inequities, it is essential.

Homeowner Spotlight: Felisa

In 2021, a Habitat homeowner retired and moved out of her Habitat home. She decided to sell her house back to us so that someone else could have the opportunity to become a homeowner. As of Friday, Felisa is the proud owner of that very house!

Felisa said that she started thinking about buying a home back in 2012. She applied to Habitat’s homeownership opportunity in 2019, and though she said that at first it was a little scary to move toward her goal, she’s so excited to now have a place to call her own.

“The process has been great. It’s been exciting for me,” she said. “I’m ready to take the step of being a homeowner,” Felisa said.

After Habitat bought back the house from the previous owner, Felisa and her husband, along with a handful of volunteers and Habitat staff, had the chance to rehab the house so that they could personalize it to fit their style and needs. Felisa said that they worked at their own pace to complete projects around the house.

“It’s been a fun experience. I’m excited,” she said. “The more I’m working on it, it’s starting to feel like home.”

One of the aspects of her home that Felisa is especially excited for is having the chance to decorate and truly make it her own. She’s been collecting ideas for home DIY projects for a while.

“Every time I go to the house, I always think about how I’m going to decorate,” she said.

Felisa also said that her family is very excited about their new home. She got married recently (in August of 2021), and she, her husband, and her two kids will be moving in soon.

“[The home] will impact them because it’s something that is theirs. Even after I leave this world, it’s something that they can still call home,” she said. “I’m just thankful… Because of this house, I can give my family security.”

We are so excited for this new chapter of Felisa’s life. Congratulations on reaching this milestone, Felisa—we’re so grateful that you are a part of the Habitat family.

Staff Spotlight: Simeo

Simeo is one of the receiving clerks at our donation dock. He has been a part of our team since November. His role consists of accepting donations at our donation drop-off, making sure items are clean and working properly, pricing items, and helping to move items out to the sales floor.

Simeo learned about the ReStore through his mother, Ericka, who is one of our cashiers.

“What I love about the ReStore is that we have reasonable prices, we have quality stuff, and even before I was working here, the people and the crew members were nice and helpful,” Simeo said.

In addition to enjoying the store itself, Simeo also enjoys his specific role at the store.

“I like completing a task and helping other people,” he said.

A fun fact about Simeo is that he enjoys photography. He started out by taking photos of flowers in the garden at his mom’s house, and he still takes a lot of scenic and floral photographs. He recently started a photography business called Simply Amazing Imagery, which he is excited about (If you’re interested in contacting Simeo to learn about his photography work, you can reach him at simplyamazingimagery5115@gmail.com).

Simeo also has two daughters that he loves spending time with.

“I’m usually with my kids, and right now they’re in sports, so that’s really fun,” he said.  “My oldest daughter is nine, and she’s playing basketball, and my youngest daughter is six, she does cheerleading.”

Simeo, we’re so grateful for you, and we’re glad that you’re a part of our team!

Staff Spotlight: Adam

Adam has been one of the ReStore truck drivers for around 5 months, which means that he assists with donation pick-ups, works on the donation drop-off dock, and helps move ReStore merchandise out to the sales floor.

One of Adam’s favorite parts of his job is assisting ReStore donors.

“It makes them happy, and I really appreciate that,” he said. He also said he enjoys working with the rest of the ReStore staff team.

Before working at the store, he was a ReStore shopper.

“I used to come to the store quite a bit,” he said. “Then I saw that they needed a truck driver, so I figured I’d give it a shot.”

We always like to ask employees to share one interesting fact about themselves for these spotlight stories, and Adam shared that he is hearing impaired. He said that he isn’t fully deaf, but that he has been hearing impaired his entire life.

When Adam isn’t at the ReStore, he enjoys working on cars, doing projects around the house, and fixing things.

We are so thankful that Adam is a part of our team, and we appreciate his hard work each and every day!

Habitat International’s Position on Climate Change: Part 3 of Our Housing & the Environment Series

So far in our series on the overlap between housing justice and environmental justice, we explored emerging disparities in access to energy-efficient housing as well as disparities in the urban heat environment that have been cemented by decades of development patterns informed by discriminatory policies. These examples of interwoven issues highlight that, as a housing organization, it is important that we recognize the impact that the planet has on our work while also recognizing the impact that our work has on the planet. 

Rockford Area Habitat for Humanity is one affiliate of a broad network of organizations working in over 70 countries under the umbrella of Habitat for Humanity International (HFHI). In our third and penultimate installment of our environmental series, we want to share a broader look at the perspective of Habitat for Humanity International on climate change and the way it impacts the global vision of a world where everyone has a decent place to live.

Here is their powerful position piece: https://www.habitat.org/about/climate-change-position

If you are unable to read the whole thing, here is a synthesis of HFHI’s position:

Put simply, the global housing crisis is being grossly exacerbated by the unprecedented global climate crisis, as those most vulnerable in their housing are also those most vulnerable to natural disasters and other impacts of climate crisis. 

But ironically, at the same time, HFHI also acknowledges that buildings and the development of housing exacerbate climate change. Buildings and their development make up nearly 40% of global carbon emissions. 

“In this context, Habitat for Humanity International has the potential to impact — and be impacted by — the future of climate change. We believe that adequate and affordable housing can be built sustainably and will contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by all of the United Nations member states in 2015 as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

With this in mind, HFHI is committing throughout the world to build using local resources, to build using sustainable resources, to build housing that is energy efficient, and also to keep items out of landfills by facilitating their reuse. HFHI is also committing to engage even more with global policy advocacy, recognizing that gains made in increasing adequate and affordable housing throughout the world are quickly being reversed by climate change. 

“As part of all this work, we emphasize equity and inclusion to ensure that the most vulnerable members of a community are integrated in defining the housing needs and realizing solutions for their communities. With these resources, those communities can prioritize their own housing needs, disaster preparedness and climate adaptability for a more sustainable future…Our commitments are rooted in our pledge to be accountable to the families with whom we partner and the communities we serve, to be courageous and do what is right even when it is difficult, and to be humble in understanding that we cannot win this fight alone. These are the values on which our organization is built. Just as families must adapt to a changing climate, so too must our programming and operations evolve in order to address the housing needs of people around the world.”

Looking back on 2021

Charae’s home dedication
Tracey and her son at their home dedication

2021 was certainly a year to remember. When we sat down with RAHFH Executive Director Keri Asevedo to discuss what this year was like for our organization, a few words came to her mind: powerful, tenacious, and determined.

There are plenty of 2021 memories that stand out, like cheering with Charae (a 2021 homebuyer) as she received the keys to her new home, watching Tracey and her son explore their new home, celebrating DeVonna’s home dedication (pictured above), seeing Candi (another Habitat homeowner) walk next door to help with the siding on Tammy’s house (the Guilford build for this year). Some other big moments were celebrating when the ReStore hit their sales goal for the entire year in October, and the wedding of our office manager, Laura.

Ultimately there are far too many highlights to share from this year, but here are just a few of the things that made 2021 so unique and special.

“On the development side of things, we had our best year ever,” Keri said. “I would say the most significant thing that happened in 2021 was receiving the Larson Family Foundation gift through Habitat International– A $660,000 contribution by the Larson Family Foundation to build two houses a year for the next three years.”

RHDC check presentation

In addition to this incredible gift, RAHFH also received significant support from the Rockford Housing Development Corporation and the City of Rockford. We also received support in the form of in-kind donations (materials and professional construction services) from many local businesses and organizations, including The Morse Group, Local 23 Plumbers & Pipefitters, Apex General Contracting, Cross Country Construction, Crimson Valley Landscaping, Ken-Z Roofing, Dwight Swanson Construction Inc., and Bucciferro Family McDonald’s.

The ReStore also had a remarkable year. Besides hitting the annual sales goal in October (which is truly incredible), other highlights include increasing the number of donors and customers. Additionally, many local businesses have become ongoing ReStore supporters through large donations, such as the Lowe’s Distribution Center and Collins Aerospace. Finally, the continuation of our impressive recycling program at the ReStore is always a highlight– thousands of pounds of metal and other materials are kept out of landfills each year thanks to the ReStore.

This year also marked the return to full production for the construction of Habitat homes.

“We worked with homeowners who were struggling throughout this pandemic, and came up with unique ways of ensuring their success,” Keri said.

Habitat built six new homes this year with the help of hundreds of dedicated volunteers, as well as dozens of groups from the community. One of the homes this year, the Community Build, was built entirely by groups from local businesses and organizations. A full list of these community volunteer groups can be found at the bottom of this post.

East High School was added to our partnership with Rockford Public Schools. This partnership will continue to expand in 2022 as Jefferson High School builds their first Habitat house. Additionally, Hononegah High School will be building walls for a Habitat home, and Harlem High School will be starting to incorporate construction into their curriculum with the hope of building a Habitat home in the future.

This ramp was one of the critical home repairs completed this year

In addition to all of these construction efforts, two rehabs were completed, and we launched our critical home repair program through a grant from the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois. We hope to expand our home repair program in the future.

“We saw that need [for critical home repairs], we solicited the funds, and we’ll be able to make a monumental impact with critical home repairs,” Keri said.

As she thought over the year, it was evident that Keri was absolutely in awe of the community’s support.

“For lots of people, and lots of organizations, 2021 was tough. They were still trying to recover personally, professionally, and organizationally from a year that held so much uncertainty. For us, we came out of that year stronger than we’ve ever been, more productive than we’ve ever been,” Keri said. “The community showed up, our steady volunteers came regularly. It’s like we never skipped a beat, like everybody knew how important this program was to our community, and to the families we serve. And although we had to wait a year to make some dreams come true, each of those homeowners moved into their house at the exact right time for them… We feel so blessed to be able to get to do this work on their behalf every day, and that is due in large part to the people who choose to believe in us. The people who choose to support us with their time, with their money, with their efforts, and with their professional services. We couldn’t do this without an entire community behind us. And our success is theirs.”

Thank you to the following Community Build groups: Rock Valley Credit Union, Northeast Christian Church, Crosspoint Church, Rock Valley College HCCTP, Kenco Group, Berkshire Hathaway Crosby Starck Real Estate, RPS205 Early Childhood Department, Life Church, Larson & Darby, Associated Bank, Byron Bank, Rockford Mass Transit District, Winnebago County CASA, Williams Charles, The Office of State Representative Dave Vella, Park City Church, NEXT Rockford, AFP Rockford, In Memory of Daniel Nielsen Build Day

In honor of Daniel Nielsen

These photos were taken during a build day in honor of Daniel Nielsen. We were honored that Daniel’s friends and members of his family chose to volunteer on our build sites for a day to celebrate his life and legacy. It is clear that Daniel lived an extraordinary life, and that he was someone who focused on building up those around him. Daniel was a dedicated supporter and leader with Habitat for Humanity in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and that affiliate is raising funds to build a Habitat home in his honor. Make a donation by clicking the button below.