The Episcopal Church Grant Report: SewGreen@Rochester Empowers Neighbors through Craft
SewGreen@ Rochester (SGR), in the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester, New York, has submitted the annual report for their 2015 Domestic Poverty Grant. The $30,000 grant, awarded last year, exists to engage Episcopalians in ministry among the economically impoverished in the United States, to provide the opportunity to the marginalized to overcome chronic adversities, to challenge unjust structures that perpetuate the cycle of poverty and to inspire the wider church to more deeply engage with the poor. Their six-month report, detailed here, explains their progress through February 2016.
Sowing the Seeds
In the last several months, SewGreen has worked to solidify their place in the culture and life of the 19th Ward of Rochester, by connecting with neighbors on the sidewalk outside their storefront, in their busy classroom, and out in the wider community. Fostering and keeping up these connections, according to ministry leader Deacon Georgia Carney, “is key to keeping SewGreen@ Rochester thriving.” Indeed, rather than seeing relationship-building as a side-project of the ministry, Deacon Carney understands it as one of the most important parts of their work. She writes, “We have days which I call ‘Sowing the Seeds Days,’ when we don’t see much in monetary sales, but new people have the courage to walk into our store and say, ‘I walk by here all the time and I just wanted to know what you are doing in here!’”
Excited by the prospect of real engagement with the community, SewGreen saw the wide sidewalk in front of their storefront as an important ministry asset. In fact, “Stitchin’ on the Sidewalk,” where sewers work under a tent outside the shop, is based on the recognition that outreach ought to, well, reach out. Engagement suddenly becomes easier and more immediate; Deacon Carney explains, “[It’s] amazing how a simple ‘Hello!’ may lead to a deeper conversation, and by putting ourselves out on the sidewalk, we reach out to those hesitant to walk into a shop they don’t know.”
When a new person or passerby asks how the ministry was started, Deacon Carney can trace the story, touching on important points for understanding; as a deacon, charged with supporting and walking with the economically impoverished, she has often mended clothes for people in the community. Understanding the value of the skill, she has set up workshops to teach it to others. And, supported by The Episcopal Church and her parish, she has been able to set up an independent physical space and funding stream for this ministry of teaching and community-building. These connection points are key to starting conversations with people who may have never heard of a deacon, let alone an Episcopalian!
Much of the work at SewGreen is organized around classes dedicated to projects and sewing methods. Over the past several months, the organization has recorded that 138 different people have taken classes taught by local experts. One of the most popular classes, offered by a local artist named Josefina, leads students through the process of creating handbags from otherwise unused upholstery samples. Another set of classes, titled Sewing Machine 101 and Sewing Machine 201, invites people with sewing machines “languishing in their homes” to learn about basic safety, threading, and stitching skills, in the hope that these important assets can lead to a reduction in waste and unnecessary consumption, while simultaneously providing valuable skills and community building.
After these introductory lessons, “Many return to begin building more machine skills, while others are more interested in pattern adjustment and learning to successfully make garments which fit.”
Additionally, SewGreen@ Rochester understands the importance of offering classes and activities during extended school breaks. So far, they have run camps for 21 students and have set up guiding principles for their work in this area. Among other points, they have noted that:
- It is important to recognize time and staff limitations. Setting up healthy and reasonable class time helps prevent burnout from staff and students, while also giving adequate time to get through a lesson.
- Intergenerational learning can be great! SewGreen offers classes to mixed groups of youth and adults. Explaining the benefits of these classes, Deacon Carney writes, “I believe that it is healthy for kids to participate alongside adults engaged in creative lifelong learning activities—sharing similar struggles and triumphs in mastering technique and machinery and encouraging each other.”
- Using variable lengths of programming is an important way to reach the goals of a program; community-building, after all, rarely happens on a one-size-fits-all schedule. July’s Marionette Camp will be a full week longer than other camps, giving extra time to create a puppet, write and perform a show, and build camaraderie.
Read more about some of the camp offerings here.
Engaging Community Assets
As noted earlier, engaging the community is as much a part of this ministry as sewing. SewGreen has been blessed by numerous requests to show their gifts off to the community, leading to participation in the 19th Ward’s Square Fair and presentations in area schools. There are even class offerings on the road! Recently, Deacon Carney loaded up six machines and brought Sewing Machine 101 to a local branch of the Rochester Public Library for an evening class.
This year, SGR led a 5-week program in fashion design and construction at Wilson Magnet High School, located just down the street from their storefront. The school is currently rebuilding a clubs program for the last period of their academic day—which provides a great opportunity for meeting and getting to know young people in the neighborhood. Having volunteered to offer lessons, within a few weeks, “[SewGreen] had four young women go from sketch to measurements, fabric purchase, pattern correction, dress stitching and finally to model their creations at an assembly.”
Additionally, this ministry has found other community assets to walk with them in their work. Tiffany Terry, a Buffalo State University graduate with many years’ experience in the fashion business, dropped into the shop the day before the Wilson High School program began. Impressed by SewGreen, she asked what she might do to help. The timing couldn’t have been better; she jumped right in, teaching students the basics of fashion sketching, and later, helping them to get their show on the runway. Tiffany and her family continue to be engaged with SewGreen@ Rochester, working on an intergenerational team for Project Linus, an organization that provides handmade blankets to children across the country.
This is the first in a four-part series about SewGreen@ Rochester, recipient of a 2015 Domestic Poverty Grant from The Episcopal Church. Check back tomorrow to read about some of the challenges they’ve faced in their ministry.
For more information, visit Domestic Poverty Ministries at http://www.episcopalchurch.org/page/domestic-poverty-ministries and like and follow Jubilee and Domestic Poverty Ministries on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/episcopaljubilee/ and Twitter at https://twitter.com/Matthew2537.