When a child is taken into the foster care system, they often leave with no personal belongings, nothing to hold onto that is their own. In moments of loss, fear or displacement, each of us can relate to the comfort of something familiar. The Linus Project is a national non-profit that works to provide love, a sense of security, warmth and comfort to children who are seriously ill, traumatized, or otherwise in need through the gifts of new, handmade blankets and afghans, lovingly created by volunteer “blanketeers.”
Religious Diversity Journeys, in addition to exposing students to different faith traditions, has made a mission of exploring our most basic shared values. The lesson has been instilled through service, one of the most basic shared tenets across the faiths. And this year, students, as well as four non-profits, joined efforts to create comfort quilts for children suffering separation, illness, and loss.
“This was,” according to Tracey Breen, a chapter coordinator for Project Linus Oakland “a six degrees of separation project.”
Breen is also a volunteer at the Song and Spirit Institute for Peace, where she helps to make the mosaic tiles that Song and Spirit sells to support projects like its interfaith services, community garden, and distribution of snackpax to children in need.
In summer of 2015, Breen received a generous donation of quilt fabric, which she decided to use to use in classrooms to include local students in creating these quilts by decorating squares to incorporate into the them.
Mary Gilhuly, the mosaic artist who is one of the coordinators of Song and Spirit had seen a Project Linus display at an Alternative Gifts Fair in Farmington Hills.
“Kids could stop and decorate a muslin square with fabric paint markers and know their squares would be incorporated into a quilt for a child in need. I filed that away in my head as a VERY GOOD THING,” says Gilhuly. “When I found out that one of my tile volunteers was now active in a new chapter of Project Linus, I thought it would be cool to have the RDJ kids create squares that could be made into quilts.”
With over 400 students participating in Religious Diversity Journeys, they would be able to create a dozen quilts of 35 – 40 hand-decorated squares. A group of volunteers held prep sessions at Song and Spirit in November and December, and the group made a “practice quilt” which was donated to Project Linus.
In January, RDJ students were introduced to the concept and broken into groups to decide their themes. Each group of 35 or 40 students had to choose a theme.
“There was MUCH negotiating and some real teamwork necessary to do this,” says Gilhuly. “Really – it was part of our plan that students who didn’t really know each other would have to work together creatively for this cause. And it worked”
Themes ranged from Emojis to Superheroes; fun foods to a day at the beach. There were some great compromises within some of the groups, like the one group who couldn’t choose between sports and animals and chose to do animals playing sports. The result was some fun squares featuring penguins playing hockey or pigs playing badminton. Another group couldn’t decide between a beach or fairy theme and combined the beach with underwater magical creatures like mermaids and sea serpents.
“Two groups of kids chose to make red, white and blue – patriotic -themed quilts that will be distributed by Project Linus to children who have lost a parent in military conflict,” says Gilhuly. “These two groups of students didn’t have any difficulty making their theme choice. It was very sweet – and the resulting quilts are amazing.”
It was the end of February. With 400 decorated squares, and just a few weeks to finish the quilts in time for display at the final RDJ sessions in March, the team needed some ace quilters to do the assembly. Enter April Cook, a volunteer on the IFLC education committee which helps coordinate RDJ, and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ – Latter Day Saints (LDS), who recruited a group of seamstresses from her church.
“This was an ambitious project,” says Breen. “It took a village to make this project possible within the time constraints.”
Eleven quilters received packages that included pre-cut fabric strips, soft fleece backing material and enough squares to make their quilt. The quilters were of different faith traditions and came from friends of Song and Spirit, Project Linus and the Church of Jesus Christ – Latter Day Saints.
Finally, the quilts were done, and displayed at the RDJ wrap ups at the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Holocaust Memorial Center. The kids were astounded at how beautifully their quilts came out. Many searched in earnest to find their squares in the displays. Several took pictures by their squares to show their parents and fellow classmates. They were joyous- happy to have made them and to see how they came together in the themes they chose. kids were saying things like “I wish I could know the child who will receive this” or “I hope it makes them smile.”