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Catherine Roberts was the mother of a soldier in the U.S. Army deployed in Iraq when, in 2003, she had a dream that would change her life. In the dream, which she describes as being as real as if she were “viewing a movie,” Catherine saw a soldier who looked as if he’d lost hope, hunched over on the side of his bed. In the next scene, he was wrapped in a quilt, and “his whole demeanor changed.” Catherine woke from her dream and went to work, founding Quilts of Valor Foundation.
The mission of the Quilts of Valor Foundation is “to cover service members and veterans touched by war with comforting and healing Quilts of Valor.” The basic premise of the organization centers around volunteer quilt makers creating handmade quilts that are then presented to service members as a way to provide healing when they return home from combat missions. They are also presented to veterans who have been home for many years, but the time that has passed between their combat experiences and presentation does not diminish the impact of the gift. To date, according to their website, Quilts of Valor has awarded 232,502 quilts.
Nationally, there are 560 official groups of Quilt of Valor volunteers consisting of 10,449 members. There are also 123 quilt shops that are certified as part of the network. The quilt shops not only act as a hub for volunteers to work together and find supplies specific to the program, they also often sponsor groups in their communities and host special events. Seventeen groups and 291 members are active in the state of Arkansas.
Sheila Gordon is the State Coordinator for Quilts of Valor in Arkansas. She says she joined initially because she had some time on her hands and a father who was a veteran of the Korean War. She got busy putting her new embroidery machine to good use and learned to piece quilts from the other members of the group, but it was her first award ceremony that really sealed her commitment.
“It all changed when we saw how deeply the veterans were impacted and the appreciation in their eyes. When I started working with Quilts of Valor, I knew the basics of what we would do, but I never imagined that it would be the most rewarding work I have ever done.”
When the previous State Coordinator stepped down in 2014, Sheila took on the role. In addition to supporting Arkansas groups and members, Sheila enjoys speaking at public events like quilt shows and guild meetings to tell them about the foundation. She has also attended national events as a state representative. But her favorite part of the job might be to help plan and award quilts at Quilts of Valor ceremonies.
To receive a Quilt of Valor®, there is more involved than just sending in a name and waiting for a package in the mail. In order for each service member to feel recognized and appreciated for their service with the presentation of the quilt, nominators are asked to help arrange a time and place for the quilt to be presented to the recipient.
Ceremonies range from small, intimate affairs for one or two veterans to large events attended and/or hosted by veteran groups with entertainment and food included. The goal is to make sure the veterans who are receiving the quilts are recognized and feel appreciated and honored as they deserve.
To nominate a veteran in any area or state, click on this link. Requests will be forwarded to the relevant State Coordinator and they will assign it to the closest group. To be eligible, the veteran should have served active duty, been touched by war and have not received a Quilt of Valor® before.
When a request for a quilt is received by Quilts of Valor, the actual making is done by a two-person team. One member is responsible for making the quilt top, the other does the quilting once the top is complete. Both add their artistic talents to the making of the quilts that go on to become heirlooms for the soldiers to whom they are awarded.
Frequently-asked questions from quilters such as what designs are best and how to choose the best fabrics are answered in the Quilter’s Questions section on the organization’s website. Once a quilt has been completed, a request for a destination will be completed, and the quilter will receive the information necessary to get the quilt on its way to the service member who will receive it.
Quilters interested in offering their services to this project start by looking for a group close to them to work with using the map linked above. If you have questions or need assistance, you can contact Sheila for assistance at email@example.com. They have a particular need for help with the quilting part of the process, so if you have a long-arm quilting machine gathering dust, here’s a great way to put it to use in a meaningful way.
On the first Saturday of February, groups and individuals across the nation will sit down to work on a Quilt of Valor® project. Some will work individually, but groups also gather in communities to work together. Sheila says the event helps member groups get a stack of quilts completed to award to veterans throughout the year.
In Arkansas, the A Second Tour QOV group is partnering with the Ola & John Hawks Senior Center in Conway for National Sew Day in Conway. Quilters will be working there from 9 a.m. to about 5 p.m., and anyone can come by to help sew or drop off quilt tops they make for the event. Be sure to check the quilt standards page on the foundation website for guidance.
More groups may organize events for National Sew Day, so check the events page on the website to see if there are any in your area as the date gets closer.
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