Here at the Sewcialists it’s the Giving Challenge month and we’ve been having lots of discussion about Sewing and Giving Back and all the different ways we can do that. We’ve seen all kinds of amazing sewing ideas: sewing for people who need special items to help them heal from life threatening illnesses, cozy blankets and toys for animals waiting for adoption, warm winter garments for charities that help people stay warm; blankets and stuffies for children and other needed items made from fabric scraps saved from the landfill. The list is endless and the creativity limitless. There is always a need.
Today we’d like to highlight some of the non-sewing ways that our editors give back. And of course, we’d love to hear from you guys, too! Feel free to respond in the comments — how do you give back?
I’ve been knitting for over a decade, and sewing for about two-ish years. In the past I’ve thought about sewing or knitting for charity, but decided that I wanted to keep knitting and sewing very self-focused, as a form of self-care. It may sound a little on the selfish side, but I just enjoy knitting and sewing for myself. When I knit or sew for other people, it tends to feel more like an obligation than something I want to do out of the goodness of my heart. However, I tend to be very generous with my free time (which is already very limited after a full-time job, three pets, and MANY hobbies) and I have a strong belief in giving back to my community, so I donate my time to my community in a few different ways. I think volunteering my time is a really great way to gain new experiences, meet new people, and help out those in need! My mom is the director of a non-profit, and she started there as a volunteer. I also started volunteering for the same non-profit as soon as I was old enough, so I’ve been volunteering my time in one way or another for basically my entire life!
In the past couple years, I’ve volunteered in a variety of ways, including fostering cats for the local animal shelter, teaching ukulele lessons at a youth center, and serving on a board of directors for a media non-profit. However, I recently went through training to become a CASA volunteer, and I am VERY excited to participate in this program!
CASA is a national program in the United States, and stands for court-appointed special advocate. These volunteers work with children or sibling groups who are in active court cases for child abuse or neglect. These children have already been through traumatic events, and the goal of a CASA is to advocate for the needs of the children as they navigate the court system. This is a national program and requires 30 hours of pre-service training (which I just completed in October!) and volunteers usually stay with the children for their entire court case (which is about a year, depending on the state you are located in). The training for this program consists of education about basic level of care, family structures, childhood development, and the impact of a trauma on a child. After completing training, you get sworn in by a judge, because this is a very important position within the court system (in fact, there is a court order when you are appointed as a CASA to a case!).
The training itself has been an incredibly eye-opening experience for me, and I’ve already learned so much about what children go through after they’ve been abused or neglected. While I finished my training in October, and have been sworn in, I haven’t been assigned a family yet, but I am very eager to start! My CASA coordinator wanted to wait until after Thanksgiving to assign me a case, because there is a LOT of up front legwork, and the holidays tend to get in the way of that. When you are assigned a child or sibling group, you start by meeting individually with each child and learning about who they are as a person. You also meet with or talk to their parents, foster parents, Department of Human Services workers, counselors, teachers, coaches, therapists, doctors. The list goes on, but basically your job as a CASA is to create a well-rounded picture of what is happening to each child, and present a monthly report to the judge advocating for the best interests of the children.
Judges often assign CASAs to the most difficult cases because there are so many moving parts in these cases, and judges only see the children 2-3 times during their court cases. In order for judges to make the best decisions about either reuniting a family or terminating parental rights, a CASA’s report on the children is integral to the judiciary process.
I think this may be my most difficult volunteer position so far, but also the one I’m most eager to get started with. I’m a little nervous to be assigned a family, because frankly, I don’t have much experience working with children. In fact, when I told people I was going to start working with abused and neglected kids, they were a little surprised. I don’t have children, nor do I have plans for them, so I believe many people were surprised that I wanted to volunteer with children. However, I am a strong advocate for fairness and equal footing, and believe that all children deserve to have a fair chance in life. I also know that I have the strong organizational and communicative skills to be an effective advocate, and I feel like it’s my duty to put these skills to good use and help someone in need.
Years ago, when my children were littles, I went through a very difficult time. Single-parenting, zero child support, and being a working Mom with multiple jobs was incredibly hard. There was never enough time, food, money, or fun. Over the years I was helped by all kinds of charitable organizations: the local food banks provided everything from food to toiletries when times were tough; Big Sisters provided fun, socialization and precious one-on-one time with my littles that they couldn’t get from me because I was always working; work appropriate clothes from a women’s organization, much like Dress for Success helped when I got my first office job; and at Christmas, Toy Mountain helped with the children’s long list to Santa. The list of charitable organizations who helped us over those early years was very long, and I was so very grateful.
These days I am blessed with a well-paying job in a two-income household, and my circumstances are far removed from those early days. But as a still-working Nana, my sewing time is often very limited, and I just don’t have the chance to sew or knit for charity as much as I would like to. While I know that will change in time when I retire, in the meantime I have made some calculated decisions about how I can give back to those who help others, each and every day, year after year.
You see, it’s not about what you can’t do, it’s all about what you can do. While most charities are certainly happy to have items to give to their clients, they also need funding — that’s lots and lots of money for practical items like food, clothing, shelter, and other necessities of living. Giving money as a form of giving back is not cheating — it is a tangible gift that can go where it is needed most. It is not the lazy way out either — it takes thoughtful and careful planning to allocate money to be helpful. It is not removed from reality — the reality is money is a practical and useful way to give back, and if planned properly, it’s easy to give consistently and long-term which provides charities with funding they can count on so they can continue to help those in need.
So how do I do it? Well, I have two main ways that ensure I give regularly, constantly and in a timely manner.
First, I decided that I wanted to help charities that offered similar assistance like the ones that helped my family get back on our feet. My current work makes it incredibly easy by taking the planning out of the equation and offering payroll deduction with matching dollars, dollar for dollar. This stretches my contributions considerably. For example, for every dollar donated to my local Food Bank, they can create five dollar’s worth of food purchasing power! My only task was to decide how much and where I wanted to have it distributed at the end of the contribution period. Every pay a small but specific amount is deducted from my pay-cheque. With this arrangement, I can give back to Big Sisters, our local Food Banks, and our local Men’s Mission all year long, and frankly I don’t even miss the money as it is taken off my pay before I even receive it. The reality is if I left donating to chance, I would likely forget, or give less, or spend it elsewhere, so this is a really good solution for me and great solution to the ever-pressing need for cash strapped charitable organizations.
The second opportunity to give back comes from our recreation time. Yes, you can have fun and give back! My husband and I are avid motorcyclists, and we belong to a motorcycle club whose only mandate is to get together to enjoy some good riding and raise funds for our local Children’s Hospital, the Ride for Dad, and the Special Olympics. Being part of a larger motorcycle organization with thousands of chapters means that as an international group with common goals we give large donations that translate into meaningful contributions and positive impact in our local communities. What’s not to like about being in the company of like-minded people, having fun and doing good at the same time!
These two main giving choices ensure that I never am not giving, and in fact they free me up to give spontaneously as the opportunity arises and my pocketbook allows, to on the spot fund-raisers that are always going on in my community. Toy Mountain, the Snowsuit Fund, and Back-to-School remain some of my annual favorites, but I am a sucker for bake sales, charity raffles. and the Firefighters Boot (aka Fill The Boot) campaigns too!
There will always be a need to give and finding a meaningful and practical way to contribute, and for me, to give back, feeds my soul and helps to remind me of the thousands of people who gave me a chance to succeed. Life is hard, and I am grateful I can pay it forward by giving it back.
I try to give back when I can, but time is hard to give when you have two highly-demanding littles, and freelance work to boot. So, all of our outgrown and gently used baby clothing, gear, and toys go to Pine Ridge Reservation.
I also give blood when I’m eligible. My father for years gave blood to our local Children’s Hospital, specifically for kids in need. He started traveling internationally for work on a regular basis and isn’t eligible anymore, so I wanted to help out if I could. O Negatives represent! When I lived in New York, I gave at the Red Cross, but here in Colorado I give to Vitalant.
I do like to think of it as doing my civic duty, even though it totally feels more like a medical procedure 😉 Every pint can save up to 3 lives, so if you’re eligible, I highly recommend it. It doesn’t take more than an hour, and it really is one of the most literal life-savers you can imagine. <3
Gosh, those are some generous Editors, aren’t they? My own contributions are on a smaller scale, particularly since I spent this last year recovering from a concussion and working half time. Just getting through each week seemed like enough of an accomplishment!
My primary way of giving back is through my job as an ESL teacher for kids Grade 1-8. I support about 80 kids (and their teachers) in three schools, and if you do the math, that’s no much time with each student. A lot of my students are refugees, and there is a lot going on in their lives that they don’t have language to express. My job is to radiate warmth and supportiveness, to let them know I believe in them, and to simultaneously teach them English! It’s my dream job.
My secondary way of giving back is through Sewcialists. I started this website with friends back in 2013, and I ran it until 2015 when I took a break to volunteer with the Curvy Sewing Collective. Sewcialists relaunched in 2017, and it’s been a joy to keep it rolling! The teacher in me believes in creating a safe space to share, one where we are all valued for our differences as well as our similarities. I’m not an expert sewist, but building a community is one way I can contribute. Thank you to all the editors, copy-editors, volunteer authors, and readers who also support Sewcialists!
So how about you folks? Comment below with non-sewing ways that you like to give back!
Title photo by Kat Yukawa on Unsplash