Neighborhood Opportunity Network

Supporting one another in a time of crisis

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Can we just start sewing already?

Posted by sebastianbrown on February 23, 2011

Alicia leading the women in mutual support

For the second Wednesday in a row, 11 Long Branch ladies–has a ring to it, right?– spent two hours teaching one another the basics to sewing. All Latina with young children and living in one of 3 apartment complexes in Long Branch, these are women who see each other nearly every day, whether when leaving their building, or dropping off their kids at school or shopping at the nearby Megamart. Many of them were even on a first name basis before even entering the group.

Like we did last week, we began by having the planning core–Network Guides Alicia and Vicky–welcome the group and lead them in a check in. Quickly, as it often does, the check in morphed naturally into mutual support when Maria talked about how she felt like she is being discriminated again by her property manager. The group jumped into action. Alicia and Victoria suggested she visit the TESS Center where they have free legal consultations once a month. Vanessa gave her the contact info for the county’s mediation center that intervenes in interpersonal disputes. Edelsa and a couple others who’ve heard of similar complaints of the landlord even recommended that they as a group collect signatures from other tenants.

Edelsa shows the ladies the initial stitch for making a pant leg

Also like last week the group reviewed the group agreements, this time adding one about keeping better track of time. Edelsa, a professionally trained tailor who lives in Flower Branch–and who we first met through door knocking–and who has agreed to teach the basics to the group in four weekly sessions beginning next Wednesday, took a moment to lay down a few of her own ground rules before hopping on the machine for a preliminary demonstration. She suggested that since each member will always have something different they want to learn it might be best to have everyone bring in specific things they want to work on–giving everyone a nice side project that Edelsa can help them with. Nearly every woman then gave an example of a pair of jeans or an old dress that they had been dying to repair but never had the time or expertise or materials…or support!

For the last hour, the 11 women huddled around Edelsa and watched on as she went over the basics of setting up the machine and sewing in a straight line. They then took turns practicing under her well-trained eye.

It was amazing how comfortable they suddenly became with each other when the workshop portion of the morning began. As opposed to the somewhat uncomfortable and awkward conversation we tried to spark during the mutual support time, having the sewing machine as a centerpiece triggered a fury of laughter-filled chit chat where ladies even started to share more personal stories of emergencies and crises they find themselves in right now. They exchanged cell phones and contact information of potentially helpful resources. Not to mention that throughout they were rotating watching the six children using the back of the wonderful Carroll YMCA Community Center space.

Edelsa explaining that the key to good sewing is patience and being relaxed. She suggested the ladies bring tea to drink and lettuce to chew on next time to calm their nerves!

No wonder that in checking out nearly every woman mentioned having a wonderful time, but that they’d prefer a little less talking at the beginning. In their own way, they managed to check in and practice mutual support while sitting around waiting for their turn to use the machine. Speaking just from personal experience, I’ve never managed to create the level of comfort and openness in a formal meeting space that the women naturally created by just sharing in a hands-on learning experience that they all see direct pay off from.

In addition, for perhaps the first circle I’ve been a part of, a strong rapport exists between these women who share many obvious similarities. This isn’t to say there aren’t differences–at one point a member brought up the importance that all the women treat one another with respect no matter whether they’re from Guatemala or El Salvador!–but this group certainly enters this more intentional process with a level of affinity and familiarity that allows for deeper relationship building and mutual support to happen almost consequently.

Check back for updates next Wednesday!

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