BUSINESS & ECONOMY

Sewing to Empower the Underprivileged

By Lauren Wanko
Correspondent

The steady hum of sewing machines has become a sound that symbolisms empowerment for single-mom Traceea Walker.
 
“When you are learning how to do something it’s a skill that no one can take away from you,” said Walker.
 
Walker’s part of Sewing Space, a program offered by HomeFront, a social service agency that serves the working poor and homeless. Sewing Space, a spinoff the non-profit’s art program started in January with two donated sewing machines. Since then volunteers and participants transformed an empty room in Lawrence Township into a colorful, inviting work space filled now with 20 sewing machines and about 60 clients who are all part of HomeFront’s services.
 
“The art program allows someone to heal, it allows themselves to nurture themselves inside in conjunction with working with a case manager, the GED trainer, it’s one of the dots- Homefront is connecting the dots with social services to put someone’s life back together,” said Sewing Space Art Director Ruthann Traylor.
 
All of the supplies and materials are donated volunteers coach participants along the way. 19-year-old Marie McFadden learns how to use this sewing machine for the first time.
 
“It feels good you have someone pushing you when you think you can’t do it,” said McFadden.
 
Sewing Space participants are first taught how to operate the machine, then they learn sewing skills- they move on to a pin cushion, then a pillow, and eventually pocketbooks and even table runners.
 
Taylor says it’s about teaching self-reliance. Sewing Space sells their items in art shows. The artists, who are all either homeless or live below the poverty line, get 60 percent of the profit with the rest going back to HomeFront.
 
“It makes you feel good that someone else appreciates what you’re doing and its by your own hands,” said Walker.

These ladies are also able to take their creations home.
 
“We are making every day household items you can’t afford when you’re on welfare,” said Traylor.
 
With each stitch, volunteers hope their sewing lessons turn into life lessons.
 
“You have to problem solve, you have to focus, when you’re looking for a job it’s hard sometimes you just want to quit, well you have to finish,” said Traylor.
 
That’s something that resonates with McFadden.
 
“I give up easily, I don’t have any patience,” said McFadden.
 
McFadden’s learned not to give up here. She’s already made two blankets and Walker’s found a way to recycle an old pair of jeans, now part of new hand bag.
 
“It’s awesome cause I can actually say I did something myself,” said Walker.
 
Sewing Space hopes to expand and hire a sewing instructor.