How a classroom project at the Veterans Early Learning Center inspired the Hammersmith Quilters Guild to craft a work of art
Earlier this year, 584 students at the Veterans Early Learning Center produced a giant quilt that oozed with love from the colored paper patchworked hearts that were glued together as a “kindness quilt” and later presented to the Saugus Senior Center.
“We were so impressed and thrilled by this random act of kindness,” Senior Center Director Laurie Davis recalled.
“We hung the quilts on the walls of the Senior Center, where they stayed until the Quilters Guild approached us and asked if they could borrow the quilt. They wanted to return the kindness by turning the color paper squares into fabric squares and make the Veteran’s school a fabric quilt from the squares the children colored,” she said.
On Wednesday, about 10 months after the kids’ paper quilt was presented to the Senior Center, Margie Berkowitch – the most-veteran member of the Hammersmith Quilters Guild who designed and coordinated the creation of the cloth quilt – presented it to four representatives of the Learning Center.
“We just wanted to bring some joy to the Senior Center,” School Counselor Jenna Newhall said in an interview on Wednesday (Dec. 7) night after dinner and a special presentation by the local quilters guild.
“I never imagined it would get to this. In fact, I never knew that there was a quilt guild. This was a beautiful thing that they did, returning the kindness and love in return for the quilt we sent,” she said.
Lorraine Devine, a special education teacher; Alison Belyea, a first grade teacher; and Julie Covey, a kindergarten teacher, were the other Early Learning Center staff who were treated to a potluck dinner prepared by the Quilters Guild on Wednesday night.
“Something from the heart”
When people think of the Hammersmith Quilters Guild, they think of 86-year-old Margie Berkowitch – a native Saugonian who was born in a house on Wickford Street and graduated from Saugus High School in 1954. The quilters guild has been in existence since 1982. Margie joined it in 1988. She served in about every position in the 120-member organization, which draws members from several communities in the area. Margie is the guild’s oldest and most veteran member, and she’s won a lot of prizes for her quilts over the years. She estimates she’s made more than 115 quilts. She doesn’t sell them and gives many of them away as gifts.
At some point in late winter, the paper quilts from the young students – which were displayed on three different walls – caught her eye. “When I looked at them, they looked like a quilt,” Margie said.
“I was so inspired by this, I presented the idea to the guild. It was something from the heart that I was inspired to do by these young children; hopefully, they will continue to learn and be kind,” she said.
“What the kids did has definitely touched our hearts. Look around and you can see the ‘Be Kind’ signs on the walls here, which were inspired by these children. Sometimes, adults have little problems; hopefully, they will look at the sign and enjoy the day,” she said.
Margie said she presented the idea to the guild members, who embraced it. She then presented them with a piece of fabric with the same dimensions and asked members to duplicate them – the same way they were colored by the students. Then, she gathered about 300 small quilts to make one big one.
Nancy Sandreuter did the machine quilting. Margie oversaw the whole project. She said it took her about three weeks to complete the quilt, “working each day, a little bit of the time, to finish it off.”
Laurie Davis has a personal connection to the children’s paper quilt. Her granddaughter – Isabella Bluestein, 6, a first grader at the Early Learning Center – worked on the quilt with her classmates. “For me, it was heart-warming to see the kids do that with the paper quilt,” Laurie said.
“And now, it was even more heartwarming to see Margie turn the paper quilt into a cloth quilt,” she said.
How the school project evolved
Jenna Newhall, a Lynn native, has been an educator for six years – the last five in Saugus Public Schools. As a school counselor since 2019, it was her idea to get students from all levels at the school – preschool, kindergarten and first grade – involved in a project that would do good for the community. “It was really a school effort – building up kindness in the classroom and bringing community into the classroom. It was really built on the idea of trying to help all people,” Jenna said.
“So, the students in all of the classrooms at all of the grade levels participated by doing a small quilt. We took all of the squares and glued them to large pieces of bulletin board paper. Our goal for the project was to get their artwork into the Senior Center. I wanted all of the kids to see how their little parts became one,” she said.
“This was a massive art project that was inspired by kindness and helping someone. Since coming back from COVID-19, we’ve all had some challenges. So, this was a great spot for us to be in, and it worked out beautifully for everyone,” she said.
Jenna cited two children’s books that she says inspired the start of the project: “Share Some Kindness, Bring Some Light” by Apryl Stott and “The Kindness Quilt” by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace. “We knew as a school community, we wanted to do something that would show our youngest learners that you can always be a helper and make a difference, no matter who you are,” she said. “These books provided beautiful inspiration and gave us a place to start.”
Jenna said she hopes to be able to return the favor soon by having members of the Quilters Guild visit the Early Learning Center so they can meet some of the students and also be honored in an educational setting.
“This is just so amazing – so much kindness all around,” Davis said.