Sara Swanson

Letter to the Editor: Community is like a quilt

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February 1, 2018

I’ve heard people say a good community is like a good quilt. Every piece is critical to building a functional, durable, beautiful whole.

Quilting is thought to be a quaint, rather cozy endeavor. Yet good quilts are some of the strongest, most functional blankets known. The quilters who make them borrow from the science of geometry, engineering and graphic arts.

There are things for communities to learn from quilters.

First, a good quilt is well-designed. The hardest, most detailed work occurs upfront. If good planning is undertaken it will be reflected in a stellar final product. The same can be said for a well-designed community project or program. Challenging, upfront work pays off.

Next, it is important to select the right materials. Good quilters select the best (not necessarily the most expensive) fabric, batting, thread, scissors, cutting surfaces and more. The same is true for a well-constructed community project or program. Good materials contribute to better outcomes.

Good quilters are skilled and willing to learn new skills. They strive for 7 stiches (or more) per inch and exact alignment of each quilt piece to the other. The strength and longevity of a quilt depends on things like many stiches and corner alignment. A community project or program built to last is also dependent on the skills of those planning and implementing. As well as their willingness to expand their skills.

Perhaps the most obvious and important lesson to be learned from quilting is the lesson of relationships.

It is the inter-action of the fabrics and stitching that bring about a good quilts strength and beauty. If a blanket is made of only one of the fabrics of a quilt, or without the miles of thread required by piecing, its life would be significantly shorter. And it wouldn’t be nearly as beautiful no matter how beautiful the single fabric. That is also true when we bring organizations and people together to design and implement projects and community programs. Inter-actions that are not self-serving make for the best outcomes. Efforts by any one participant to over-shadow the whole may or may not produce a good program, but the beauty and charm is lost.

While the Wellness Coalitions (one in each town) and the 5 Healthy Towns’ Board of Directors weren’t thinking of quilts when they started, the strength and beauty of the work they do is apparent in the positive outcomes produced by bringing people together.

Observe the increase in youth and senior programming, walk on a path, play on a playground, attend a nutrition class, join a wellness center, sled on a sledding hill, join a community read, watch children walking to school (or walk with them!), read about school gardens and local farm produce being used in our schools, buy veggies at a farmer’s market, come to the farm to table dinner, observe a special needs child learning to ride a bike, run or bike in a local race, attend a community forum, support SRSLY, be a SRSLY safe home, participate in a community health initiative, donate to project safe graduation, read Connected, thank a coalition/5HF staff/board member… and you too are contributing to the strength and beauty of the wellness work in your community.

Amy Heydlauff, CEO of the 5 Healthy Towns Foundation

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