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July/August 2017
Union, West Virginia, Chapter 1108:
The Appalachian Mavericks and West Virginia Quilts

© Xande AndererIn Union, West Virginia, the collaboration between VVA, AVVA, and local citizens is like a seamless quilt of creative patterns. All the pieces are unique, but they work together beautifully, each complementing the other. Some of the parts are new, some are old. But working together is as old as quilting bees in those hills.

VVA Chapter 1108 is the newest piece, chartered in 2015 and active from the start in the community. The chapter’s name, Appalachian Mavericks, is taken from the local high school’s nickname, and the members are enthusiastic about community involvement. They march in the Fourth of July, Christmas, and Farmer’s Day parades, running a VVA float in every one. Farmer’s Day is unique to rural Monroe County, where agriculture is vital. VVA Mavericks host barbeques, bocce games, and horseshoes, encourage JROTC members at the high school, and support veterans from every war.

Photo: Dianne FischerWorking with AVVA and the James Monroe High School JROTC, the chapter has helped create a donation program of quilts made by community members. Each one is donated to VVA and distributed at the nearby Beckley VA Medical Center. Diane Fischer, the chapter’s AVVA president, is the liaison between the quilters and the chapter.

Another contributor to the community pattern is a young AVVA member from the JROTC program, Antonella Blanco, who met members of Chapter 1108 soon after it was established. They were so impressed that they raised $900 for her college ambitions directly upon meeting her. She is West Point bound, a local firefighter, soccer player, and farm woman. She works with horses on her parents’ farm.

Blanco said she anticipates no problems at West Point. She says that working on a farm has prepared her, because when there is work to be done it doesn’t matter if one is male or female, you simply do the work. Blanco also said that she has learned from the veterans of the chapter about what war is really like, what heroism is, what endurance is—and what it is to give back to a community that has been good to her.

Marie Farley is a local quilt maker who donates lap quilts to VVA. She has been sewing quilts for more than fifty years, and loves making them and donating them to veterans. She donates her time, her materials, and her work. She doesn’t use synthetic cloth, only cotton, and she has a great eye for color and design. Her quilts are beautiful. She donates the lap quilts, as well as larger ones that take months to hand-stitch. The last hand-stitched quilt she made, “Pride and Glory,” brought in $1,300 at the chapter’s annual Christmas party in 2016.

Members of the community also make afghans to donate to veterans through Chapter 1108. Laurie Caudill adds more intricate thread to this community. She settled into Monroe County from California as if she had always lived there, giving to the area through her work. Caudill used to travel to Arizona where Navajo weaving is a centuries-old tradition. It has influenced her afghan and weaving designs.

Photo: Courtesty Chapter 1108

The collaboration’s strongest connecting fiber is Chapter 1108. The last donation to long-term veterans at the Beckley VAMC included nearly sixty afghans, quilts, and bed socks. Chapter members receive the quilts and afghans. Then they call on JROTC members to go with them to the VA Hospital to distribute the lap blankets, which spins new community patterns by allowing young people to meet those who have experienced military life and have given to their country. Young and old talk about the veterans’ pasts and the teenagers’ futures, bringing them closer, teaching and learning about life.

As Antonella Blanco said: “Handing out quilts may seem insignificant on the face of it, but knowing that they are remembered and acknowledged means so much to these veterans.”

Quilts of Honor

“The dream was as vivid as real life. I saw a young man sitting on the side of his bed in the middle of the night, hunched over. The permeating feeling was one of utter despair. I could see his war demons clustered around, dragging him down into an emotional gutter. Then, as if viewing a movie, I saw him in the next scene wrapped in a quilt. His whole demeanor changed from one of despair to one of hope and well-being. The quilt had made this dramatic change.”

Catherine Roberts’ 2003 dream, while her son was in Iraq, was the impetus for Quilts of Valor, a nonprofit organization that donates quilts to veterans. She was adamant that each quilt be worthy of the recipient. Each, she said, must be a “civilian Purple Heart.”

The first quilt was presented in November of 2003 to a young man who served in the Iraq War and lost his leg. The foundation has since grown into a nationwide organization that maintains the same high quality expectations as that first quilt.

They have widened the field of recipients to include all veterans. “The mission of the Quilts of Valor Foundation is to cover service members and veterans touched by war with comforting and healing Quilts of Valor,” Roberts said. Veterans, in this case, began with those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan but came to include those who took part in all wars.

One day Roberts saw Vietnam veterans at a Patriot Guard ride before The Moving Wall, and that changed everything, especially after many of them were deeply moved to receive quilts and told her it was the first time anyone had thanked them for their service.

More than 140,000 quilts have been given to veterans in this country, as well as in Germany, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Despite the numbers, stiff standards dictate the number of layers, quality of fabric, colors, and designs of each quilt. Each layer, every stitch represents community, honor, service, love, and gratitude.

Anyone can join the effort, nominate a recipient, make a quilt, or raise funds for the project. To learn more, go to www.qovf.org




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