Sherry’s Sewing, and Gifts vs. Volunteerism

photo of the day…

Sherry Sewing
…from my visit to the KI EcoCenter on 28th St, Indianapolis — a beautifully grassroots, people-first community-centered organization. Many aspects of it to rave about, but this story speaks to its very wise and potent philosophical underpinning (versus that of most ‘institutional’ institutions). Told to me by Em, founding member of the Center:

Sherry came to Ki Ecocenter as an assigned worker through a Goodwill program meant to help seniors re-enter the workforce. During her entry interview, it became clear that Sherry’s skills didn’t lie in what the program seemed to be about — ie. technology, computer skills, etc. So, they asked her, “What CAN you do?”

“I can sew,” Sherry replied.

They asked if she’d sew for the Center. The result has been a line of gorgeous, originally designed handbags from reclaimed fabric pieces, now sold to benefit the center.

Originally from Tennessee, Sherry has lived in Indy for 14 years. She lives in the neighborhood near Ki Ecocenter, and first discovered her innate passion for sewing when she was in home economics class in high school. She’d make clothing upon request for friends and family–she even sewed her sister’s wedding dress! Sherry has a refreshing down-to-earth demeanor, and says being at Ki Ecocenter is interesting because it’s the first time she’s been in this kind of “natural environment”–where cooking is all from scratch. At one point in her life, Sherry used to make all of her own clothes because it was simply cheaper that way.

It was a joy to talk with Sherry and see her completely alive in doing and giving her gift. I think of how so many organizations and community efforts default to a “plug-in” volunteer or engagement model, wherein people are plugged into existing programs according to what the institution has decided is needed and important. This habit goes against the wisdom of community, and rarely produces the power, satisfaction, and mutual delight of Ki Eco’s person-centered approach. Traditional organizational protocols rarely allow for time, curiosity or flexibility to find out what this person brings, and how that could be used to shape and enhance the existing organization or project.

Creative/Community versus Bureaucratic/Institutional… And having work in nonprofits, I know how much the ‘volunteer’ branches are often the spaces of the greatest complaints and frustration among staff, who often scramble to find things for people to do, to ‘manage’ volunteers, etc.

It struck me how, by having an adaptive, person-centered mindset, Ki Ecocenter folks created a ‘win-win’ on many more planes than could have ever been predicted at the outset. They have a beautiful product, and one which inspires people to think about what other gifts might be tapped into in their community… They have a member of their team who is energized, fulfilled, and valued for what she is uniquely giving. And, as I talked with Miss Sherry, she told me how doing this has got her thinking to buy her own little sewing machine. Offering a platform for Sherry to contribute and practice her gift has, I can’t help but think, nurtured her passion to begin spreading out in other parts of her life. The result? Her life becomes richer, and so does the community.

Another example of the great and unpredictable benefits of a people/gifts approach over those of traditional top-down, managed organizational practices.

Here is Sherry at her sewing machine at the Ki Ecocenter. Isn’t she beautiful?

This entry was posted in Building Community, People Who Inspire Me. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *