We didn’t have our Make Welcome class this week. We usually schedule class for three of the four Fridays each month and take one week off. While we’d love to have class every week, we do need time to plan, prepare, and do other behind the scenes work.

The word to describe this week for me is collaboration. Make Welcome was invited to participate in the first of the Building Integrated Communities lunch forums hosted by Project 658, a refugee services organization that has just opened a center here in Charlotte. The lunch was an opportunity to meet and connect with others who are working in the refugee community here and find ways to support, encourage, and collaborate to serve the community. Over lunch, we talked at our tables a bit about what it means to build an integrated community and we did a lot of connecting! We met people that work in education and housing, people who help non-profits get started, and those who work with special needs kids. We met another craft entrepreneur and shared some ideas about ways we might work together. We heard about the refugee youth programs and a catering school. Finally, we listened as a refugee couple from Ethiopia told their personal story of the struggles, obstacles, and joys in coming to this country. I expect that every person at the lunch walked away encouraged. I know my head was buzzing with ideas about how Make Welcome might be a part of a thriving, integrated, healthy community here in our city.

That time of connecting with others is important as we find our way. We continue to define what we are doing by trying ideas, listening to our students, discerning needs and desires, and stepping out. Hearing what others are doing, and seeing ways we might glean from their experience, benefit from their wisdom, and perhaps even partner with them gives us a wider vision for the work of Make Welcome. We have a sewing class, yes. But, it is so much more.

That is collaboration on a larger scale. This week, I (Beth) have been collaborating on a smaller scale, too. As we design products to be sewn in our Make Welcome classes and sold through Journey Home crafts, I have to make samples. This involves taking ideas we have and sewing them. I have to figure out how, for example, to sew a rice bag wrist clutch, and then work out the best way to teach the women how to do it. I have to break down and order the steps and determine what skills are needed to make this item. I have to develop a teaching plan and make sure I am not skipping important details.

I have found that to be a good teacher, I need to learn and practice and explore. Sewing samples gives me the opportunity to do this. I am also a quilter and this work helps me be a better teacher (I hope!) It was in my quilting that collaboration on small scale happened this week. I am currently working on a project that requires me to make a quilt with a limited set of fabrics. As I've worked with on this quilt, I've been posting pictures online. I've gotten feedback from others and today, a friend even dropped everything she was doing and came over to help me figure out a quilt design. It was so helpful to have another set of eyes and another brain to help me think through the design. When it was time for my friend to leave, we were both refreshed by our collaboration and I was further along the path toward a finished quilt.

Collaboration is so important – in big and small ways. As I think about the women in our Make Welcome class, I want the efforts of this week to make a difference for them. I want the connections we made at the lunch to be helpful to the women. I also want them to experience the joy of creative collaboration as their sewing skills increase and their creative confidence expands. I want them to enjoy getting together with others to try out ideas and reach for creative solutions – in their sewing work and in the bigger challenges they face in life. How I hope and pray that Make Welcome will continue to be a place that fosters this kind of creative, encouraging, collaborative community.