May Thoughts ~ From the desk of Heather Gallant, 577 Executive Director
This past Saturday, I taught a sewing class at 577 with nine eager learners. Prior to class, I studied the roster and noticed most were driving in from across the region with one from as far as an hour away. More strikingly, I noticed that all decades between ages 12 to 70 would be represented. Interesting! How often do we get to learn about a common interest with strangers representing that vast span of ages and experiences?
I wanted to tap into that richness of experience right from the start. At the beginning of class, I invited each of them to introduce themselves with their name, what compelled them to take this particular class, and if they had any prior sewing experience.
As you can imagine, there was a range of answers. Some had seen a documentary on the project topic and wanted to help. Some wanted to get back into sewing after a long hiatus. Some had never sewn but had always been interested in it. Some wanted to use the thing we were making. Some wanted to make the project and donate it to a good cause. All wonderful reasons to be here!
Then, one brave soul spoke up to say that she was looking to settle in and socially invest more in the local community, to meet people here, and to make friends.
This open-hearted sharing opened the floodgates for others to be vulnerable. One person told us that she’s the primary caregiver of her three young children and was happy to be able to focus on doing something she loves with adults, even for just a few hours. Another shared that after the pandemic, they are actively looking for more in-person friends, not just online friends. They were looking to connect around a common interest like sewing.
As the class went on, the sharing continued and deepened and we had the best time together. Two folks who had a lot of sewing experience helped to coach a couple of people who had none. We all cheered when one brand-new sewist finished her first seam. We laughed at our mistakes and then fixed them. We supported each other. We shared stories about our childhoods and past sewing mishaps. We bonded.
This morning, I zoomed in for a monthly meeting of the Folk Education Association’s Community of Practice group. Leaders of organizations like 577 from around the world shared similar experiences to mine. In this technological age, we’re all seeing a pervasive loneliness, divisiveness, social isolation, and the need for repairing relationships and forming caring communities. We are all seeing an enormous need for spaces that help people rebuild, reconnect, and find better ways to be together.
We need spaces, open to all, that build a creative, caring community through curiosity and lifelong learning. People are so aching for sincere, authentic connection that a new phrase has been coined by sociologists: “social poverty: lacking high-quality, trustworthy, dependable relationships to meet one’s socioemotional needs.”
And guess what? 577 is here for that every day.
When you come to 577, sure, it’s about the sewing class, but it’s not just about the sewing class.
It’s about the laughter. It’s about sharing something personal to you and having others hear it – really hear it. It’s about the support. It’s about cheering for someone who just tried something for the first time. It’s about making a mistake, and it being just fine to make a mistake. It’s about having folks around you who can gently help you fix it. It’s about showing others your heart, seeing theirs, and turning toward each other rather than away.
In the words of the poet Mary Oliver, “It is a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in this broken world,” and how right she is. It’s a serious thing to make friends. It’s a serious thing to connect with people who are different from us. It’s a serious thing to mend the world’s fractures.
At the end of the sewing class, we weren’t ready to go, but we dutifully cleaned up so the room would be ready for the next class that was coming. We talked about our next steps. When can we do this again? Can we have a shared sewing day next month, like a sewing open studio? Can we invite more people into the fold?
Yes, of course, we can. Let’s.