By Cherrilynn Bisbano
“A handmade item says I love you.”- Mary Jo Hines
An empty nest was the springboard for binding the hearts of people around the world; giving hope and showing love. The thread that holds them together is Sew Seeds of Love, a non-profit organization based in Rhode Island.
Girls in Africa received dresses and African boys were gifted pants in the first year of Sewing Seeds of Love (SSOL). The projects aptly entitled First Little Dresses and Britches or Boys. Many more families have received a life-changing gift from this organization.
Mary Jo Hines is a loving mom of four grown children. She is a dedicated follower of Jesus. When her last child graduated high school in 2008 she desired to use her talents to impact lives outside the home. She knew she needed to invest in education to make it happen.
Mary Jo searched for a Christian Ministry to help prepare her for God’s future plans. She found the Centurion Program. The Centurions program is a year-long study program that prepares the student to be a worldview leader in the church, school, home and other spheres of influence. The application process was long. The program handpicked a few students. She applied last minute, fearing she would not get in but the next morning she received an email of acceptance and for the next year, Mary Jo studied with Chuck Colson and other leading Christian thinkers. Mary Jo was the first person in Rhode Island to graduate from this intense on-line program.
A part of the Centurion program includes World View, a way of living and thinking that encourages the student to grow in their ability to meet the daily realities of following Christ by using their talents and gifts. Mary Jo wanted to see how the World View portion of her studies applied to the arts. With a degree in Interior Design and architecture, accompanied with a love of organization and sewing, Mary Jo set out to use her abilities to reach the world around her. She explained this to me in our interview.
“Christians are benefactors of the arts. The church supports the arts. There is always a place for music, performance and now even dance. I am a seamstress, that is how I express myself. There are so many who want to use their talents, not necessarily just Christians, to benefit others.”
Her love for sewing began as a child. Mary Jo would take the scraps and leftovers from her mother’s sewing projects and make her own clothes for dances, summer and gifts. That love has spread to others in her community.
Mary Jo invited ladies to her house to participate in the first project, bags, not just ordinary bags, but cloth bags for foster children. Her heart broke when she saw that foster kids used garbage bags to transport their meager belongings. She knew she had to do something.
“These kids need to know that they are loved; that their stuff is not garbage. They need something to call their own.” she said.
The ladies met weekly. They sat together cutting, ironing and sewing cloth. Personal and colorful bags were made with each child in mind. Strong friendships were also created at her dining room table while sewing cloth bags for these children. The ladies crafted over 125 bags. The ladies also made dresses for girls and britches for boys in Africa. Mary Jo knew this was what God wanted her to do. At the end of the first year she didn’t want to assume that the ladies would make this an ongoing commitment.
At one meeting she asked, “Do you want to continue sewing?” “Definitely!” “Yes!” “Absolutely!” Were the joyful answers.
Mary Jo also got feedback from her friends as to what projects they wanted to create and where the gifts should go. The answer was unanimous; stay local. The ladies were thankful they touched hearts in Africa, however they wanted to concentrate their efforts in their own state of Rhode Island.
As the leader of Sew Seeds of Love, Mary Jo wanted to further her education. She enrolled in the Master Seamstress Program at the University of Rhode Island. The program only takes a few students per semester. Once again, Mary Jo was chosen.
Over the course of the next few years other ladies would join the group. Mary Jo knew the World View plan was working. She met people in her neighborhood she otherwise might not have met because of SSOL. Mary Jo needed a bigger space to meet. She inquired about a room at her local library in Cranston. “If you open the meetings to the public you can have the room for free.” The Director of William Hall Library stated.
SSOL had a new space and new members. Many of the ladies that joined the group were fellow classmates from the Master Seamstress program. Members of the Rhode Island Sewing Network also joined in sewing works of art. Their next project was personal.
Mary Jo inherited sewing materials from a close friend who had passed away and she and her group of friends decided to take each piece and make a quilt. The quilt was donated to Hasbro Children’s Hospital in memory of her deceased friend.
When a local family lost one of their twin sons to illness the mom donated some pieces of his clothing to the group. The group created a memory quilt out of the clothing. The Cranston Herald covered the story. A doctor who works in Pediatric Intensive care at Hasbro read the article and contacted Mary Jo.
“She wants SSOL to put together memory quilts for families that lost children” Mary Jo said. “We are meeting soon to discuss the details.”
Sew Seeds of Love continues to touch many families with their projects. Children in the domestic abuse shelters now have dolls with handmade clothes due to the love and effort of this group of sewers. Many of the children did not have clothes for their dolls so SSOL purchased dolls and made several outfits for each doll. The director of one shelter said to Mary Jo, “I enjoy watching the kids open their gifts. I am excited to see the new fashions they have sewn.”
From memory mats for Alzheimer patients to superhero capes and masks for kids, SSOL is spreading love and hope too many in Rhode Island. Hasbro Children’s Hospital, Safe Passages at McCauley Village, Women and Children’s Shelters in Providence, Darlington Memory Care Center, Tavares Pediatric Center, Women and Infants Hospital and the Scandinavian Home are just a few places that have received gifts of love from SSOL.
“SSOL is open to anyone”, Mary Jo told me. She would like anyone who can sew, cut, and iron to participate.
“If you don’t know how to sew we will help you. Our projects are simple so that anyone can do it.” Mary Jo said. “We even have ladies who are shut in helping us.”
One of these ladies is Gert, who told me this about her experience sewing with SSOL. “Sew Seeds of Love has been a joy for me. The projects are easy with great directions. The project can be as simple or as creative as I want. I have especially enjoyed making tote bags, baby blankets and dressing the dolls. I am very thankful to be part of this group. My fingers are bent, my eyes can be blurry but it is still enjoyable. Love Gert.”
Gert is in her 80’s proving that anyone, anywhere can help change a life.
I asked Mary Jo if there is anything she wants the readers to know. “People ask me if Sew Seeds of Love is a Christian ministry. I tell them, it is not an official Christian ministry. I am a Christian that organizes other seamstresses or sewists, not all are Christians. Most know I am coming from a faith perspective. I am a non-profit made of people from all backgrounds, some are Christians some are not.”
Mary Jo continued, “When Jesus was on earth what did he do?…I think of the verse ‘Jesus went about doing good’ (Acts 10:38). Jesus was always engaging people in the community. He helped those who were overlooked or under appreciated. That is my goal with SSOL“
Many who have received a gift of love from SSOL would agree; goal accomplished.
Mary Jo is available to teach sewing to Home Schoolers and others who desire to learn. She has a Master Seamstress certification. If you would like to join Mary Jo in one of her sewing projects, or have an idea for a project, she would love to hear from you. Donations are always welcome.