Eliza Bryant Village: Enriching through Stitching

For the seniors at Eliza Bryant Village, the nation’s oldest African-American long-term care facility, quilting is more than a way to create a cozy cover – it’s a symbolic effort that links them to the world.

“Through our quilting program, we connect our seniors to each other, to their past and traditions, and to people from across Cleveland, “ said Linda Prosak, senior director of development at the Village. “Their quilting sews different parts of our community together in truly inspiring ways.”

Eliza Bryant Village, located in Cleveland’s Hough neighborhood, serves over 1,200 seniors annually, providing everything from on-site housing and skilled nursing to adult day care and well senior programs.
Eliza Bryan

Eliza Bryan
With help from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture (CAC), the Village recently created the quilting program from a concept developed by its residents’ council. The Village uses the CAC investment to purchase quilting materials and support its ceramic class.

Since kicking off early this year, the seniors have made 22 unique quilts, and their work is on display throughout the community at places such at Andrew J. Rickoff School and Fatima Family Center. From churches to schools, the quilts brighten walls and warm laps all over Cleveland, and one has even made its way to Columbus for display at a conference after winning a local prize.

Teresa Stewart, who heads up the program as director of Village Enrichment, explained that “it’s about passing on traditions, building relationships, and providing a sense of accomplishment and community for our seniors—and they love it!”

The hands-on nature of the quilting also is therapeutic for the quilters. It keeps their minds active and hands dexterous, and has even helped victims of strokes recover from some of the debilitating effects. “Some of our seniors have difficulty speaking or walking, but they can sew or sculpt perfectly well, and it’s a source of pride for them,” said Prosak.
Eliza Bryan

Eliza Bryan
Roughly 60 seniors are involved in the program. Some have adopted names such as the “Sewing Divas” and the “Silver Stitches” for their quilting groups, which meet twice monthly. And quilting is not just an activity for the women at the Village. A group of men who coined themselves “The Cadillac Club” banded together over their passion for cars and stitched a quilt featuring images of classic Cadillacs.

Stewart and Prozak agree that the seniors’ favorite part of the quilting program is getting children involved. “We bring in kids from locals schools and daycare centers,” said Prozak. “The seniors reminisce about cutting up daddy’s clothes and mommy’s curtains to make quilts, and the children who come here love hearing their stories,” said Stewart.

Residents cut the squares of fabric, the children decorate them, and then they all work together to assemble them into a quilt. “It’s amazing to see the connection,” said Stewart. The children display the quilts at their schools, providing a point of pride for everyone involved. Veteran groups, churches, and other community organizations also are eager to have their ready-made squares transformed into quilts.

Alma Gainer always looks forward to participating in the program. “It keeps your mind occupied, your hands busy, and you feel like you are worth something when you are making things,” she said. “It’s a good feeling to see the work you did and to know that our quilts are out there making people happy.”