A gift of comfortQuilting group brings love to traumatized children
WAYNESVILLE — Cheryl Hartman sits at a worktable at Diane Davis' mountain home workshop, surrounded by members of the Tree Top Quilters — formerly the Killer Bees quilting group — and recounts the story of a woman she met at the REACH shelter.
The woman had come to the shelter with her two children, and she was covered in blood. Hartman, then on the board of REACH, gave the children two hand-stitched quilts.
Through tears, Hartman said that as she gave the quilts to the children, the woman responded, “I can’t understand how anyone would care enough to give us a quilt.”
This is what the Tree Top Quilters do. This unheralded group of women quietly provide a token of comfort and love to the the least of us — the children who witness or are victims of domestic violence.
The start of something great
Hartman moved to Waynesville in 1999. Having always been an advocate for children, she got to work right away and joined the board of REACH.
It was there that she had an idea.
“You see the disaster that’s going on with children, and I thought, ‘You know what? There has to be some comfort for these kids,’” said Hartman.
In February 2002, she established the Killer Bees, a quilting group dedicated to “providing a bit of comfort for the young innocents who walked in the shelter,” she said. “That was our purpose. Every child that went into the shelter got a quilt.”
Why a quilt?
“Something so simple as a blanket can bring such joy to someone,” said Julia Freeman, executive director of REACH of Haywood County. “To see those quilts and touch them and know the hours of hard work and dedication [the quilting group] put forth — it’s amazing."
Freeman has been the director for over 20 years and has also witnessed firsthand the effect a quilt has on a child.
“It’s so often when people come into the program, they’ve literally fled in the middle of the night and have no possessions with them,” she said. “For our children to receive that gift, it means so much to them, and it’s truly like a security blanket.
“Sometimes they’re actually in shock that they received a gift, like 'Wow, someone is giving me something,' and it turns into joy.”
Since 2002, the Killer Bees — now the Tree Top Quilters — have provided a quilt for every child who comes through the REACH shelter.
During REACH’s last fiscal year — July 1, 2015, to June 30, 2016 — 43 children and 54 adults went through the shelter, and the group provided 63 quilts.
“It’s heart-wrenching when children come to the shelter because they’re so innocent,” said Freeman. “We hear that the children often don’t see anything [violent], but they know. They know a lot more than the parents think they do.”
For their extraordinary efforts, the Killer Bees were awarded the N.C. Governor’s Outstanding Volunteer Service Award in 2006, as well as the Points of Light Volunteer Award.
“They are a passionate group of women who give so much back to REACH and the community,” said Freeman.
Killer Bees turned Tree Top Quilters
Hartman stepped down as the leader of the Killer Bees in 2014 and Davis took over. The group reorganized and one of the first things they did was change their name.
The name “Killer Bees” was picked when the group first formed and was much larger, said Hartman. They decided they needed a name, and one of the members said “Killers Bees,” — because bees are workers — and the name was chosen after a vote.
Under Davis’s leadership, the base of operations was moved to her large workshop, which is attached to her home and dedicated entirely to quilting.
Surrounded by trees and with a picturesque view of Black Balsam, Davis said that when “the leaves are spreading their beautiful leaves, you look out the window and it’s full of green.”
Thus, the name Tree Top Quilters was born.
The group now consists of eight members — Hartman, Davis, Nancy Kolenbrander, Carole Williford, Christa Malone, Katy Bolton, Rita Sevig and Beth Knight. But despite the smaller number, the women sew up a storm, averaging 50 to 60 quilts a year.
What they don’t give to the shelter, they sell at Cedar Hill Studio, 196 N. Main St., Waynesville; the pro shop at the Maggie Valley Club, 1819 Country Club Drive, Maggie Valley; and Within REACH Resale Shop, 456 Hazelwood Ave., Waynesville.
The money goes to REACH directly and is earmarked for the Christmas gift program. Volunteers and staff members from REACH buy Christmas gifts for families and children at the shelter — things like clothing and toys — in order to make the holidays a little brighter.
On Dec. 1, 2016, the Tree Top Quilters presented a check for $1,000 to Freeman, which was more than double the amount they gave in the previous year.
“Every cent, every dollar, gets invested back into REACH one way or the other, either in money or supplying the REACH home store,” said Davis.
During REACH’s last fiscal year, 531 adults and 189 children accessed the nonprofit's programs in some way. Additionally, REACH helped 194 sexual assault victims.
Currently, there are six adults and three children at the shelter.
“We try to keep [the children’s] lives as normal as possible unless there’s a serious situation that might require them to relocate to a different school,” said Freeman.
The average stay at the shelter is 24 days. During that time, REACH works with the individuals and families, providing education, advocacy in the courts, assistance with transportation and legal aid, as well as provide food and personal items. REACH also works closely with the school system and the district attorney’s office.
All services at REACH are provided at no cost.
“We are just trying to meet the needs of the families,” said Freeman. “We respect their choices. We completely advocate for the needs of the individuals.”
Volunteers and donations are always welcome at REACH. For more information, visit www.reachofhaywood.org. To donate, volunteer or for more information about the Tree Top Quilters, call Diane Davis at 407-505-9769.
“When you volunteer for something, you want to feel like what you’re doing is usual for someone,” said Carole Williford, who has been a member for several years. “I have been to the REACH shelter a couple of time to volunteer and I know the situation there. It’s something I feel is a worthwhile volunteer effort for us to do.”
The Tree Top Quilters are always accepting new members, who are welcome to use a pre-made fabric kit or to create their own design with fabric from the quilters’ stash.