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Retired friends refuse to close curtains on service to others

CHOCTAW, Okla. — Drive up to Norma Hanks’ sprawling red brick home in this small community on the eastern edge of urbanized Oklahoma City, and you get the feeling that you are in a part of the world where small town living and values still prevail.
A curved driveway welcomes a sleek sedan, a gray van and a white pickup. The Hanks are Sojourners, and their Recreational Vehicle is parked in the rear.   
Inside her home, the foyer opens into a spacious kitchen and living and dining rooms where six women are having fun. Retired from their work as teachers and civil servants, they relish the opportunity to do good things for others.
As the sewing machines hum, a jovial banter flows easily among these friends and members of the Choctaw church. They are making window coverings for Habitat for Humanity homes.
“It’s a fun, social thing, but we are doing something to help people who need it,” said Jane Weaver, whose husband, Harold, is an elder.
The women meet monthly at Hanks’ home, making valances and trading stories.  
Two of the women are taking golf lessons for the first time. “We have to get caught up on Sandy’s golf game, and she has some hilarious stories,” chuckled Hanks.
“They told me once I started that I couldn’t quit,” quipped newcomer Sandy Carter, pressing a fabric with pink and red roses.
Organization optimizes their workday. Weaver and Carter are cutters. Norma Tabor and Phyllis Wood iron.  Judy Smith and Hank do the sewing on Hanks’ Bernina machine and surger, which adds a professional-looking finish to the hems.  They complete enough curtains for 30-40 windows in one day.
They aren’t on the clock, but they try to get as much as they can done, said Wood, whose husband passed away recently. “This is a good work, and we have a lot of fun doing it.”
Most of their fabric comes from cruising garage sales, said Weaver, who sewed for her two daughters and later her 10 grandchildren. They also get fabric donations from friends who learn about their project.
Near Weaver, an overloaded chair groans with a large collection of colorful fabrics ready to be reborn into valances.
Will they ever run out?
“No,” she said.  “We’re like that jar of oil that Elisha gave to the widow. “We won’t ever run out.”
“Anybody can do this,” said Smith, who started the “valance program” three years ago, soon after her retirement from 23 years at Tinker Air Force Base. “It’s so simple. If you can sew a straight seam, you can do this.”
Juvenile-patterned fabric and sheets make excellent valances for children’s bedrooms, said Smith, whose husband, Lloyd, is a deacon. They usually get two valances out of a single yard of fabric.  
“I suppose not everyone would want to put valances in their living room, but they could be used just about everywhere else in a house,” Smith said.
Accompanying each set of valances is a card that says, “A gift for your new home from your local Church of Christ.”
Lunch is always on the docket at Hanks’ home, too: Freshly sliced cucumbers and cantaloupe complement the ham and cheese sandwiches and homemade chocolate chip cookies
“I have a very educated ironing board,” joked Hanks, who pointed out that Tabor was using an ironing board that Hanks has used since college.  “It has degrees from OC and ACU.”
Three years ago Smith’s “roomful of fabric” motivated her to find a project that would help other people.  After considering several ideas, she decided to work with Habitat for Humanity, an ecumenical Christian housing organization that builds affordable housing for people in need.
Habitat provides new homes for people, but homeowners must supply all the furnishings.  
“Moving is expensive,” said Ann Stephens, Habitat’s administrative assistant, who is familiar with Smith’s group. “They provide something that is attractive, colorful and cheerful in their homes and very much needed.”  
At first, the project utilized about 20 Choctaw church volunteers.  Everyone took fabric home and did the work alone, but that wasn’t as much fun. Eventually, these six retired women took over the project. They hope to encourage other women to consider a similar work.
“It doesn’t seem like a job when you are visiting the whole time,” Tabor said.
“Wouldn’t it be great if every Church of Christ started something like this?” Smith asked.
FOR MORE INFORMATION on this ministry, contact Smith at (405) 390-2998.

Filed under: Insight

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