From the U.S. to Kenya: How DIY Volunteer Projects Make a Difference | The Center for Victims of Torture

From the U.S. to Kenya: How DIY Volunteer Projects Make a Difference

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Philanthropist, board member, volunteer extraordinaire—CVT’s Julie Brunner does it all. The retired executive director of the Minnesota Council of Health Plans not only serves as the committee chair of CVT’s public policy committee, advancing state and county partnerships to benefit CVT clients, but also enjoys delving into DIY projects with her crafty, community-minded sisters.

Photo: Julie Brunner (center), with sisters Janet (left) and JoEllen (right).

One recent sunny day, Julie and her two sisters, JoEllen and Janet, arrived at CVT’s Healing Hearts offices in St. Paul, MN, pushing a trolley stacked with hand-sewn eye pillows, rectangular cushions made of silk and flax seed that, when light pressure is applied to the eyes, promote relaxation and lower heart rates. Then Janet presented Beth Wickum, CVT’s director of volunteer services, with a single white envelope.

She’d received the envelope at church, she said. Members of her congregation were encouraged to take one of several white envelopes after service one Sunday and then donate the amount inside to a charity or someone in need. The amounts in the envelope varied from $2 to $200, and the church-goers were instructed not to open the envelopes until they got home. In Janet’s envelope there was a 20-dollar bill. “I said to my husband, ‘Hm, how can we grow this?’ How can we make this radical?’” So, Janet sent an e-mail to her friends and family members explaining what had happened at church. She described CVT’s work, which she became passionate about after attending CVT’s annual Restoring Hope Breakfast, and mentioned the DIY pillows she crafted with her sisters and asked for a donation. When Beth Wickum opened the envelope, the checks inside that Janet had amassed totaled $405, not including the money she’d raised for supplies to make the eye pillows.

“CVT clients just love the eye pillows,” notes Beth Wickum. “It helps them sleep easier at night.” Volunteers like Julie and her sisters—who create eye pillows from fabric patterns purchased at craft stores, fill them with flax seed and sew them shut—not only help CVT meet this demand but cut costs. Until volunteers recently began making the pillows, CVT staff had been buying them one at a time from Walgreens.

Photo: members of the CVT Nairobi physiotherapy team help construct eye pillows.

In addition to donating eye pillows, JoEllen, a professional seamstress, brought boxes of microwavable neck pillows made from tube socks and hair ties to comfort CVT clients with head and neck pain. The sisters also donated half-sewn (to save in shipping costs) eye pillows that could be sent to CVT’s international locations. When Jepkemoi Kibet, MSc PT, physiotherapist/trainer, received the supplies at CVT Nairobiwhich Laura Gueron, PT, MPH, physical therapy clinical advisor, had brought with her from St. Paul on a recent work trip to Kenyashe determined how much grain was needed to fill the eye pillows, bought needles and thread, and recruited staff members from her team to help finish the project. Thanks to CVT Nairobi’s efforts and those of Julie and her sisters halfway across the globe, even more clients can experience the therapeutic benefits of eye pillows.



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