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Quilts provide comfort and healing for veterans

(Featured photo is of Bette Drecktrah, who has been part of the Augusta Quilts of Valor group since its early days)

Dianne Collins used a quilt instead of words.

A decade ago, Collins befriended a Grovetown restaurant owner and veteran who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. She’d read about the Quilts of Valor program and decided she could use her talents to help someone else.

“I wanted to make a quilt for John. I said ‘I’d like to thank you for paying for my freedom,’” said Collins, who started a local Quilts of Valor group in 2013 and continues to volunteer with it. The group meets the third Tuesday of the month at the Augusta Sewing Center, 3230 Washington Rd. In April, members will return to meeting on the first Saturday of the month at the Harlem Library.

With that first quilt, she kept John Edwards, who served in the Army for 27 years, in the loop when it came to making the quilt. He gave his OK on the pattern and the fabric swatches. He was eager to see the finished product.

“He said ‘where’s my quilt?’ for four months,” said Collins.

Members of the local Quilts of Valor group meet the third Tuesday of each month at the Augusta Sewing Center on Washington Road and will start meeting the first Saturday of the month at the Harlem Library. Photo by Charmain Z. Brackett

And when she presented it to him, he was grateful.

Collins has plenty of stories of meeting with veterans over the past decade and giving them the handmade quilts. She often visited the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center and its traumatic brain injury unit with the quilts, and she said patients recognized here there as the quilt lady. While Collins made that first quilt all by herself, she said most of the quilts are a group effort.

“We had a super active group until COVID,” said Bette Drecktrah, who drives nearly two hours from Rincon to sew with them. She found the group only three months after it started and has remained committed to it.

During COVID, there were days when members would gather in the shopping center parking lot across the street from the sewing center. They’d park their cars in a circle to maintain a connection with one another, Collins said

It’s only been in the past six months or so that they’ve started meeting regularly again.

Quilts of Valor is a national organization founded in 2003 by the mother of a soldier who was deployed to Iraq. She started it because of a dream she had one night.

“The dream was as vivid as real life. I saw a young man sitting on the side of his bed in the middle of the night, hunched over. The permeating feeling was one of utter despair. I could see his war demons clustered around, dragging him down into an emotional gutter. Then, as if viewing a movie, I saw him in the next scene wrapped in a quilt. His whole demeanor changed from one of despair to one of hope and well-being. The quilt had made this dramatic change. The message of my dream was:  Quilts = Healing,” according to the Quilts of Valor website.

More than 300,000 Quilts of Valor have been given to veterans or active-duty service member.

Collins said volunteers present the quilts in a planned-out event with friends and family. It’s never a surprise.

Collins said volunteers are always needed, especially now that members have started sewing together again, and if people don’t think they can sew, they needn’t worry. Drecktrah worked for Bernina (the sewing machine manufacturer) for 30 years and has taught many people how to sew.

 “Bette is a master quilter,” said Collins.

 Recipients are nominated through the Quilts of Valor website.

Charmain Z. Brackett is the publisher of Augusta Good News. Reach her at charmain@augustagoodnews.com. Have Augusta Good News delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.

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