Last week’s Fourth of July parades, fireworks and marches, while festive, are not the only way to show thanks to our country and our veterans.
Terri Heywood, a Warwick native, shows her appreciation by making quilts for veterans, as part of Quilts of Valor (QOV), a non-profit that organizes volunteers to make and present quilts to those returned from war.
“I want to let the vets know that what they did was appreciated,” said Heywood. “Sometimes they gave a limb, sometimes they gave more, but we try to let them all know that their sacrifice is felt by everybody.”
She first got involved four years ago, when she went to a quilt expo in New Hampshire. There she learned about the group, which has a New Hampshire chapter. At first she only made a few blocks, the squares that make up the front of a quilt, but she didn’t stop there. Now she’s made over 15 quilts for QOV.
“Once I did a couple blocks I was hooked,” said Heywood. “It’s so much fun and rewarding. I know that a lot of quilters will do things for people that they know, but I find that doing something for somebody that you don’t know can be just as rewarding, because this person doesn’t expect anything from you, especially a thank you for them serving your country. And a lot of them don’t get told thank you.”
Quilts of Valor was started in 2003. The founder, Catherine Roberts of Delaware, had a son in Iraq. She had a dream of a soldier in despair, depressed and suffering, but when wrapped in a quilt the soldier rose, strengthened by the comforting properties of a blanket. Roberts saw the value of a quilt to show that someone cares for your service and sacrifice. QOV gave out their first quilt in 2003 at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and has since grown to award over 190,000 quilts worldwide since 2003.
Volunteers contribute their time, money and skill, either as a “sewer” or “piecer,” who stitches together the front squares of the quilt, or as a “longarmer,” who joins together the front and back. Quilts are then presented to veterans, often by surprise, all over the world.
Any veteran can request a quilt on the QOV website, and someone, from somewhere, will take the time and effort to make one.
A lot of Heywood's drive to quilt comes from her father, Lee Royrider, a veteran of the Navy. He served two tours on the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Intrepid, where he manned a gun, as well as time in bases from Mississippi to Rhode Island.
“My Dad is retired Navy, and one regret I’ve always had is not going into the military,” said Heywood. “I let my mom talk me out of it.”
Heywood remembers spending time on the U.S.S. Intrepid with her Dad when she was a kid.
“His office was off of the lunch mess hall, so I’d bring coloring books and just sit there,” said Heywood. “He’d tell a couple of guys, just keep an eye on her, make sure she stays in the area, but a lot of fond memories.”
The New Hampshire QOV that Heywood is a part of gave out 399 quilts last year, but Heywood needs more help. She’s the only Rhode Island resident acting as a sewer with QOV. There is one Cumberland woman who’s a longarmer, knitting quilts together, but that’s it.
“It would be great if there were more Rhode Island sewers,” said Heywood. “It’s so much fun, you get together with a group of people and you’re all doing the same purpose, trying to make somebody else feel better, and it makes the hours that go into it really well worth it. [You see] the smile on their faces, and they know it was something that somebody did for them.”
Heywood has presented dozens of quilts herself, many to surprised veterans who never would have thought that someone was taking the time to make a quilt for them. Her Dad lives in Florida now, but that hasn’t stopped Heywood from making quilts for him and all his military friends.
“Some of these guys are Vietnam vets,” said Heywood. “And when they came home they were not appreciated for what they gave up.”
She’s even taught her 14-year-old grandaughter, Skyla-Faith Heywood of West Warwick, how to quilt.
“Sometimes she finds it a little boring, being a teenager, but I try and teach her it’s better to give and to help others, than being constantly on yourself,” said Heywood.
Her house is full of quilting materials, quilts half-finished and quilts ready to be presented. Heywood has three sewing machines. Along with each quilt comes a pillowcase, for travel, and a certificate that reads:
The Quilts of Valor Foundation
Wishes to recognize you for your service to our nation.
We consider it a privilege to honor you.
Though we may never know the extent of your sacrifice and service to protect
And defend the United States of America, as an expression of gratitude
We Award You This Quilt of Valor.
While the desire to honor veterans drives Heywood to quilt, there’s also something relaxing and therapeutic about the process of quilting that she says makes her “totally zone out.” She’s battled multiple sclerosis for 30 years.
“Some days are good days, some days not so good, but we take it one day at a time,” said Heywood. “I’ve always had the attitude that it’ll slow me down but it won’t stop me. You have to keep going, no matter what type of illness you have.”
Terri Heywood needs help. If you want to help her make quilts to honor veterans, you can reach her at 241-8248.
“I wish we could give them all quilts, but there’s not enough time in the day, so if we could get some more sewers, that would be fantastic,” she said.