Monday, December 31, 2012

A Group Where Support is All Sewn Up

During this month’s cultural competency conference sponsored by the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency, we had the pleasure of meeting members of the Pauma Valley-based Indian Health Council and learned about a unique support group that brings together otherwise isolated adults, particularly seniors, to help them process personal issues.

The “Stitch to Wellness” program is the brainchild of Cori Owen-Biggs, BSW, a case manager in the IHC’s Tribal Family Services Department. Two years ago Cori discovered a way to explore mental health issues in a non-threatening manner: creating a quilting circle and providing space and materials so that anyone in the community could attend.

Cori, who describes herself as having “two left thumbs,” nonetheless bought herself a quilt kit when the group first launched and joined the women as they showed up with their sewing machines at the Council building to create works of art inspired by field trips to quilt shows and their own ancestry.

Initially the group was small and not talkative, but overtime both the size and the conversations grew. The scope of the work expanded too to include beading and other crafts. Soon the women began to open up about their personal hardships.

“They didn’t realize that they were healing themselves,” Cori said. “What we gave them was a place to talk without someone breathing down their throats. It allowed them to talk about something so hard that they otherwise would keep bottled up inside them.”

In addition to helping the women manage their grief and depression and improve their overall well-being, they also were encouraged to reach out with what they learned in the group to other isolated members. For instance, one month they may learn about post-traumatic stress disorder or anger management. In another, it may be home safety.

There is another byproduct of these weekly wellness meetings at the Rincon Clinic on Wednesdays and Santa Ysabel Clinic each Thursday.

The quilts made by the Stitch to Wellness sewing circle are donated to foster youths and their families or raffled off at special events to benefit groups like local veterans. In that way, the giving continues and the wellness grows.

May each of you find your own ways to support each other through difficult times in the year ahead.

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