ONE-ON-ONE | Rev. Lillie B. North She has pieced together a patchwork for the Lord

Q. When did you become a minister?
A. I was ordained in 1983 but prior to that I was a minister. I had to be a minister and go to school and everything and had been doing that since 1979.
Q. Is it something you always felt called to do?
A. Right. Always. I'm originally from New Bethel Baptist Church under Rev. Lonnie Simon and I was Christian education director there for five years. I was the superintendent of Sunday school for five years. So, it was not anything new to me when I felt the need to go into the community. I wanted to do something that was spirit-led for me.
Q. Why did you leave New Bethel?
A. I felt that the time had come. I had given them 23 years of my life, and I felt that I had been trained to go out and motivate others, to have them expecting something great in their lives. God was there. He said, 'I will never ever leave you, or forsake you.' And that's the way I felt. It was time for me to go.
Q. When did you establish Friends House Chapel?
A. That was in 1983.
Q. Was that a scary thing to do?
A. I don't think I was really afraid because I had been trained to go. Rev. Simon was just great because he had taken me all the way -- sent me to school, all of that -- whatever was needed as far as he could take me. That's why I'm very thankful to him.
Q. Where did you get the idea to start a training center to teach women how to sew, craft, quilt and market their products to earn a living?
A. It came from a young lady who had worked in Washington, D.C. She always stopped by here to talk to me about arts, culture. And she said to me, 'Why don't you have something like that to communicate to your people -- not only your people, but to all people -- that they can really make a good living through arts and crafts?' She said about $40 million is being made here in Ohio. There's lots of money in it. ... I thought it was great.
Q. When did you start North Star Patchwork Training Center?
A. We actually started in late 1994. By 1995, in January, we opened up. To raise the funds we had a program and the community was very generous. We raised $2,000, and this is how we opened up. We had no money.
Q. How many women have gone through your program?
A. About 50.
Q. Do you have any great success stories?
A. I think all of them are a success. Some of them are at home with their children, and they're doing things at home, making great strides in beautifying their homes and making things comfortable for their husbands. They know what to do to make a beautiful home now.
We have Sister Rosemary Hakamakia -- she came from Kenya. The Ursuline Sisters brought her here. She came in and inquired about this program, and they sent her over here. She took the whole program while she was here and took it back to Kenya. And, she has invited me to come over. She said although they make beautiful things there, they don't know all the things they can do with it to make it a business.
We have my daughter, Carolyn McTush, who left and went down to Georgia. She has her own business and she has a Web site -- that's what we're aiming for. She has added to her program. Not only the arts and crafts, she has scented soaps and three or four other things. She added to her line.
We have a young lady who's here from Nigeria. She has asked us to go to her country with her to bring this program. So, we're looking forward to that.
Q. What is your top priority -- preaching or running the training center?
A. My main ministry is my preaching. Telling people -- assuring them -- that with God, all things are possible. Without him, nothing is possible. That's where I can do my greatest work, from the pulpit. … I preach to the people that they can be anything, that God can do anything for them and then I live in it. ... I ask God if [operating the training center] is what I'm supposed to be doing. Should I include this in my ministry, Lord? And He's saying to me, 'Yes. I want you to teach my people.'
Q. Has the program won any awards or been recognized otherwise?
A. The Ohio Women's Policy and Research Commission awarded us the Making a Difference award in the nonprofit category March 27, 2001. After that, Sen. Robert Hagan and State Rep. Sylvester Patton sent us letters of recognition and congratulations. We also received the Neighborhood Enrichment Award from East Ohio Gas in 1996. They were the first ones to recognize that we were doing something.
Q. What is your greatest accomplishment?
A. My greatest accomplishment is when the women say to me, 'Wow. I feel good about this.' My greatest accomplishment is when they say, 'I'm making it. Things are not nearly as hard as I thought they were. I understand now better than before that there are so many things that I can do. If I want to, I can make it.'
Q. You said that you didn't know you were going to do this. Do you know what comes next? Do you have other goals?
A. It's a co-op -- I don't know how it's going to end. When the women leave here, I ask them not to consider themselves gone because they're part of the co-op now, and I can call on them anytime to say, 'Will you make so many pieces? Will you make so many pieces? Will you make so many pieces?' So that we can have a Web site. That's the future of this.
Q. When do you plan to get your Web site?
A. Ohhh, any time now.
Q. How do you sell your products?
A. We have an annual open house in November. We also set up a stand at community events. Once we get a Web site, we'll sell that way too. Because it's a co-op, we share the profits. The women get 75 percent, we get 25 percent. That's where we get money to keep going.
Q. How much does it cost to operate the program?
A. We have been running this program on $12,000 to $15,000 a year.
Q. Where do your operating funds come from?
A. Grants from the DeBartolo Corp., Catholic Charities and the Community Development Association. And anyone who wants to make a contribution, feel free.
Q. Does North Star Patchwork Training Center offer courses to women exclusively?
A. During the summer we will have young girls from 10 to 16. They will come in under vacation Bible school, and they will come into these classes. They will learn how to do arts and crafts and quilting.
Q. What's your greatest challenge?
A. To see that this program goes through for him. To see that it's done, well done. That's what he has given me to do. To teach the gospel and to carry out his wishes.
Q. What did you do before you became a minister?
A. I worked at St. Elizabeth Hospital as a surgical scrub nurse. Then I went to the Visiting Nurses Association for five years. I worked with them, and then I left there and they told me they were accepting practical nurses in the Youngstown Board of Education, so I worked in the schools. That's where I spent the rest of my time until I went into ministry.
Q. How long does Patchwork's training course last?
A. Three days a week from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. for eight months.
Q. Where do the women come from?
A. Different churches, the Urban League, social services and ads in the newspaper.
Q. What do you want to do before you retire?
A. I want to see these women be a success. I really want women to be able to come here, and we can give them an hourly wage to learn so they can concentrate on what they're doing here and not thinking, 'Oh. I have to get home.'
XTHE WRITER/ Maraline Kubik, Vindicator staff writer, conducted the interview.

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