Sewing up a future by learning a skill

The group abides by building reliance, one stitch at a time.



YOUNGSTOWN — For nine years, Northstar Patchwork Training Center has been shortening the gap between unemployed and entrepreneur.

The program offers its trainees the basics of sewing, knitting and quilting in a 120-hour course held in the Friends House Chapel on Hazeltine Avenue on Youngstown’s East Side.

More than that, according to its 84-year-old director, it offers its graduates the ability to support themselves as seamstresses.

Lillie B. North, pastor of Friends House, remembers learning to sew in home economic class in the 1930s. The skill served her well during the Great Depression, she said.

“You’re poor but you’re able to keep yourself looking nice,” she said.

Her motto for the class is “building self-reliance one stitch at a time.”

“We’re hoping that they will take [the skill] and use it to start a business,” she said. “These women can become entrepreneurs.”

North has ushered about 100 women through the program since 1998. For four months, students attend classes in sewing and computer skills for about 15 hours per week. They come to her through the county’s Department of Job and Family Services. Their attendance is required to receive food cards.

“They say, ‘I feel good about myself,’” said North. “I can do it myself now.”

New graduates

Five additional graduates joined the proud tradition Friday, celebrating with a pot-luck lunch and a slice of cake.

Among this class was one of the program’s first male graduates. Jim Ludt said he never thought he’d learn to sew. But a heart condition prevents the 56-year-old Campbell resident from taking part in the Friends House Chapel’s job training program for men, a program that teaches building maintenence.

Despite the unusual arrangement, Ludt said he’s proud of what he’s accomplished over the past four months.

“I learned how to sew things I never thought I could sew myself,” he said. “It helped me learn a skill I wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

Since enrolling in the course, 54-year-old Rosalee Howell, of Youngstown’s East Side, said she has begun making clothing for her 9-year-old granddaughter who lives in Columbus.

“This here program really helped motivate me,” she said. “I’m so excited about it.”

Howell said she has a sewing machine at home. She hopes she can begin doing alterations for her friends and neighbors.

North encourages all her graduates to take out an ad in a local newspaper to inform the community that they are available for work. Each comes highly endorsed.

“We teach them to do everything by hand and then with a sewing machine,” she said. “When they get finished, they are good.”

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