Volunteer Club Blossoms

2 women hold up quilts.
Leona Fields, left, and Nellie Mae Williams, Mississippi Homemaker Volunteers

Group finds enrichment in sharing and learning skills and serving the community

What started as a few ladies meeting together to socialize and learn new skills and refresh familiar ones grew into a new Mississippi Homemaker Volunteer club.

The group, which now includes about 20 ladies, began meeting in the summer of 2015 when Hilda Hayes began organizing activities for them. Hayes works for the North Central Planning and Development District. She cooks lunch Monday through Friday at the Lexington Multipurpose Building for seniors who participate in the community-based services offered through the district’s Area Agency on Aging program.

Although the daily lunches already provided a social outlet for older adults, Hayes says she felt that people who come to the multipurpose building could benefit from other activities.

“I wanted more enrichment activities for us,” explains Hayes, who used to ride the bus to lunch before she worked for the development district. “Every day we have lunch, and, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, we play Bingo. But I wanted to add other activities that would stimulate our minds. It’s so important to stay active to be physically healthy, and the same is true for mental health.”

So, she turned to the Mississippi State University Extension Service for help.

“I knew about the Extension Service and knew they could provide classes and other opportunities on a lot of different topics,” Hayes says.

She approached MSU Holmes County Extension Agent Tara Howell about the kinds of programs Extension could bring to the group. Howell first did a home canning training. Then they decided they wanted to quilt.

“I encouraged them to formally organize themselves as a Mississippi Homemaker Volunteer club, because the activities they were interested in are projects that many of our state’s clubs focus on,” Howell says. “They were a natural fit.”

The Extension-supported Mississippi Homemaker Volunteer clubs, called MHV clubs, provide a variety of educational opportunities and services to their communities.

“MHV clubs are a great benefit to individuals, families, and communities. Members give their time and share their talents to improve local residents’ quality of life,” says Sylvia Clark, an Extension associate who coordinates the MHV program. “The founding focus of the clubs was families—providing them with sciencebased information on everything from cooking to budgeting. But the scope of clubs has expanded over the decades to include service to local causes, veterans, hospitals, libraries, schools, and others.”

This group already has made a difference in their Holmes County community.

At Thanksgiving, they donated the fruits of their first project—67 lap quilts—to residents at Lexington Manor Senior Care facility.

MHV programs are self-funded, and clubs raise money throughout the year to be able to complete their chosen projects. For their first project, Holmes County club members and a local business donated material to make the lap quilts. Members used one sewing machine that belongs to the Extension Service, and a few members brought their personal sewing machines to meetings. Some of the work was done by hand, with a needle and thread.

“These ladies live on a fixed income. They couldn’t go out and buy supplies, but they brought fabric that they had at home and cut up old clothes to have some fabric to get started,” Howell says. “The community provides them with meals and other services, yet they want to serve their community and are finding a way to do that.”

They helped a gentleman who comes to the center for lunch by teaching him how to hem and patch his pants.

“His wife is no longer able to do this for him, so he wanted to learn how,” Howell says. “When he found out these ladies were sewing, he asked them to teach him. And they did.”

Some of the members have sewn or quilted before, but others are learning. Annette Lockett learned to sew as a child from her mother and in home economics class at school.

“Sewing is one of my passions,” Lockett explains. “I was really interested in it as a little girl. My mom sewed, and I wanted to be as good at sewing as she was.

“When I was a junior in high school, I made my grandmother’s dress that she wore at her 50th wedding anniversary celebration. I was so proud of that,” she says.

Mary Helen Kohn had never quilted until she began meeting with the group.

“I’ve never done any quilting, but I love it,” says Kohn.

Although some might not know how to sew, quilting is a team effort. Some cut out pieces, some stitch, and some help in other ways.

“I don’t sew, but I do their ironing for them,” says Ivory Walden.

The group is now working on a queen-size quilt that they plan to raffle off to raise funds to do more projects. Howell says the group is interested in making more lap quilts and painting.

“It has really been a joy to work with this group of ladies,” Howell says. “I have so much fun with them. I feel so good when I leave here.”

And she says the club has had the same effect on the members.

“They have gotten to know one another on a different level through this club,” Howell says. “When they were just coming for lunch, they didn’t have a reason to really get to know one another. But they have built relationships that they didn’t have before.”

Mississippi has more than 100 MHV clubs that continue to fulfill the mission of the first clubs of the early 1900s.

“Mississippi Homemaker clubs began because there was a need to be met and a desire to learn new things. The Extension Service was a trusted source for free education on topics such as food preservation, gardening, money management, and sewing,” Clark says. “That is still true today.”

Clubs differ from county to county, Clark says. Some clubs do several sewing projects: making quilts for seniors, baby blankets for children’s hospitals, caps for cancer patients, and dresses for local and international children. Others rally behind one main cause all year long, such as breast cancer awareness. Many counties rely on their club members to help with county fairs and other community events.

Members also are great teachers, handing down the same skills they learned as children to today’s 4-H’ers.

“MHV members prove daily that you are never too young or too old to affect the life of another,” Clark says.

Each year, these clubs contribute millions of dollars of value to the state in volunteer labor and materials.

“One club recently turned in 309 hours for 2015, which amounted to almost $7,000 of value to their county,” Clark says. “The economic benefit of having at least one MHV club in each county is clear.” 

MSU Extension Service
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