SEWN WITH LOVE
Jasper McNeill Jr. served in the Army during the Vietnam era, when he was tasked with bringing the bodies of friends back home.
It was a rough time, he says, that left him battling post-traumatic stress disorder well after leaving the military. He was homeless for more than two years in Durham, moving from shelter to shelter, until the Durham VA helped him find permanent housing.
Thursday afternoon, McNeill, 53, stood with a handmade quilt wrapped around his shoulders in the Durham VA Medical Center chapel. A group of volunteers, the Ladies of Valor of Wake Forest, created the blankets as part of the national Quilts of Valor Foundation, which recognizes veterans who have been touched by combat.
As the Ladies of Valor unfolded quilt after quilt and presented them to the small group of formerly homeless veterans in the pews, people gasped at their intricate piecing. There were pinwheel patterns, American flag fabrics and swirled stitches done by hand.
“This is just a great honor for me,” McNeill said, grasping his quilt after the ceremony. “It’s going right on my bed.”
Durham has become the pilot location for the Quilts of Valor expansion into serving formerly homeless veterans who’ve experienced war. The veterans are all part of HUD-VASH, the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing case management program, which helps veterans transition into permanent housing, find employment opportunities and get back on their feet.
Presenting these veterans with quilts gives them the support and recognition they deserve, said Josh Dadolf, the Durham HUD-VASH program coordinator.
About 90,950 quilts have been awarded through the national Quilts of Valor Foundation since its inception in 2003. The local Ladies of Valor chapter meets at the American Legion Post 187 in Wake Forest during lunchtime on Tuesdays.
“May the warmth of these quilts always serve as a reminder of our warmth for you in our hearts,” said Martha Killian, who started Ladies of Valor of Wake Forest.
Killian said she has quilted all her life, and her daughter introduced her to the national foundation a few years ago. She said she in part started the local chapter to give recognition to the Vietnam-era service members who didn’t receive any welcome home decades ago.
“I’m trying to give somebody something they didn’t have,” she said.
Joanna Carrero, 29, received a pinwheel-style quilt Thursday. She kept the quilt around her shoulders as she walked around, shrouded in fabrics of flowers, sheep and Old Glory patriotism.
“It’s beautiful,” Carrero said. “It’s like my style, warm, cozy.”
She was an Army specialist serving at Fort Bragg who spent two years in Afghanistan. She traveled from base to base as a construction engineer.
Then she hurt her back. When she got out of the military, she said she was lost. She couldn’t go into construction anymore because of the heavy-lifting. She ended up living in a Durham homeless shelter for three months with her young son until the Durham VA found her.
She now wants to study to be a plastic surgeon, which will require more than a decade of schooling. Carrero said she loves to fix things with her hands, help people and she has a strong stomach. She now works at AAA in the travel department, and until recently was working two jobs.
“It’s getting there,” she said, smiling. “I’m not complaining.”
She said she didn’t realize she was receiving a quilt Thursday. But when they presented it to her at the front of the chapel, she tried to hold back tears.
“I will definitely probably lay with it for a few minutes every night,” she said.
“This means a lot.”