Life is full of discarded items. Things that have already served their purpose now sit, useless and used up, to be thrown away, recycled or forgotten. The beauty of sewing is that you have the opportunity to give new life to something that has already served its original purpose. Barbara Wetherington is this kind of sewer. She gives new life and special meaning to retired sailcloth by creating tote bags from the fabric. In doing so, she has also found a way to serve her Boston-area community and donate her time and talents to a worthy nonprofit organization.
Barbara has had an off-and-on relationship with sewing over the years. She learned to sew in Home Economics class in 7th grade, but wasn’t particularly passionate about the craft. In her mid-20s, a roommate who worked at a fabric store rekindled Barbara’s interest in sewing. She learned to make useful things like pillows, window treatments and bags. When she moved to a smaller apartment, she had to put away her sewing supplies and moved on to other hobbies. A few years ago, she came across her sewing machine tucked away in a closet and realized she hadn’t used it in almost 20 years. When she remembered how much she enjoyed sewing and making practical items like tote bags, she was determined to start up again. And she knew just how to do it. Enter, World Ocean School.
World Ocean School is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help underserved children by providing educational programs that challenge them academically, physically and emotionally. The school offers an alternative to traditional education methods, believing that involving kids in hands-on programs will combat apathy and disengagement in students of all ages to decrease dropout rates, substance abuse, crime and unemployment. In fact, 74 percent of the 2,200 students who participate in World Ocean School each year are from low-income households, the highest demographic for student dropout rates.
The kids set sail aboard the historic schooner Roseway, a registered U.S. National Historic Landmark that splits its time between Boston, Massachusetts, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Roseway is one of only three original Grand Banks schooners left in operation today. The experiential programs offered aboard Roseway are as diverse as the students themselves, ranging from half-day programs to multi-week expeditions. The students are empowered to reach their full potential through sail training, team building, communication and leadership skills. Hands-on programs give the students the opportunity to participate in a richly rewarding learning atmosphere. They’re engaged and challenged in a way that traditional classrooms can’t offer.
When Barbara heard about World Ocean School’s mission, she was eager to lend a hand. She began volunteering on Roseway in 2006 doing whatever was needed, including painting, whipping lines and raising sails. She spent one summer as the onboard cook while the ship was docked in Boston Harbor and loved every minute of it. But her desire to help only grew.
A few years ago, she purchased a tote bag that a crew member had made using the Roseway’s old sails. And that sparked an idea. After receiving permission from the executive director of World Ocean School, she began sewing tote bags made from the Roseway’s distinctive tanbark sails, once they’re retired, of course, as a way to raise money for the school’s educational programs. She was looking to get back into sewing, and this cause was just the inspiration she needed.
Barbara sews the tote bags with her Ultrafeed® LSZ-1 using V-92 thread, which she says gives the bags an industrial look that adds to the beauty of the sailcloth. She also has an embroidery sewing machine, which she uses to embroider the World Ocean School logo onto the front of the bags. She turned her sewing hobby into a way to serve her community and help at-risk youth, and that’s something we can all be inspired by.
Here’s what Barbara had to say about her work with the organization: “I wholeheartedly back the mission of World Ocean School. As a small nonprofit, they run fairly lean in many aspects, except when it comes to programming for the kids. When I read the “Ship’s Logs” that are posted on the website, I’m so amazed at what the kids say about their experiences. You can see that it’s truly life-changing for them in a positive way. Many of the kids, both in Boston and St. Croix, live near the ocean but often don’t have any connection to it and its place in our world. The programming of World Ocean School makes that connection.”
In addition to the educational programs scheduled throughout the year, the Roseway is open to the public for special sailing trips and other events. These public events provide an opportunity for the school to spread public awareness of their mission and to raise money to keep the school going. It’s during these public events that Barbara’s unique tote bags are sold, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to World Ocean School’s ongoing educational programs.
Barbara has stayed connected to World Ocean School for 12 years now, helping out however she can, whether that’s sewing the tote bags, grocery shopping or standing in as a cook. She even served on a committee to organize a successful fundraiser called Walk the Plank. Through it all, she remains steadfast in her belief that World Ocean School changes kids’ lives for the better, opening them up to opportunities and experiences they would never have otherwise, and she’s grateful for the dedicated staff of employees and volunteers who keep the program alive.
“It is awe-inspiring to me how hard the crew works to keep the ship running, while at the same time acting as educators for these kids. I’m inspired by how World Ocean School touches the lives of so many young people, and I’m thrilled that I’m able to contribute, in a unique way, to their mission by making these bags for them to sell.”
If you’d like to learn more about World Ocean School, please visit www.worldoceanschool.org.