Roberta Hopkins

 “It’s the journey – not just the project – of what you’re doing.”

The thread and needle are tried-and-true implements of change at Wellspring Women’s Center, thanks largely to Roberta Hopkins.

 On Tuesday mornings for years, Roberta has coordinated a sewing class in the second-floor board room of the Oak Park nonprofit, transformed into a hub of thread, fabric, scissors, and humming sewing machines.

Hopkins and her fellow volunteers, most of whom are members of the Sacramento Chapter of the American Sewing Guild, are passionate about sewing and what it brings to the mission at Wellspring. The program began about nine years ago after Missy Kinder, Wellspring’s arts coordinator, approached the organization with the idea.

“As soon as I joined Wellspring as the art program coordinator, many of our guests expressed a strong interest in learning to sew in order to mend, alter, and create clothing and household goods for themselves and their families,” Missy says. “I reached out to the ASG, Sacramento Chapter, and their response was immediate and enthusiastic. Within three months, we had an incredible sewing program at Wellspring.”

What resulted has far exceeded expectations. The class is an ironclad collaboration between Wellspring and the guild. And, it’s also a huge hit among the nonprofit’s guests.

“It’s been a great program. Wellspring asked us to teach sewing, and that is the vehicle to encourage self-confidence and competence,” says Roberta, who learned sewing from her mother and now passes this skill onto moms and non-moms among Wellspring’s guests.

Pajama bottoms and tops, skirts, dresses, aprons, totes, and pillowcases are but a sampling of the items crafted for themselves, children, grandchildren, loved ones, and friends.

Roberta is both agent excelsior and witness to what happens here. Her students see “the lightbulb go on” while discovering innate ability, she says.

The women here are part of my life,” she adds. “We make it fun. My goal is everyone has a good time.”

As a teacher, she believes, “It’s the journey – not just the project – of what you’re doing.”

Their journeys have made the sewing program integral to the fabric of Wellspring’s recipe of “hospitality with dignity and love” – a proven means of lifting up lives. “

“We’re so grateful for Roberta because she really ‘gets’ Wellspring and its mission — that what’s most important is that everyone experiences connection and belonging through everything we offer,” Missy says. “Her genius is in adapting the program to meet the individual needs and goals of each student.

“What makes the program so successful is Roberta’s leadership, as well as her genuine love and respect for our guests,” she adds. “Upstairs on Tuesdays has always been the happiest place – you can hear laughter and excited chatter all the way down the hall into our offices.”

Roberta and fellow volunteers work to ensure the program has all it needs. Students who demonstrate skill and love sewing have been given sewing machines so they can continue to practice at home, Roberta says.

This proved to be a godsend during the pandemic, with the class on hiatus since March 2020. Once the volunteers were vaccinated, the program morphed into a sewing help desk on Tuesday mornings in the first-floor Children’s Corner of Wellspring. Two volunteers offer sewing supplies, monthly take-home projects, and advice on completing the project successfully.

“The idea of offering a sewing help desk is just another example of Roberta’s talent for devising ways to work around obstacles — even pandemics,” Missy says. “It also has enabled us to extend our reach to women who are not in the class, but who sew, and to provide them with free fabric, patterns, and support. Being able to offer women a creative outlet during this stressful time has been such a gift.”

On one such morning, Roberta and Andrea Towle, a retired schoolteacher and longtime guild member, were on hand to offer help to the students. Roberta and Andrea are the usual Tuesday team and are able to provide valued continuity.

 Ricarda Gutierrez, relatively new to the class and a longtime Wellspring guest, makes clothing for her children, grandchildren – and even neighbors.

Also here was Emi Gallegos, considered one of Roberta’s “independent and creative sewers” and a longtime class member.
“She just shoots from the hip and it comes out as a success,” Roberta says.

Another longtime student, Vivian Walthall, said she “really did well in this class,” and as a result, received a sewing machine for home use. She also advanced her sewing skills by taking a class at Sacramento City College.

Support for this impressive undertaking comes from many corners of the community: merchants, including Meissner Sewing in Sacramento (many-many yards of fabric, according to Roberta) to the corporate, United Health Care (sewing machines) – and, especially, the individual.

“Women who sew tend to accumulate sewing supplies,” says Roberta, whose 250-member   guild is consistently generous in its support.

Many items, including fabric and notions (sewing gadgets), are donated by those left with sewing supplies after the death of a loved one.

“The sewing machines given to the students are all donated — some new and mostly used, but in working condition — and we must have given out at least 50 over the last nine years,” Roberta says.

In 2019, Wellspring made the sewing program the showcase of Taste of Hope, the nonprofit’s annual fundraising gala that, pre-pandemic, was held in the Mack Powell Event Center, in Arden.

Attendees seated around tables with sewing-theme centerpieces were captivated by Roberta’s glimpses into what unfolds in the sewing class. Displayed nearby were some of the finest work of her students, who also have a hand in making eye-catching quilts that have been the target of vigorous bidding during Taste of Hope’s silent auction.

This was the case during the most recent Taste of Hope, which was held virtually. The sewing program collaborated on “The Hood” — a colorful and cheerful array of Monopoly-style, cutout houses arranged geometrically over a magnificent spread that radiates community and diversity. The quilt fetched a hefty bid, then was donated back to Wellspring. Currently, this work of art is prominently displayed at the Children’s Corner, where kids play and learn as their moms dine nearby.

What’s next for Roberta and company?

An additional class is being considered for Tuesday afternoon in the board room, but only after Covid is safely in the rearview mirror.

Before the pandemic, according to Roberta, the board room was at capacity.
Missy recalls that staffers were “constantly looking for space to add more students, including tables set up in the hallway — even in the counseling room. “
“It’s a drop-in,” Roberta says. “If we get over 13 (guests), we just have to tell them to come back next week and arrive earlier.”

There also is a proposal for a youth sewing program for kids in junior and senior high school during the summer break.

“The sewing program is a powerful complement to the other Art of Being art classes, craft blasts, and expressive therapy, offering women many opportunities to grow creatively and personally,” Missy says. “As she has gotten to know our guests and their lives, Roberta has guided her amazing team of talented sewing teachers to create a culture of love, patience, and fun that is tailored to Wellspring. “

“It’s such a blessing to have Roberta on Team Wellspring.”


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