There is no place like home. The Wizard of Oz's Dorothy had it right, according to Deborah Fisher, 42, co-founder and director of Bright Hopes, a Stony Brook-based volunteer organization that makes blankets and quilts for the needy. But a home doesn't always mean a house.
For the past 10 years, Bright Hopes has made and donated more than 500 quilts and 100 baby blankets to displaced families and children to help them feel at home wherever they are.
"A sense of home and a sense of place [are] really important to me," said Fisher, who worked for many years as a fine artist, creating mixed-media sculpture. In 2002, the Stony Brook resident left her family for three months to do a fine-arts residency in Wisconsin. "I was living in a place I didn't know with people I didn't know. . . . I had this feeling of being out of place."
Before she left, Fisher packed a quilt that she and her husband received as a wedding gift. "As soon as I put the quilt on the bed in my room at the residency, it made the place seem like home," she said.
The strong sense of comfort Fisher got from the quilt started her thinking about families and children who do not have a place to call home and instead live in shelters, foster homes or emergency facilities. She wondered whether a quilt would help them feel more comfortable in their transitory surroundings. Even in the most temporary living situations, reasoned Fisher, everybody has a bed where they can lay a quilt.
When she returned to Long Island, Fisher approached her mother, Eileen Fisher, 71, a longtime quilt maker who also lives in Stony Brook. Together, the two founded Bright Hopes. The organization's goal, according to Fisher, is "to give those without a permanent home a sense of place . . . with a beautiful quilt that . . . has been made especially for them."
Fisher and her mother enlisted their friends, and those friends called upon still others. Today, Bright Hopes has a core of about 20 dedicated volunteers, both quilters and non-quilters.
"Everybody does whatever they can," said volunteer Barbara Goldberg, 66, of Stony Brook. She doesn't sew but is one of the group's business managers, spearheading fundraising efforts, the most important of which is the group's annual Stony Brook Yard Sale each spring. According to Goldberg, each quilt costs Bright Hopes about $100 in materials alone.
Fisher designs most of the quilts, no two of which are alike. She puts together quilt top kits with precut pieces of fabrics and diagrams illustrating how the pieces fit together. Volunteers sew the quilt tops at their homes and return them to Fisher's mother, who selects material for the quilt backs. Other volunteers finish the quilts, sewing the fronts to the backs with a quilting machine, binding the edges and attaching Bright Hopes labels.
The organization does not distribute the quilts itself, but gives them to partner organizations to hand out.
In their spare time, Bright Hopes volunteers go out into the community to teach others how to make quilt tops. The group has ongoing relationships with, among others, Family Residences and Essential Enterprises' day habilitation program in East Setauket and Little Flower Children and Family Services' residential treatment center in Wading River.
The day habilitation program provides daytime recreational, rehabilitation and vocational activities for adults with developmental and behavioral disabilities. Under the supervision of habilitation specialist Carole Smith, a group of nine adults between the ages of 26 and 71 has completed 10 Bright Hopes quilt tops since 2011.
"They like the idea that [the finished quilt] goes to somebody who needs it," said Smith, 58, of Selden, about the group's members. "They also really, really enjoy [the sewing]." Besides the quilt tops, the group sews tote bags and small storage bags they call "pockets" for wheelchairs and walkers.
The Little Flower treatment center is a facility for youth between the ages of 10 and 21 with educational and behavioral difficulties. Maureen Fox, 52, of Yonkers, the center's director of development, said three or four Bright Hopes volunteers come to the center each week. Over the past few years, the volunteers have helped about 30 children make their own quilts.
"For a lot of kids . . . having something that is totally yours is huge," said Fox. "A lot of it is a pride in developing or creating something and being able to show it [to your friends, family and teachers]."