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Building Community with Needles and Thread

Jefferson Award Winner: Lavella Cassinelli

Reporting Kate Kelly (CBS 5) 
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Lavella Cassinelli at work on one of her quilts.You won’t find an idle hand in Lavella Cassinelli’s kitchen. Many days it’s filled with family, friends, and the talk around the table is of quilting.

"They are laughing an talking and visiting and getting acquainted and working on something that they know is helping the community," Lavella explains.

As Chairman of Santa Rosa’s Community Quilts Program, this retired claims adjuster and mother of four found purpose in making quilts for others. She and her fellow quilters have made thousands of quilts in every size and shape imaginable.

Each quilt is made of 100% cotton and is as unique as the person who sews it.

Lavella says, "We collect a lot of fabric and then it’s cut up in little squares — we wash it, iron it, and cut it into little squares."

Then Lavella and her 230 volunteers go to work, sewing their beautiful creations. There are large quilts for wounded Marines at Camp Pendleton, and small quilts for children in foster care. It’s a year-round commitment.

"I do a lot of collecting, ask for grants, send out letters to try to get grant money to try and support this," Lavella says. "I have a budget but it cannot support the amount of quilts we do."

And they do a lot! In the twelve years Lavella’s chaired the program, the guild has given away over eight thousand quilts. Her hobby now fills her home with fabrics and batting.

Several times a year, giant "quilt-a-thons" bring the pieces and the quilting community together.

"They are all made with love," says Lavella. "They are warm and they’re comforting and they’re beautiful colors."

"Once the quilts are finished, Lavella and the guild-members hand-deliver them to more a dozen local agencies, from children’s homes to hospitals.

At Santa Rosa Memorial, brightly colored baby quilts sit atop the isolets in the neonatal unit. Intensive care nursery nurse Carolyn Orcutt says quilts go to each of the babies’ families, bringing comfort and a sense of humanity to a sterile environment filled with monitors and medical tubes.

"It’s just priceless," says Carolyn. "It’s it’s something made from the heart. It’s just a love, kind of dedication, for their little baby, It’s just wonderful."

"It’s almost a passion," adds Lavella. "I just love doing it. It makes me feel good, and that’s all."

So for helping to bring her community together in warmth and comfort one stitch at a time, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Lavella Cassinelli.

(© MMVIII, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

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