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Dispelling a retirement community stereotype

Diversity quilt Project highlights activities, interests, talents of Maris Grove residents

Created date

January 22nd, 2015
Maris Grove’s diversity quilt project resulted in this finished work of art.
Maris Grove’s diversity quilt project resulted in

No matter what ideas get proposed at Grove, Erickson Living’s retirement community in Delaware County, Pa., residents appear with the talents to turn those ideas into reality. 

That was the case when Philanthropy Director Barbara Burri invited folks to participate in making a diversity quilt. She anticipated a collective work of art whose individual squares would illustrate the differences and yet the similarities of Maris Grove’s population.

The idea was that participants would each make a square representing their hobbies, personal history, heritage, or culture—“anything that would make the square their own,” says Burri.

Unexpected interest

In fact, the community’s artistic diversity became apparent immediately, says resident Liz Murphy. 

“I was overwhelmed,” she says. “People told us, ‘I do needlepoint,’ ‘I do cross-stitch,’ ‘I paint.’ One woman had made costumes for all of our early Players Club and Follies productions.”

A self-taught quilter of twenty years, Liz has always worked on her own. “This project got me out of that,” she says.

She and Eileen Ferguson, her neighbor and fellow quilter, guided the project. They expected modest interest, but participation snowballed instead. 

Eventually, 44 people made 54 squares and employed nearly every type of needlework to create them. Some squares featured photo transfers, and Eileen machine-embroidered some. One resident painted designs on a square of canvas.

Community affair

It wasn’t that people wanted to showcase themselves; they aimed to express their love for a particular club or interest.

“Maris Grove is like a college campus,” Liz says. “It’s full of active people. Each new idea for the quilt engendered more ideas.”

She and Eileen worked one on one with people to help them design their personal square and translate it to fabric.

Another woman compiled a book of comments from participants explaining the symbolism in their square. 

Because of the variety of materials and the large number of squares, fashioning them into one single quilt wasn’t feasible. So the campus woodshop got involved and, as a result, incorporated flexibility. 

Woodshop members made 30- by 30-inch wooden frames to hold nine squares each, in essence, forming six separate mini quilts that can be displayed simultaneously in different locations on campus or can travel to other Erickson Living communities. 

The latter is Burri’s ultimate hope. She would love Maris Grove’s sister communities to follow the same framed format but create squares to reflect their unique personalities.

“Some people stereotype retirement community residents as senior citizens and nothing more,” she says. “But our residents come from different religions, cultures, and countries. Diversity projects like this can help dispel the stereotype.”

Murphy adds, “This is an example of why it’s a good idea to move to Maris Grove early. Look what you can get involved in! When the kids leave home, you need to reinvent your life, and that’s what I see people doing here.

“At Maris Grove, we’re not pushed aside. We’re pushed to the forefront. I’ve seen so many people blossom here, and I’ve made so many new friends.”

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