A program at Maple City and Vista Community Health Centers is multiplying gifts.
The program, called Martha’s Gift, was inspired by gifts given by Martha Burger over a span of twenty-five years. Martha Burger is a Goshen resident who volunteered approximately 10,000 hours as a nurse to help Maple City Health Care Center’s patients. Martha continues to volunteer by making blankets to give to infants born to Maple City and Vista patients.
The Martha’s Gift program is an opportunity for patients and volunteers to emulate Martha by sharing their gifts of time and talent.
Roel Cervantes, the founder of the Martha’s Gift program, explained how it works. “Women gather together to make things that will help others. Our ideas include helping people in homeless shelters in Chicago and people going through chemotherapy here in Goshen."
“For me, this is a dream come true,” said Roel. “I like to imagine situations in which everyone wins. For a long time, I’ve had dreams of connecting two kinds of people -- people who need help and people who have time and talent to offer.”
During the time that Roel made plans for the program, he was working at Maple City Health Care Center and finishing a Masters in Intercultural Leadership degree at Goshen College. “As part of my studies at Goshen College, I used a needs assessment to create a business plan for the Martha’s Gift program.”
Roel’s work in the billing department at Maple City Health Care Center helped shape his ideas for the Martha’s Gift program. “Part of my job at MCHCC was to make sure that health care is affordable for all of our patients. MCHCC has a program called More Than Money where qualified patients can volunteer for community non-profits in exchange for credit on their bill.”
“But some of our patients lack transportation and child care,” said Roel. “It’s difficult for them to volunteer at, let’s say, Habitat for Humanity. Now, with the Martha’s Gift program, women who want to help others and who want to help offset the cost of health care for their families can walk to their meetings. They can bring their children.”
The main benefit for participants, however, is meeting new people and building relationships.
“Research and our own experience show that people who are socially isolated suffer from higher rates of illness including depression.” said James Nelson Gingerich, a physician at MCHCC and the organization’s Guardian of Vision. “In other words, good relationships are good medicine.”
The Martha’s Gift group meets each week in an upstairs room in the large house at Vista. Participants learn from each other and work on their projects. “People are laughing and talking,” said Roel. “They joke and poke fun at each other, which to me is a sign of how comfortable they are. People who were strangers when we started have invited each other over to eat a meal.”
While Vista offers space for the program, Martha’s Gift is sponsored by several local Goshen area churches. The churches cooperate to provide financial support and send people to the group meetings to make connections and build relationships. Churches involved so far include Zion Comunidad Cristiana, Comunidad Christiana Adulam, Iglesia Sinai, and College Mennonite Church.
Reverie, a yarn and gift shop in Goshen, donated materials and expertise (Reverieyarn.com) for the first Martha's Gift project. People at Reverie assembled a knitting kit for each participant. The kit included enough yarn to make a baby-sized blanket.
Melissa Bebout-Schmitz, one of Reverie’s owners, taught the women how to knit. “I wasn’t sure how it would work to teach knitting through an interpreter,” said Melissa, “but the women in the group learned quickly. A few women who had knitted before helped others. I was amazed at how creatively the women improvised with the basic stitches. The blankets they made are beautiful.”
The leaders and participants of Martha’s Gift have plans for future projects. “We want to make caps and mittens for people in homeless shelters here in Goshen as well as in Chicago,” explained Roel. “Eventually, we want to buy some sewing machines so that we can make clothes and hospital gowns to give to people not only in this country, but around the world.”