Building Community as we Build Inserts

By Dianne Smith

There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that the more diverse our community community workshops are, the more community-building takes place. 

Years ago, when my husband Ray and I agreed to work at a WindowDressers workshop in Belfast, we did it because it brought together people from four faith communities to work on a common cause, to benefit neighbors and improve the environment.  Never did we think that so much could be accomplished with such a simple idea. 

After two years, when we started a new workshop in Searsport to meet the growing demand, we brought the spirit of Belfast with us.  My focus from the beginning was to bring not just friends and neighbors but a broad cross-section of the community together, and at the Searsport workshop we have focused particularly on including those who are physically challenged.

These stories highlight the kind of community we can build together when we prioritize making our spaces accessible to all. 

Kevin and Don are two lead volunteers at the Searsport workshop. Kevin is in a wheelchair, and Don has the use of just one arm. They both have become expert white tapers by working at a table and spinning the inserts around as they apply the tape.  Kevin participates daily for the entire two weeks of the workshop and Don volunteers three mornings a week.  They have kept the workshop  moving quickly by spinning the frames on the table while they tape away. Amazing to watch! They are both pros at keeping the tape centered on the frame.  

This past year a family with two young adults with functional challenges joined our team and came every afternoon for the entire week.  Amber relies on a service dog. While we typically don’t allow dogs at our workshops because of the risk of disruptive behaviors and flying hairs getting trapped in the inserts, service dogs are more than welcome.Amber and her dog quickly banished our anxiety.  Amber did the taping with just her arm to spin the roll of tape. 

Amber’s brother James proved to be indispensable finding missing inserts, counting completed ones, and placing them under the correct name, assisting our food volunteer with the breaks and lunches, plus cleaning scissors and delivering supplies to the various working tables. 

Their dad Jim helped his son and worked closely with other workers at the build.  Mother Lisa was a powerhouse; she could do everything, and with expertise!  She came up with ideas on how to improve things and kept us all smiling. 

This family, plus Kevin and Don, were indispensable to our build. Their participation helped expand our thinking about how different tasks can get done. We can all work together to modify and find creative solutions to make the insert construction process accessible to all. Our community workshops are more than just an assembly line– they are community-building events.  The more accessible we can make them, the more community-building takes place.