Domestic Poverty

SewGreen@Rochester's Grant Report

February 25, 2016
Domestic Poverty

SewGreen@ Rochester, in the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester, New York, has submitted the six-month report for their 2015 Domestic Poverty Grant. The $30,000 grant, awarded last year, exists to engage Episcopalians in ministry among the economically impoverished in the United States, to provide opportunity to the marginalized to overcome chronic adversities, to challenge unjust structures that perpetuate the cycle of poverty and to inspire the wider church to more deeply engage with the poor.

SewGreen@ Rochester, a project of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, is a localized continuation of the SewGreen model, pioneered in Ithaca, New York. This model, based on sustainable business and environmental practices, is based on teaching the art of sewing and related fields for the benefit of the community. According to Georgia Carney, Deacon at St. Stephen’s and ministry executive, SewGreen “is building an awareness of how clothing is manufactured, the environmental cost of cheap, disposable fashion, and… other organizations committed to bringing the manufacture of garments back to the United States.”

With the award of the Domestic Poverty Grant from The Episcopal Church, SewGreen convened its first board meeting on July 13, 2015. After briefings on the grant application and the ministry’s background, board members set to the work of electing officers, writing a mission statement, and assigning membership for committees. These committees included location scouting, volunteer coordination, finance, and fundraising.

By the second board meeting in late summer, members had set a store-opening date for early December; soon, a good storefront location opened for an affordable rent on Arnett Boulevard in the city’s 19th Ward neighborhood. Not long after, SewGreen received 501(c)(3) status and hired a graphic artist to build up their branding and website. Well before the store was even open, the ministry had thoughtfully considered marketing, finances, and location—and was live with future educational and community offerings.

Integral to SewGreen’s ministry is a commitment to minimizing their environmental impact; ministry leaders kept this in mind throughout the store’s setup. Fixtures and furniture, when bought new, can be expensive, labor intensive, and environmentally unsound. Understanding this, they used online services to find local, inexpensive furniture that could be easily repurposed for the storefront. Additionally, as word spread about the store, material donations began pouring in. According to Deacon Carney, they have to date received more than a ton of fabric, yarn, 12 electric sewing machines, and two working treadle machines. These treadle machines have been used to showcase their work at the Rochester Mini Maker Faire and will be used again in the summer to publically teach and mend for neighbors.

By the time of the grand opening, local dignitaries and supporters were on hand to celebrate SewGreen@ Rochester. There were speeches from New York State Senator Joseph Robach, City of Rochester Deputy Commissioner Kate Washington, the Right Rev’d Prince G. Singh, Bishop of Rochester, Wendy Skinner of SewGreen in Ithaca, and Deacon Carney. Wonderful support was also provided by Mayor Lovely Warren’s office. More than a hundred people were present to support the opening and many took advantage of shopping and class sign-ups.

By the end of the first month in business, SewGreen@ Rochester had been filled with classes, neighbors, and shoppers. 19 adults attended sewing, knitting, and crocheting classes, while others have come into to join the free knitting and crochet club on Friday afternoons. According to the grant report, phone calls inquiring about classes are increasing—an encouraging sign for this new ministry.

Special events have also drawn in folks from St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church and the neighborhood. A soup dinner and Compline service, billed as an Advent House Church, was well-attended and a blessing to the neighborhood. “My Favorite Monster Camp” a ministry for young people aged 8 to 14, was enrolled at capacity with 12 students learning basic design and sewing techniques from staff and teenaged volunteers. Camp participants designed monsters, created patterns from their sketches, and built them—a process that was evolutionary, as campers continued to discover new fabrics, furs, trim, buttons, and sequins. The camp concluded on New Year’s Eve 2015, with a Monster Fashion Runway show, put on by the camp’s joyful, engaged participants. The success of this camp has led the ministry board to consider how they might create an ongoing relationship with the Rochester City School District and local homeschooling organizations.

Still, there have been challenges to the work. According to Deacon Carney, the ministry is committed to building up their volunteer staff while also seeking outside funding for jobs and internships. They are also working hard to dispel the notion that SewGreen is a charity shop placed in the neighborhood. As they grow and take root in the community, they hope to show that they really are a “shop ‘of’ the neighborhood, embracing the diversity of [the] 19th Ward.” Integral to this mission is SewGreen’s active participation in community groups, including the Arnett Boulevard Business Association, the Arnett Block Club, and the 19th Ward Community Association. They are also looking to build relationships with neighborhood youth advocates.

According to the report, the Domestic Poverty Grant has given SewGreen@ Rochester the time needed “to develop a business grounded in faith with a focus on building trust with our neighbors in the 19th Ward.” They continue, “We believe that as our neighbors get to know us, experience our classes, and the amazing range of rescued items which we offer for sale, our business will thrive and we will be a light in this neighborhood of great diversity and great challenge.”

For more information, visit Domestic Poverty Ministries at and like and follow Jubilee and Domestic Poverty Ministries on Facebook at and Twitter at

The Rev. Melanie Mullen

Director of Reconciliation, Justice and Creation Care

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