Tucson women use their sewing prowess to bring comfort to children in foster care

A group of Tucson women with a knack for quilting and sewing is using their talents to bring comfort to children in foster care.

The group of women — and occasionally men and children — have been dubbed the Aviva Divas for their service to Aviva Children’s Services, which works to supply basic necessities and resources to foster children over the last several years.

Aviva Diva Kathy Lohmeier first connected with the nonprofit agency in the 1990s when she was a member of the Tucson chapter of the Arizona Quilting Guild. Several other women from that chapter did the same.

After the chapter closed, four of the quilters wanted to continue to making and donating quilts for children. Lohmeier and Cindy Lingel were two of them. Others joined them as word spread.

When Aviva Children’s Services moved to its new building in 2011, Bob Heslinga, executive director of Aviva, gave the group some space to work together and to store fabric and completed projects. He began calling the women “divas” and the name stuck.

The group has grown and now meets at Aviva on Tuesdays and Thursdays to quilt and share patterns and advice for other items like children’s and doll clothes, and toys.

The items are distributed to foster children and some are also sold at a pre-Christmas craft fair to raise money for Aviva.

Flora Ornelas has been making quilts for Aviva for at least 10 years. She loves knowing that her quilts can make a difference in children’s lives.

The quilts are smaller and easier to carry if the children are moved around. Foster children may not get a sense of permanency, but having something like a quilt to keep with them can help.

Donna Barney is a newcomer to the group meetings but has been sewing quilts and other items to donate to Aviva for several years. She has nine grandchildren who are adopted, some of whom have benefited from Aviva Children’s Services, so she is happy to give something back.

Margie Armstrong prefers to make toys for the children. Many she makes are for babies. Lately she has been making frogs that, when stuffed properly, will sit up.

She is also working on camouflage cats, a perfect combination of animal and print. She uses soft fleece and no buttons or other pieces that can come off accidentally in a baby’s mouth.

The toys are washable and can be gummed by teething babies.

Janice Brown and Vicki Lofgren make clothing to fit dolls. Karen Coyne sews adorable dresses for little girls that will make them feel special.

The Divas have also teamed up with Aviva for other initiatives, including an effort to provide Christmas craft kits to 200 children. Some of the Divas have not only contributed supplies for the kits, they’ve also been working to craft zippered pouches to hold the items.

They’ve even gotten involved in a project to help girls in Zambia stay in school by sewing cross-body bags to hold sanitary supplies discreetly, rather than missing class when they have their period.

There are honorary Divas as well. Coyne’s 12-year-old grandson, Chase Parvin, is working on a quilt that has planets and other celestial bodies. He plans to donate the quilt to Aviva, which will make another boy very happy.

Despite the sassy moniker, the Aviva Divas are a friendly group that shares the joy in helping children who have been thrown some curves in life.

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