Overland Park & Leawood

June 24, 2014

In aftermath of violence, Village Shalom receives a gift of hope

Small, heart-shaped pillows carry messages of compassion from Boston to Overland Park.

When three shootings took place at Village Shalom and the Jewish Community Center in April, the tragedy made national headlines. Since then, Village Shalom has received many messages of support from all over the country and the world.

But one came with hundreds of small, heart-shaped pillows.

When the news broke, the people at Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly, or JCHE, in Boston decided to include the staff and residents of Village Shalom in their “feely hearts” program.

Each week, two groups of about six seniors and six volunteers each meet at JCHE facilities to sew the heart-shaped pillows, which they usually hand out to local medical students who work with JCHE residents.

“It seemed like an action we could take that could express our compassion, caring and our connectedness,” said Amy Schectman, president and CEO of JCHE. “We needed to do something.”

The staff and residents at Village Shalom truly appreciated the gift, said Village Shalom President and CEO Matt Lewis.

“It was a nice surprise, and it was very meaningful to us, partially because it was a real tangible gesture on the behalf of their residents, who took the time to make these and send them our way,” Lewis said. “We’ve had a lot of people reach out to us in different ways. This was unique.”

Locally, many companies and organizations have provided meals and snacks for Village Shalom staff in recent weeks. Others helped provide additional grief counselors in the days right after the shootings.

Last year, the JCHE sewing circle gave hearts away to a group other than their usual medical students when they provided hearts for all the recovering victims of the Boston Marathon bombings who were in rehab at the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.

One recipient there responded by saying that the heart provided the “courage and inspiration to keep getting well,” Schectman said.

The news about the Overland Park shootings hit close to home for the sewing groups, which meet at Jewish senior living facilities connected with their local Jewish Community Center.

“We got together as a senior staff, and we sent notes, but then it dawned on us that we have this feely hearts program that has been very meaningful locally, including after the bombing,” Schectman said. “So, we brought together our entire staff of 110 people at one meeting and had a couple of sessions with residents where we said, ‘Let’s try to make a heart for every one of the people who live there and for the staff.’”

The usual sewing groups and JCHE staff members rallied and produced more than 400 hearts — plenty for every resident and staff member at Village Shalom to get one.

The people at Village Shalom “saw it as an expression of the generosity of our hearts; they said it reminded them that the world is a good place,” Schectman said.

The original idea for feely hearts started as part of a course for medical students called “The Healer’s Art,” run by Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen’s Institute for the Study of Health & Illness. The heart component serves as a way to remind medical students to keep their hearts open to their patients.

Each heart sent to Village Shalom comes with a message attached, telling the recipient that the community in Boston is sending thoughts and prayers to the community here.

“We’ve been handing (the hearts) out personally (to residents and staff). There’s a little note attached to each one that’s pinned on, and almost universally, at first they have this curious look on their face, but then they read it and say it was sweet or thoughtful,” Lewis said.

Also included with the shipment of hearts were photos of the JCHE residents, volunteers and staff working together to sew all the hearts.

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