Before September, Olivia Kehoe had never picked up a needle and thread.
But when it came time to find a community service project for the International Baccalaureate program at Myers Park High, Kehoe, a sophomore, said she wanted to help local children in a unique way. With winter fast approaching, Olivia came up with the idea to sew and donate coats for children.
Olivia said she watched countless tutorials on YouTube to learn how to sew. She found a basic children’s coat pattern, bought yards of fleece fabric, and got to work.
“Every weeknight and on weekends I was sewing,” Olivia said. “Often sewing late into the night.”
In all, she put about 200 hours of work into 30 jackets, made for 2- to 4-year-olds, she said.
The coats were assembled using four pieces of cloth – one piece for front, one for back and two to create a hood. The tiny coats had snap buttons that resembled pieces of candy, Olivia said.
One snag she encountered: not having the proper scissors to cut fleece, she said. Regular scissors tore the fleece, but titanium scissors “cut like butter.”
“Cutting out the four pieces of fabric (to make each coat) took about a month,” Olivia said.
And in the early stages of creating the coats, Olivia admitted that her seam ripper was her best friend. She had to start over several times until she learned to sew in a straight line.
Each coat had a unique design and material. Some were fleece with polka dots, dinosaurs, or flowers, while others were solid colors, red corduroy, plaid, and blue quilt.
She originally set a goal of making 50 coats for the project, but quickly decided she wouldn’t be able to make it. So, she handmade 30, then held a coat drive with family and friends to collect the remaining 20.
Olivia donated the coats to the Carolina Refugee Resettlement Agency Dec. 6, just in time for the holidays and cooler weather. Ellen Dubin, executive director of the organization, said the coats will be distributed to incoming refugees the second they step off their planes in Charlotte.
“I just want to see the (kids) smile. I know it’s scary for them coming into this country,” Olivia said. “I hope something as simple as the (patterns) of flowers or dinosaurs can make them smile.”
Dubin said Olivia is the first high school student to commit her time and donate to the agency.
Lisa Kehoe, Olivia’s mother, shed a tear while standing in the agency and listening to how grateful Dubin was for Olivia’s hard work.
“We have learned from Olivia to never underestimate the power of a determined 16-year-old,” Lisa said about her daughter.
Olivia said she plans to continue her newfound hobby of sewing, but hopes to one day be a doctor.
“I hope I can help inspire others to make a change in their communities, no matter how small it may be,” Olivia said.