Shelia’s Shawls Project 10 years later

Who would ever have dreamed back in 2003 when the Sheila Shawl project was started in honor of Sheila Wellstone that 10 years later we would have distributed over 6000 shawls and scarves to the families of domestic violence and abuse victims.

Renee Youngberg is the Sheila Shawl National Coordinator and she and other coordinators have done an incredible job of keeping this project alive. Contact her at

Learn more about the project at




Thank you messages from those who have received shawls.


I just received the two boxes of shawls that you sent – THANK YOU!!! I feel like I’m swimming in them!

I had a magical day today… I had to take our shelter van to the shop for some service. When I was ready to leave, the cashier looked at my ticket and saw “Women’s Resource Center” and asked me, “Is this for battered women?” I said yes. Then she asked me, “Do you get federal funding that covers this?” I told her that we received some, but we rely mostly on grants and donations. She handed me back the credit card and insisted that she pay for our bill herself, saying that she knew “what its like,” and reached for her purse. She didn’t take no for an answer.

As soon as I got back in the van, I knew I had to go back to the shelter and get her a shawl and bring it right over to her. When I gave it to her she had this look of wonder on her face. It was beautiful. She kept saying, “You didn’t have to do this…”

It was a nice moment.

Hi Janet,
I wanted to let you know that all of the shawls and scarves have been received and they are beautiful! I’m sorry I did not get back to you earlier, but things have been hectic. Two of the shawls went to adult daughters of a woman that was killed in Williamsburg County. Her murderer was convicted last week and sentenced to 40 years. I am in the process of contacting another woman whose daughter was raped and murdered by a neighbor. The neighbor was supposed to be in prison on a violation of probation and a bond error resulted in his release. This happened in the fall of last year and the mother is having a terrible time – particularly because this would not have occurred if the system had worked! I know that a shawl will bring her a little bit of comfort.

I wanted to get a mailing address for you, because I’d like to make a contribution. As a non-profit my organization is not able to do so, but I would like to help with the cost of the shipping – I hope that you will continue to be able to “do what you do” for a long time!


In searching the web for domestic violence issues I met Nancy Rafi in Rhode Island.
There was a link for a FREE shawl on the website. Not knowing how fabulous this was about to be, I asked her to send my mother one and my sister since Mama is living with her at this time in Raleigh, NC.  I went to visit with my younger sister this past Saturday, and was so moved to find that from my interest through emails to Nancy Rafi, that she had three shawls sent (yes, one for me also).  This is truly a comfort to sit with my shawl over my shoulders.  All of us were very thankful and I will be writing to my knitter since she did a splendid job on the one I picked. Hilda Pizzuti is her name, and I feel the love she put in this while she sat and worked.  Just wanted to write you after reading parts of your newsletter today at work.   What wonderful things you are doing.
My youngest sister Danette Streater was murdered by her so-called boyfriend in 1998.
We may never find peace without her. She was one of the kindest, and most precious women anyone could know. Now, we don’t get to grow old with her in our lives.
Sorry this is so long.  I must go, but thanks.

With a loving heart, Debby

Poem – Throat, Knife, Words

Throat, Knife, Words 
Jill Breckenridge 

I couldn’t cry the day my mother died.
She was shy, never good with words.

She thought that vodka made her droll.
She stored her bottles with the toilet paper.

She stuffed and zipped them into winter boots.
She hid them under Idaho potatoes.

My father drank martinis from a pitcher.
He floated olives in them, little ice.

My mother ran her car into the streetlight.
My father ran his fist into her face.

At six, I knew that secrets saved your life.
I hid the butcher knife beneath the sheets.

My heart gave back our nightmare in the light:
He strangled her against my cowboy spread.

His hands around her neck, her face turned blue.
I meant to run the knife between his ribs.

He heard me yell, I’m going to kill you, Daddy!
My father knocked the knife out of my hand.

Slumping to the floor, he sobbed till dawn.
He never hit her in the face again.

The day she died, she put her make-up on.
I wanted us to say what was unsaid.

Cancer of the throat, she couldn’t speak.
We never found the words to make it right.

(Jill wants you to know that this poem is written in iambic pentameter for
those of you who are poetry aficionados! And it is autobiographical. This
poem will be included in her new book of poems, The Gravity of Flesh.)

Bureau of Justice releases statistics on Intimate Partner Violence 1993-2010

This link has the details

The latest information Nov. 27, 2012 from the Bureau Of Justice Statistics (BJS) on Intimate Partner Violence, 1993-2010 Shannan M. Catalano, Ph.D.

November 27, 2012 NCJ 239203

Presents data on nonfatal intimate partner violence among U.S. households from 1993 to 2010. Intimate partner violence includes rape, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, and simple assault by a current or former spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend. This report presents trends in intimate partner violence by sex, and examines intimate partner violence against women by the victim’s age, race and Hispanic origin, marital status, and household composition. Data are from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), which collects information on nonfatal crimes reported and not reported to the police from a nationally representative sample of U.S. households.


  •  From 1994 to 2010, the overall rate of intimate partner violence in the United States declined by 64%, from 9.8 victimizations per 1,000 persons age 12 or older to 3.6 per 1,000.
  •  Intimate partner violence declined by more than 60% for both males and females from 1994 to 2010.
  •  From 1994 to 2010, about 4 in 5 victims of intimate partner violence were female.
  •  Females ages 18 to 24 and 25 to 34 generally experienced the highest rates of intimate partner violence.
  •  Compared to every other age group, a smaller percentage of female victims ages 12 to 17 were previously victimized by the same offender.
  •  The rate of intimate partner violence for Hispanic females declined 78%, from 18.8 victimizations per 1,000 in 1994 to 4.1 per 1,000 in 2010.
  •  Females living in households comprised of one female adult with children experienced intimate partner violence at a rate more than 10 times higher than households with married adults with children and 6 times higher than households with one female only.

About the Source Data

National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) To cite this product, use the following link:

Additional insight into Getting Shawls to Victims of Domestic Violence

Here is some insight from a person who has received services from a shelter and then given to a shelter after her recovey. Lisa writes:

After making my own escape, I went to work, as an advocate, for the
agency that helped me change my life. I have to tell you that there
can be a huge difference in attitude from one agency to another.
Where I live now, our shelter will accept nothing that is not brand
new. They only accept handmade items, for their Holiday drive. They
feel that it is demeaning to expect their clients to “accept less”. On
the other hand, the agency that helped me, finds handmade items to be
“warm, & wonderful” & a reminder to their ladies that there are people
out there who care what happens to them and their children.

Obviously, I agree with the latter. However, they are both doing what
they feel is best in order to help woman who desperately need their
help. For myself, I donate all of my handmade items to my old agency
and what I can in terms of “new” stuff to my local shelter.

These days, I teach knitting at my local Michaels. At my supervisor’s
request, I host a monthly charity knitting group. For that group, I am
currently working on a shawl for Sheila’s Shawls. This cause is near
and dear to my heart and I feel privileged to be a part of it.

Help Understanding Shelters and getting Shawls to the people

Another state coordinator suggests:

I run a group that adopts DV shelters throughout the US to try and help provide things they aren’t getting and need and comfort items.  We do send mostly handmade things, and most of that is crochet or knit.  I’m going somewhere with this…and I’m not trying to get members from this group I just need to give you the background……When I have someone that wishes to sponsor the shelter in their area they talk to the director and then I call to confirm that.  I’ve had a couple directors (not many at all) that are not interested in handmade afghans, dishcloths, towels, sheets, etc…..even though they need these things they want them store bought.  I’ve found two main reasons for this, and once you figure out which one is the one stopping you from getting through then you can combat their response and still help victims.

1:  The shelter worker herself has never been a victim of DV and has no clue what it feels like.  I mean she can care all she can but when it comes down to it she does not know personally what it feels like to know that someone is giving you something and they don’t even know you, it is very comforting.

2:  The shelter is located in an area where there is a strong sense of animosity towards others…..a not so friendly town, etc……and in areas like that most people are raised to think other people are just plain nasty.  So if you give handmade items you can’t show (by it still being in the original package) that it was new and not used.  In areas like that they tell the women in the shelter, as a way of building up their self esteem that they are too good for hand-me-downs, and handmade things.

I’ve also found that usually the director of the shelter is more responsive to donations in general, so I always try to contact the director to set an appointment for delivery.  Shelter workers some times allow themselves to distance themselves from what they have to hear and see all the time and it just becomes a job for them and a donation will be just that much more work they will have to do.  So start with the director.  I’ve only encountered one director that just absolutely refused to allow us to help victims in her shelter….she eventually got fired (no doing of ours) and the new director found one of our brochures in the desk and emailed us….we have since then adopted that shelter for one of our quarterly deliveries… it all worked out in the end.  However, I didn’t waste much time with the original director…I just moved on and found another shelter that would let us help.

I’ve also found that in order to gift shawls to victims families after a DV death that contacting the state coalition is helpful as well as the victim advocates locally.
I hope I haven’t went to far off on a tangent, and that this will help someone!

Ways to reach families touched by domestic violence

Leslie wrote, “I’m also a bit frustrated about getting shawls & scarves to people–I can give them to the women in transitional housing as they leave abusive situations, but we’ve actually had 3 local DV deaths recently & I’m stymied with getting things to
the families.”

I suggest you contact the victim/witness coordinator in your local prosecuting attorney’s (some states call this the district attorney).  Today I believe that almost every prosecutor’s office has someone who works with victims of crimes.  I worked with victim/witness coordinators for years here in Idaho and found them all to be very knowledgeable and helpful.

While in Minnesota I delivered shawls to Someplace Safe, a nonprofit organization that works with victims of domestic violence.  They were very, very appreciative of the shawls.  Here in Boise, Idaho I work with the Women’s and Children’s Alliance which provides shelter to victims of domestic violence.  I deal directly with the director, and she also has been very grateful for the shawls.  I have  more shawls to deliver, and hopefully will get them delivered within the next two weeks.  I am teaching classes in the Portland area this weekend and in Colorado Springs next weekend, so am keeping very busy!

I have knit two shawls and one afghan that I will be sending to an individual in Minnesota to give to the children of his cousin who was murdered by her boyfriend.

Thanks to all who are participating in this program,

Extreme Makeover October 2007 in Minnesota

While Hopkins teachers Erik and Vicki Swenson and their family visit
the Magic Kingdom, a team of designers, builders and volunteers is
creating magic of their own for the family, who will return to a new
house more than twice the size of the one they left earlier this week.

The Swensons received the news Aug. 21 that they had been chosen for a
segment of ABC-TV’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” which selects
two dozen deserving families each season to receive new, custom-built
homes as a result of challenging circumstances. Shortly after the
news, the family left on vacation, and work began on their new home.

Fellow educators in Hopkins nominated the Swensons after the death of
Vicki’s sister. Teri Lee was shot and killed in her Washington County
home by an abusive ex-boyfriend Sept. 22, 2006, in front of her
11-year-old daughter. Lee’s husband died in a car accident several
years earlier.

The Swenson-Lee family
The Swensons, who have three daughters — a 10-year-old and
18-month-old twins — adopted Lee’s four children, who range in age
now from 6 to 12. And the Swensons are expecting a daughter in early
November, bringing their family of nine to a total of 10.

After leaving their three-bedroom, 2 1/2-bath, 2,300-square-foot home,
they’ll return Tuesday to a home with 5,600 square feet, seven
bedrooms and five bathrooms. The project will be featured in a
two-hour special edition Nov. 25, the show’s 100th episode.

Vicki not only opened her home to her nieces and nephews, but became
an advocate to protect women and children from domestic abuse, helping
write two bills to provide greater protections. She’s a family and
consumer sciences teacher on leave of absence, although she recently
returned to Hopkins to coach volleyball. Erik, an Education Minnesota
member, is a world studies teacher at the high school.

Nominating the family isn’t the only support colleagues have shown
them since the tragedy. Local union members worked with the
administration, community and students on a benefit last fall that
raised $175,000 for the family. Colleagues also helped establish a
fund for donations. For information, visit, or send
donations to:

Children of Teri Lee Memorial Fund
c/o Lake Elmo Bank
11465 39th St. N.
Lake Elmo, MN 55042