Building Community at Westminster Place

The youth at Westminster Place walk into the community room, excitedly chattering and laughing with each other. Without breaking stride, they head over to the space where the reading mats are folded and stacked neatly. Following some negotiations about who gets which mat, the kids greet the volunteer reader, lay out the mats on the floor, and settle in for story time. The story of how this scenario came to be is a memorable tale itself.

When Advantage Services Coordinator Bao Xiong began working at Westminster Place two years ago, she brought the idea of a sewing circle with her from another CommonBond housing community. Since then, a sewing circle has been held every Wednesday afternoon at Westminster, led by longtime volunteer Darlene. When Youth Program Specialist Pa Phoua Xiong began working at Westminster, she came up with the idea of having the sewing circle make reading mats for the kids in the community. “I have kids myself, and I had the idea to make reading mats in order to make kids feel more excited about reading” said Pa.

The sewing circle participants are other Westminster residents—but they’re often at the opposite end of the age spectrum than the youth. Many of the sewers are seniors who always show up early, eager to begin working on their projects. “The seniors love keeping themselves busy,” Bao said. “Even when there’s a language barrier, we can make it work.” Participants in the sewing circle work on a variety of different projects. In addition to the elders, who often love to sew for their grandkids, young moms occasionally come in and sew sheets and blankets for their newborns.

The reading mats that the sewing circle made are now used for Westminster’s Homework Center, where the kids sit on them and read to each other. The reading mats are also put to good use when readers visit Westminster through the Bookmobile program offered by the St. Paul Public Library. Volunteer readers come to Westminster 2 - 3 times per month to read to the kids in the community. The team at Westminster works hard to create a community that residents can call home. “We’re more like a second family here at Westminster,” said Bao. For Bao, fostering close relationships with residents is what makes working at CommonBond such a rewarding experience. “At CommonBond you end up working with a whole family, you know their mom and dad, you build connections,” said Bao. “It would be so hard for me to leave here, because if I left I’d miss the residents too much!”

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