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Richland sewing enthusiast aids veterans through Girl Scout project

| Monday, June 27, 2016, 9:00 p.m.
For her Girl Scout Gold Award Project, Shaelyn Parry assembled materials to construct more than 100 tote bags for placement on the walkers of residents who live in the Southwestern Veterans Center.
For her Girl Scout Gold Award Project, Shaelyn Parry assembled materials to construct more than 100 tote bags for placement on the walkers of residents who live in the Southwestern Veterans Center.

To thank aging U.S. military veterans for their service, Shaelyn Parry, 17, of Richland decided to handcraft carryalls for their walkers and wheelchairs.

Parry also chose the project to earn her Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest award given by the Girl Scouts of the USA.

“I always had a love for sewing and volunteering with the military,” she said.

In late April, Parry passed out the fruits of her labor — a total 113 Velcro-equipped, fabric totes — at the Southwestern Veterans Center in the Lincoln-Lemington section of Pittsburgh.

Loom Exquisite Textiles in Pittsburgh's Strip District donated the discontinued samples of yard goods used to produce the carryalls.

“It took us two days to fully distribute the bags to everybody at the center,” said Parry. She passed out the Velcro-equipped totes with her parents, T.R. and Colleen Parry of Richland.

“We just went around each room and let them pick the bag they liked, because all the fabric samples were different designs and colors,” Shaelyn Parry said. She said a few residents teared up during the giveaway.

“They were so grateful,” she said. “You could definitely see how much it affects their lives, to have someone there, saying, ‘Thank you.'”

About 235 veterans of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, plus, spouses of deceased veterans, live at the Southwestern Veterans Center, said John Ayers, director of volunteers at the facility.

“Shaelyn did a great job,” Ayers said. “She stayed on top of this project for 14 months. She was a one-person machine, putting everything in place.”

Ayers said residents use their new tote bags to carry sodas, chocolates and other items they purchase during visits to the canteen at the Southwester Veterans Center.

“They're colorful and they look nice,” Ayers said. “The vets get really creative and find ways to attach them to their wheelchairs.”

Parry recruited a number of volunteers, including Peg Harding of Richland, Joanne Van Deusen of Franklin Park and Kay Huemme of Butler County — all members of the Pennsylvania Association of School Retirees — to help sew the totes.

Harding said it took about 90 minutes to make each tote by sewing a number of straight seams and attaching Velcro to the bag.

Shaelyn Parry said she watched online videos of people making similar bags to develop her own written directions for Harding and other volunteers.

“I forgot to add that my mom was a huge inspiration for the project and has been my Girl Scout leader for the past 12 years,” Parry wrote in an email after she talked on the phone about her Gold Award project.

A recent graduate of Pine-Richland High School, Parry expects to enter St. Francis University in Loretto, Cambria County, in August to major in exercise physiology.

Last year, Ryan Parry, 18, Shaelyn's brother, earned his Eagle Award from the Boy Scouts of America by building cornhole game sets for the Southwestern Veterans Center.

Deborah Deasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-772-6369 or

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