Quality of Life Program: Crafting for a Cause seniors give back

Marana Recreation Programmer Tammy Burchett shows off a Christmas wreath created by a participant. (Noelle Haro-Gomez/Contributor)

By Karen Schaffner

Clem McLay’s hands are busy. He is at Marana’s Senior Center, weaving narrow strips of colorful paper. Twenty-five minutes later he has a bookmark.

Across the round table from McLay is Cristina Messina, who is knitting slipper socks on a circle loom. The skill proved important during the quarantine. 

“It was a lifesaver for me that I started learning before the pandemic,” she says. “When everybody was shut down at home, I did this, and it helped my thinking and staying healthy.”

They’re participating in Crafting for a Cause, which meets 10 a.m. to noon Tuesdays at the Marana Senior Center, 13250 N. Lon Adams Road. 

Sure, they talk and laugh, but they are busy, too. A quick glimpse around the spacious room reveals a plethora of handmade crafts waiting for just the right someone to buy. All money raised from sales goes directly to a fund that will be donated to a few causes. This is the brainchild of Tammy Burchett, Marana’s recreation programmer. To say that it’s her baby is an understatement.

“I’m very passionate about this program,” she says with deep emotion. 

“We don’t have much involvement or interaction with this, our senior population. I’ve been in this (senior) program for 12 years now; it’s the love of my life. The people, the talent; I couldn’t ask for more.”

Burchett began by teaching crafts; her background is in interior design, and that becomes obvious seeing the items she has created for sale. 

Using the most unexpected items such as old fan blades, bicycle rims and wire, Burchett creates seasonal wreaths that can only be described as beautiful. She knows how to make trash into art.

“I’m a huge firm believer in recycle, repurpose,” she says. 

Burchett also uses galvanized sheeting, horseshoes, old shovels and rakes, whatever crosses her path.

Burchett started Crafting for a Cause in 2016, but the seniors group was founded 12 years ago. That’s when she saw the river of talent that runs through Marana that had been untapped. 

“As I got to meet with people, the assets within this program were amazing,” Burchett says with some amount of awe. “Everybody has different talents that they bring to the table. I’ve got painters. I’ve got knitting and crocheting and quilting.”

Elaine Thornton crocheted little hats for bowling pins last year. Currently, she’s working on more hats and Christmas tree ornaments.

(Noelle Haro-Gomez/Contributor)

Joy Wright-Roles teaches knitting and crocheting to the group. She mainly does lap blankets, which are then donated to veterans. The seniors create a variety of items. 

“Last year we were into making these baby blankets with dragonflies,” Wright-Roles says.

Supplies for the program come from donations and Marana’s senior program budget. However, Burchett says she knows every rancher and farmer in town, so if she needs cotton or wire, she knows who to ask. Ideas for projects come from research, mainly Pinterest, “and then they put their own twist to it,” Burchett says.

The crew works on items for the December 3 Holiday Festival, where they will sell the goods. 

Patrons don’t have to wait until then, however. Drop by the senior center and browse at least the wreaths, which Burchett has hanging in a hallway. Special orders are taken as well. All sales are cash only, with the money going directly into the donate-money pile.

Last year’s sales brought in more than $1,000. The money was divided, with $350 going to a family in the Marana Unified School District, another $350 went to a family at the local VFW, and the remainder went to the Community Food Bank of Marana. 

“Community,” Burchett says. “It’s all putting it back into the community. … I’m proud to be able to do it and service this community.”

The seniors also have a table with their items to sell during Marana’s Founder’s Day celebration in March.

Burchett couldn’t wrangle all her seniors and their crafts without help. She has two aides: Serena Price and Mia Castro. On this day Price was putting together a wreath.

“I love doing crafts,” she says. “It’s very therapeutic.” Price also helps paint, and she gets the room ready for the seniors.

Castro was painting flowerpots, which will be strung together into whimsical people.

“That’s kind of mainly what I do,” Castro adds. She also strings together cows and turtles and gives whatever help Burchett might need.

“I’ve been in parks and recreation for 21 and a half years, and I love my job,” Burchett says. “Where (else) do you get paid to play and be creative? I am blessed because people appreciate the work that we do.”

“It’s a great program,” adds Olivia Salazar, recreation supervisor for the Marana Senior Program. “I just see the positivity it brings to the seniors. … It’s a good quality of life program.”

Crafting for a Cause

WHEN: 10 a.m. to noon Tuesdays 

WHERE: Marana Senior Center, 13250 N. Lon Adams Road, Marana

COST: Visit website for charge

INFO: maranaaz.gov