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Quilters, astronaut team up for good cause

Proceeds from special quilt auction will benefit children in Zambia

By Dee Goerge

Earth & Sky and Earth Gems are the two quilts being raffled by Mary’s ACC Quilters. The quilt blocks are made with fabric from Karen Nyberg’s Earth Views collection, based on photos of earth she took from space. Contributed photo

Two quilts will be traveling between Catholic churches in the Wadena, Minn., area this spring. The quilters from Mary’s ACC Quilts made the quilts using special fabric based on photos of earth taken from space. The quilters hope that astronaut Karen Nyberg’s fabric line will help their quilt raffle (in partnership with Wadena Knights of Columbus 2107) raise money for children on the other side of the earth... in the country of Zambia.

The Quilters

Most of Mary’s ACC Quilters belong to eight churches that are part of Mary Mother of the Church Area Catholic Community (Bertha, Bluegrass, Bluffton, Menahga, Motley, Staples, Verndale, and Wadena, all in Minnesota). They first met in October 2021 to plan quilt-tying gatherings at St. Ann’s Parish Hall in Wadena. Between 20-30 ladies (including relatives and friends not in the ACC) meet to tie quilt tops that members sew at home with their own fabric and donated fabric. A gift from the Lamson Trust Fund with the Wadena United Church of Christ covers batting and other expenses.

Quilt sizes, styles, and patterns vary for different organizations. Many quilts go to the Wadena branch of Knute Nelson Hospice. The quilts are small, 3x4-foot, so they can be used with wheelchairs. Some lap quilts also go to Fair Oaks’ residents. Bigger quilts go to Pine Point School in Ponsford, and Eagles Healing Nest (for veterans) in Sauk Centre.

The quilting group meet at St. Ann Catholic Church in Wadena to tie quilts. Contributed photo

Finally, many quilts go to Action For Children – Zambia (AFCZ). Flannel sheet batting makes them suited for Africa’s climate. Members of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Bertha have made quilts for them for many years because a family in the parish had close ties to Carol McBrady, a Minnesota social worker who founded AFCZ in 2003. Besides making quilts for her to give children, Mary’s ACC Quilters made two quilts to raffle and raise money to celebrate AFCZ’s 20 years.

The Cause

McBrady initially traveled to Africa on a mission trip with hopes to comfort AIDS babies. While there, she discovered she had skills — and a calling — to help older street kids in Lusaka, Zambia.

“The children were dying and nobody was doing a thing,” she said. So, she got involved, providing basic medical care, taking kids to the hospital, and arranging for a lot of funerals, with a grant from the Sisters of St. Joseph in St. Paul. For a couple of years, while working at a Minnesota juvenile detention school, she spent summers in Zambia.

A couple of boys changed that in 2005. One Monday she noticed a tiny boy in fancy clothes. He told her that he got them from ladies who picked him up for the weekend; she was horrified when he told her what they did with him. A few days later, kids ran to get her when a boy fell off the train. She wasn’t prepared for the blood and the scattered pieces of leg — he’d been run over by the train. She ran to a police station, only to learn they wouldn’t do anything until the boy died. After wrapping leg parts in cloth and bribing a taxi driver, she took the boy to the hospital herself. Whenever she left his side, he cried out something. The doctor said he was saying “Mama.”

Carol McBrady is “Mama Carol” to her boys in Zambia. Contributed photo

“I went out to the parking lot and said, ‘OK God, whatever you set before me, I will take care of it,’ ” she recalled.

Carol quit her job, rented an apartment, and started taking in street kids. Soon, kids were spreading the word about Mama Carol. She rented a bigger place, Salvation Home, to take in more children, yet provide a family atmosphere with community connections. In 2009, a village donated 50 acres of land, where some of the older children worked with hand tools to create a garden. By 2012, the first building was ready for children to live in family units. Now Kulunga Bana Farm has four buildings, enough space for 36 children, plus house parents and AFCZ alumni who manage the farm’s garden and livestock. There’s also a church on the farm.

“Redemption house was built (in 2017) to house children who qualified for grade 8 while at the farm. They continue their secondary education there and then go on to trade school and college after completing grade 12,” McBrady said. “It’s designed to provide education and family and life skills that helps them grow into adulthood.”

Mama Carol’s reputation and the programs she developed caught the attention of the Zambian government, which recently initiated a program to build centers for children and families in crisis. McBrady consults with them and closed Salvation Home. Now the focus is to add more Redemption House housing. Funds are needed for cement and steel to build them.

“We have modeled (what works). The kids are growing up to be amazing young men and women,” she said. “We want them to all grow into Zambia adults who can take care of themselves and become part of their country’s development.”

The Astronaut

Mary’s ACC Quilters’ raffle to raise money for AFCZ has quilts made with fabric that has a local tie — astronaut Karen Nyberg, of Vining, Minn. On her 166-day, 2013 flight at the International Space Station, she spent time in the cupola with a camera.

“When you’re looking down on earth it’s so beautiful and you want to capture it,” she said.

NASA Astronaut Karen Nyberg completed a handsewn quilt block while in space. Contributed photo

Though she was a quilter and hand-sewed a quilt block during her mission, the idea of turning photos into fabric came after she retired in 2020. Through a partnership with Robert Kaufman Fabrics, her photos inspired 30 Earth Views fabrics.

They are made with organic cotton, which fits in Nyberg’s focus on environmental partnerships with businesses and organizations. Between advising boards of directors, speaking engagements, and other enterprises, she enjoys sewing, creating patterns and textile artwork. She credits her parents for inspiring her. Her mom taught her to sew, and her father, Ken Nyberg, is well known for his metal sculptures in Vining.

“One of the reasons I wanted to create Earth Views was to bring attention to how beautiful this world is. We need to go past our own little worlds and look at earth as a whole in decisions we make, and empathy for people on the other side of the world. The earth is interconnected,” she said.

With the quilt raffle, Mary’s ACC Quilters hopes to make that connection between America and Zambia.

The raffle drawing will be held at St. Ann’s Parish Hall in Wadena at 12:30 p.m. For more information about AFCZ, visit For more information on the quilts or quilting raffle email Dee Goerge, a member of Mary’s ACC Quilters, at

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