Ryan’s Case for Smiles celebrates 10,000 pillowcases milestone

The Roanoke Chapter of Ryan’s Case for Smiles was recently recognized by the national organization for completing 10,263 pillowcases for children in local hospitals since 2016 to help them “feel better to heal better.” Shown left to right are volunteers Vicki Seebo, Sharon Lemanski and Anita Hiner.



The Roanoke Chapter of Ryan’s Case for Smiles has reached a huge milestone. From February 2016 through January 2019, the organization has sewn and distributed over 10,260 pillowcases to children admitted to Carilion Clinic’s Children Hospital and the Carilion Mental Health Clinic.

The surprise announcement, with congratulations from the national organization, was made at the Vinton Baptist Church Disciples Center on February 21, one of several locations throughout the Roanoke Valley where the group gathers to assemble, sew, and package the pillowcases.

“We are so very proud of our volunteers,” said Faye Amos and Mary Jo Reed, founding members of the local Ryan’s Case for Smiles.

Their motto is “Helping kids feel better to heal better.” They create “whimsical pillowcases” that help sick children cope with the stress of their illnesses and injuries during a hospital stay, give them an emotional boost and “remind them they are not defined by their illness.” Children take the pillowcases home with them when they are discharged.

Volunteers meet twice a month at locations that include the Disciples Center, the Church of the Transfiguration in Fincastle, Bonsack Baptist, Salem Presbyterian, and Northview United Methodist and Our Lady of Nazareth in Roanoke.

The Allegheny Highlands Regional Chapter of Ryan’s Case for Smiles located in Roanoke was established in February 2016 after members of the Big Lick Good Sam RV Chapter ended up by happenstance at a Quilting Guild event in North Carolina where there was a table set up by Ryan’s Case for Smiles.

“We were so proud of ourselves in those days because we were making 40-50 pillowcases at each sewing event,” said Amos and Reed. “But things change. Our volunteers have increased in number. We have outgrown the original locations providing space to hold our sewing events, and we have had to find locations with larger rooms.

“Now we are sewing and packaging 200-300 pillowcases each month for delivery to the Children’s Hospital and 60 pillowcases per month to the Children’s Mental Health Clinic,” they note. They recently added the Pediatric Center at the Carilion New River Valley Medical Center to their list and plan to distribute 20 cases to them each month as well.

In addition, Ryan’s Case for Smiles has participated in several Carilion-sponsored events involving pillowcase-making by children, including one at the hospital where they picked out their pillowcase fabric to make their own cases, a Christmas party and activities at the 4-H Center at Smith Mountain Lake.

Faye Amos, who admits she “can’t sew a lick,” says Ryan’s Case for Smiles always has room for more volunteers, whether they can sew or not. Some do the preparatory work at home of cutting, washing, and ironing fabric in preparation for the gatherings. Some shop for fabric. Some fold the prepared material into “fabric burritos” ready for stitching, or iron the finished pillowcase. Some package the finished product for distribution.

They use a wide variety of colorful and age-appropriate fabric featuring sports or holiday themes, horses, princesses, unicorns, or birthday symbols— anything that might be of interest to a child, tween or teen, and draw a smile.

Volunteers bring along their sewing machines and Serger machines and set up their space in an assembly-line fashion.

About 20 volunteers gathered at the Vinton Disciples Center on February 21. They generally work from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and follow up with lunch out at local restaurants.

The national Ryan’s Case for Smiles was founded in 2007 by Cindy Kerr, not to find a cure for an illness, but to “help kids feel better.” Her son, Ryan, who courageously battled cancer, was her inspiration. When he was hospitalized, she began making pillowcases to brighten his hospital room.

The National Ryan’s Case for Smiles made and distributed an estimated 215,794 pillowcases in 2018 and 1.9 million since the group’s inception.

Volunteer Nita Prey doesn’t sew but does a little of everything else required in the process from folding to ironing to turning the pillowcases inside out once they are sewn.

Jane Holmgren brings her own Serger machine, which finishes the edges. She says one of their biggest needs is for volunteers with Sergers.

Lorain Peterson has been cutting and sewing for Ryan’s Case for about three years, doing the washing, cutting, and ironing at home in preparation for the sessions.

Susan Dillon has been with the group since they discovered Ryan’s Case for Smiles at the North Carolina quilt show.

Betsy Capito joined the group after Mary Jo Reed came to her church in Fincastle and explained their mission. Not only does she enjoy the activity, “I enjoy meeting great people.”

Anita Hiner is another of those valued Serger users. She says she has been sewing since she was 16 years old. She admits to being a “sewing and fabric addict” who sews every day.

Vicki Seebo not only sews herself but has recruited her 6-year-old grandson, who turns out three pillowcases a week.

Brenda Burns irons. She helps assemble the fabric, clipping together the body of the pillowcase and the border into “burritos,” which get passed on to those doing the actual sewing. She is a member of Bonsack Baptist and first encountered the Ryan’s Case group there after her husband passed away and she was looking for a productive activity to fill her time.

Linda Ayers does the “reveals,” turning the cases inside out once they are sewn, to reveal the fabric of the pillowcase and its coordinating border. She says the group can’t help with children’s health but can put a smile on their faces.

Mary Hemberger was recruited by another volunteer for the “very worthy cause,” which is “also fun.”

Virginia Dooley joined the group to sew soon after she retired. Elfie Allman folds about 25 fabric burritos at each session. Rae Magee joined after hearing about the project at a Botetourt Woman’s Club presentation.  On February 21, she was folding, bagging, and inserting cards in packages for delivery and distribution to the hospitals and clinic. Once the pillowcases are delivered, nurses at the hospitals help children choose the one they want.

Diana Ellis was completing the same task and said that she volunteers in part because of the companionship of the group.

Sharon Lemanski, who began sewing at age 13, brings her own sewing machine. She is one of the group members who purchases fabric and then washes and presses it at home.

They purchase fabric from many different stores— Quilting Essentials, JoAnn Fabrics, Walmart, Hobby Lobby, Boones Country Store— and others. They also accept fabric donations. A family recently contributed a large amount of fabric after a quilter passed away.

It takes three-fourths yard of fabric for the body of each pillowcase and one third yard for the border— of 100 percent cotton fabric (no flannels or metallics). The size of donated fabric isn’t all-important. They can use most any size for borders. A width of about 44 inches is the most important measurement.

“In comparison to other chapters of Ryan’s Case for Smiles, we are a small chapter in a small location,” said Amos and Reed. “Unlike larger chapters in other states, who have a corporate sponsor who assists them financially, we do not have a sponsor. As a result, we have to make our money through fundraisers, holding all-day sewing events, having steel drum concerts and ice cream socials, along with donations of money and fabric.”

For more information, contact Faye Amos at or


more recommended stories