Clothes are 'made with love'
Local charities benefit from Navada Pociernicki's "hands in motion"
Navada Pociernicki knew from early childhood that music would dominate her life.
But the organist and music director at St. Bartholomew Parish in Penn Hills also possessed another talent -- and a lifelong desire to help others.
That second ministry blossomed when her oldest child, now age 41, grew out of the infant clothing Pociernicki had been given at her baby shower.
She remembered the sewing machine her mother had given her as a high school graduation gift, pulled it out of the closet and got to work, sewing all of the baby's clothes. "My mother was shocked," she said with a laugh.
Pociernicki joined a group of sewers, Tender Loving Care Ministries, who made clothes for needy children in Appalachia, and actually visited there with the group.
"It was eye-opening. I was really deeply touched," she said. "But I thought, what about the need in our own area?"
She started searching for local agencies, and over the course of almost 30 years those organizations today include The Intersection in McKeesport, a social service ministry of the Mercy sisters; Spark of Hope, a ministry of St. Sebastian Parish in Ross Township overseen by the parish's St. Vincent de Paul Society; and Gwen's Girls, which helps young women at risk.
Pociernicki makes colorful overalls and tops, jumpers, dresses and pants for children up to age 6, using materials such as cotton, denim, cotton knits and flannel. She sticks to simple patterns, working on an assembly-line method to move quickly. In recent days she has completed seven pairs of jeans and six tops.
"Everything she makes is absolutely beautiful," said Mercy Sister Bonnie Heh, finance director for The Intersection. "It's a real blessing for people to be given something that gorgeous."
Pociernicki's gifts touch many lives. The agency passes the clothing on to families using its food pantry, its Grandparents Raising Grandchildren and to Sisters Place in Clairton.
"We are very grateful," Sister Bonnie said, noting that Pociernicki, low-key and unassuming, "truly has a gift and she shares it with those in need."
"You really need to see the clothes she makes," Jack Stalter of the Spark of Hope Ministry said in admiration. "People's faces light up when they get them."
The group passes the items on to families through food pantries and when it delivers donated furniture and appliances to those in need with small children. "It's very beautiful work," he said.
Lonnie Silver, development director for Gwen's Girls, said, "These clothes are made with love. The attention to detail is unbelievable. They are very, very well made. You see something like a little flower on a bodice, it's really adorable. It reminds you of baby doll clothing."
The fact that such beautiful clothing goes to troubled young women with babies and to children removed to foster care in emergency situations makes their beauty even more touching, she said.
"She's an amazing woman," she said, "very, very talented."
Patti Donahoe, a parishioner at St. Benedict in Peters Township, was impressed with the sewing ministry and wanted to help these "hands in motion."
She placed an ad in her parish bulletin seeking fabrics that people had lying around at home. "I was overwhelmed with the response," she said. "I had carloads of material. I went to another church and the same thing happened."
Pociernicki shows how "we can serve others with our talents and make a difference even with one stitch at a time," Donahoe said.
The seamstress appreciates the help. "I've been very blessed that Patti has been conducting these ongoing fabric drives for me," Pociernicki said.
She will retire in January as music director at St. Bartholomew, where she has served for three years. She earlier worked at St. John Fisher in Churchill and St. Robert Bellarmine in East McKeesport, and even earlier in Protestant churches, before joining the Catholic Church.
Pociernicki began piano lessons at age 8 and won an organ scholarship sponsored by a Verona church at age 10 1/2, "when I was tall enough to reach the pedals," she said. She became organist at her first church at 12 years old.
She will have time to enjoy life with her husband, Frank, their three children, Michael, Dawn and Mark, and five grandchildren. She hopes to do substitute work as an organist at parishes and is also active in two book clubs.
"It's been wonderful to be given this gift of music to share, but it's intangible," Pociernicki said. "With sewing, you can physically handle it and give it away. And once I'm retired, I'll have more time.
"It's been a lot of fun, it fulfills a good part of my life," she said.
Agencies interested in Pociernicki's work can reach her at email@example.com.