January is the start of many things, including new year’s and new resolutions. But for 16-year-old Lizzie Arnold, January of 2019 marked the start of a new obstacle - ovarian cancer. She began treatment in February and later qualified for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Lizzie’s wish? To go to London and do everything Harry Potter.
In May of 2019, Lizzie “rang the bell,” symbolizing her being cancer-free. She returned to school full-time as a senior the next school year, until the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March of 2020.
While in quarantine, Lizzie and her family made and donated 4,000 masks - which eventually led to their creation of Sandpiper Project. Named after a story published in one of the first volumes of Chicken Soup for the Soul, Sandpiper Project accepts donations of fabric, finished quilts, and quilt tops, before putting them up in a silent auction.
All of the proceeds from the auction are then donated to Make-A-Wish’s Oregon Chapter - which granted Lizzie’s Harry Potter wish.
Resiliency Through Quilting
Behind the scenes of The Sandpiper Project is Lizzie’s mother, Monique Arnold, who is an avid AccuQuilt fan and supporter. Check out our interview below to learn more about Lizzie’s journey and Monique’s role in creating Sandpiper Project!
AccuQuilt: Monique, we are extremely moved by your family’s story. Since being cancer-free and “ringing the bell,” Lizzie became a Make-A-Wish Foundation Ambassador and has helped to raise thousands of dollars for its Oregon Chapter through the Sandpiper Project. How has this family-run project changed your family’s lives and what plans do you have for its future?
Monique: We have always been a service-oriented family. Both my husband and I grew up with a strong sense of community. Our parents served as role models which allowed us to empower our family to go out into the community and help others thrive. This project has furthered our sense of purpose and belonging.
The very thought of no control and helplessness has been a part of our journey. The day we learned of Lizzie’s diagnosis, everything stopped. We ceased being the active family we once were. Nor did we have the energy to help others.
However, those who had caring hearts stepped up and allowed us the ability to breathe and continue to move forward. The gratitude we feel is beyond measure to those who supported us during those trying times.
Once we were aware that Lizzie would be okay, life as we knew it was different yet so much more. We knew we had to do more to give back, pay it forward, and continue to show all - strangers, friends, our family - how their sacrifices saved us. That is how the Sandpiper Project started.
Our plans for the future of the Sandpiper Project would best be defined as “more!”
More amazing connections with the quilting world! As new quilters, we did not realize how vast this community was. Nor did we realize how generous this community would be with sharing their love of their craft and providing us the necessary guidance to begin our journey.
Time and time again, we have learned that if you say quilter, you really mean “superhero!” Because of this incredible community, we can be us, we can be the Sandpiper Project.
More learning and growing as quilters! We are firm believers in lifelong learning. We plan to continue to expand our knowledge, skills, experience and grow with the wonderful connections we continue to make with the quilting world.
And more awareness of all that is wonderful and magical about Make-A-Wish Oregon and Make-A-Wish America! We initially started this project to give back. Make-A-Wish Oregon has had a huge impact on our family by fulfilling Lizzie’s wish. Our desire to give back to an organization that has given us so much has inspired us to raise awareness one quilt at a time.
AQ: Your family created Sandpiper Project to help donate money to the Make-A-Wish Oregon Chapter, which granted Lizzie her wish of going to London to do the Warner Brothers Harry Potter tour. What was the experience of that trip like, and what impact did it have on you as a mother?
M: Truth be told, we must start by speaking to when Make-A-Wish first approached my husband and me about fulfilling a wish for our daughter. Growing up we thought that if a child received a wish, it meant their diagnosis was terminal. Based on that assumption, my husband and I initially declined. However, they approached us again and explained that Make-A-Wish had expanded their wish opportunities to include those children who had been diagnosed with critical childhood diseases.
The foundation explained they have found by fulfilling wishes to children during their treatment gives the magic of dreaming, increases optimism while undergoing treatment, and provides many uplifting memories for them to hold on to well after their wish has been granted. After discussing this amongst ourselves, and with our daughter during her second round of chemotherapy, we changed our minds and accepted their offer.
To watch our daughter, so weak and full of pain at times, find a new boost of energy and rising self-esteem with each bit of information she received regarding the wish process was so incredible. The very act of learning that the desire of a lifetime was being granted, watching our daughter try to decide what the top three wishes should be, and then choosing the best wish from those three was nothing short of awesome. The process pulled her from a very dark place, and for this we are forever grateful.
For Lizzie, her whole outlook had changed. Six months after her initial diagnosis her attitude had been bleak and full of foreboding, but then she was open to a wide range of new and exciting possibilities. Once she had learned that her wish to go to London had been granted it was all she could talk about.
As a family, we were no longer just talking about medical appointments, scans, and bloodwork. Now our discussions centered on Harry Potter this and Harry Potter that. We were also learning all sorts of new lingo we would need on our trip to London.
It was not uncommon to hear us talk about flats, the tube, biscuits, true fish and chips, and lifts. We started researching the sensational sites to see in London like Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Parliament, Warner Brothers Studio, Platform 9 and ¾’s at Kings Cross, and Paddington Station.
Lizzie even got to learn how to use a currency converter - so she understood the cost of things in London. All these things kept her mind off her medical treatment and helped to buoy her spirits during the final stages of her treatment.
As a mother, all I can say is that impact of having her wish granted was enormous. I am so full of gratitude, and as I am answering these questions, I am reliving this fantastic experience. In my mind’s eye, I can see the sparkle in Lizzie’s eyes and see that, even though she was a teenager, she was able to open up, spread her wings, and be amazed as her childhood dream was becoming a reality.
As I recall all of this, I know in my heart that our family will never really be able to repay the generosity and kindness of those who helped make Lizzie’s wish come true. So, my goal is to pay it forward, and to the greatest extent possible, try to help ensure that as many children and families as possible can also experience the same type of magic and hope that helped our family get through this difficult experience.
AQ: Quilting has played a significant part in your family’s lives. What inspired you to start quilting? Is there anything interesting you’ve learned about yourself through quilting?
M: Quilting for me was never something I wanted to do. My older sister, Reyne, is a very talented quilter and makes the most beautiful handmade quilts. I always told myself I would never measure up if I tried to take up the craft. I also had this enormous fear that even if I did try, I would make a mistake that would ruin the entire project. Silly, I know, but fear has a way of getting in my way.
Prior to having children, I was a teacher, and one of the things I loved to do was to create bulletin boards. The bulletin boards would tell a story or give joy to the children I taught by allowing me to highlight their art, crafts, and schoolwork. In a lot of ways, making quilts is like creating a bulletin board. Each quilt is its own work of art, tells its own story, and touches each person in a different way.
However, unlike the bulletin boards, I created totally on my own, creating my quilts has only been accomplished through the help I have received from the entire quilting community. From the fabric makers, quilt designers, quilt shops, long arm operators, bloggers, YouTube demonstrations, and AccuQuilt products I have been able to create these wonderful quilts.
This entire community has one overarching goal in mind, which is to share the joy in the process and be as welcoming as possible to allow even more individuals to fall in love with this craft.
AQ: We heard your AccuQuilt journey began with your husband surprising you with the GO! Bear's Paw Die shortly before you got the GO! Big Fabric Cutter. We’re curious - what’s your favorite thing about creating with the AccuQuilt system?
M: Truth be told, owning a GO! Big Fabric Cutter was only a distant dream when I got started making quilts. I knew the AccuQuilt System made making quilts easier, but until I owned one, I did not realize how much easier.
The ease of use, timesaving features, accuracy, and detail of the cutter and dies have allowed me to greatly expand upon what I was already doing. If that wasn’t enough, there is also the incredible support the AccuQuilt company provides, such as well-thought-out learning tutorials, free patterns, embroidery features, and unique live stream videos.
This well-rounded, holistic way of looking at quilting serves the novice and experienced quilter alike. There are so many things about the system I love, but I believe my favorite fact is that this system means that quilters do not have to give up their passion for quilting later in life.
As we all know, trying to create a quilt unassisted is very demanding and exacting, and as we get older, it is much more difficult to get the cutting and sizing correct for the fabric being used to make quilts.
The AccuQuilt System does so much of this work so that one can still produce high-quality quilts. The precisely cut fabric pieces are sized just right so that one can be sure the family heirlooms they create will be loved for generations.
AQ: Monique, we are grateful to feature you and your family’s story of hardship, resilience, and giving back. For those reading, what is one piece of advice you would give regarding quilting, paying it forward, or getting through a difficult period of time?
M: In all things, life has a way of throwing curveballs. It is how you can manage that curveball that almost predicts what’s next for you. I follow this inspirational quote to get me through: “When you choose joy, you feel good, and when you feel good, you do good, and when you do good, it reminds others of what joy feels like, and it just might inspire them to do the same.”
That is how Sandpiper Project began. We asked ourselves how we could spread a little more joy to let others experience what we felt when someone – many – lent a hand and spread joy our way.
The answer was to always choose joy ourselves.
Paying It Forward With Joy
We hope you choose joy just as Monique and Lizzie have!
Since “ringing the bell,” Lizzie was named one of 15 Make-A-Wish Ambassadors for Oregon last year. Since the end of August in 2021 to February of this year, Sandpiper Project has donated $7,250 to Make-A-Wish Oregon with their weekly auctions. They plan to continue donating.