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Volunteer Transitions Her Stitches of Compassion to Angel Gowns for Dignity


After 26 years, St. John’s Regional Medical Center (SJRMC) volunteer, Leola Akers has passed on her role as the sole seamstress for families who have suffered the devastating loss of a newborn to the newly established nonprofit “Angel Gowns for Dignity”.

The program at SJRMC was originally pioneered by Leola and Chaplain Services in 1989 with one pattern and a bundle of white flannel fabric. Since then, Leola has sewn over 600 gowns.

“I saw a need in our hospital and knew there was something I could do about it,” said Leola Akers, SJRMC volunteer. It has been an honor to provide grieving parents with such a special gift.”

When Leola decided that it was time for her to retire from making these gowns, she turned to Angel Gowns for Dignity whom provide a similar service to our sister hospitals in Central Coast North.

“Leola is a true inspiration and we are flattered that she has entrusted us to continue her legacy at St. John’s,” said Susan Breshears, Co-founder and President of Angel Gowns for Dignity and Sr. Financial Analyst for Dignity Health Central Coast. “We are grateful for the opportunity to bring comfort and healing to the grieving families and those who are sewing the gowns with love.”

“Leola is a true inspiration and we are flattered that she has entrusted us to continue her legacy at St. John’s,” said Susan Breshears, Co-founder and President of Angel Gowns for Dignity and Sr. Financial Analyst for Dignity Health Central Coast. “We are grateful for the opportunity to bring comfort and healing to the grieving families and those who are sewing the gowns with love.”

Breshears, after learning of similar programs around the country founded Angel Gowns for Dignity in April of 2014. Since then, volunteer seamstresses transform lovingly donated wedding dresses into special, handmade gowns for babies who never make it home from the hospital. These “angel” gowns are gifted to grieving families for final photographs or burial.

Breshears, like many supporters of Angel Gowns for Dignity, was touched to learn that many families who have lost a child experience great difficulty finding burial outfits since traditional pieces of baby clothing are often too large for stillborn or premature infants. Through Angel Gowns for Dignity families can select not only one, but two gowns: one for the burial of their child and a second as a keepsake for families to cherish and remember their baby.

Since the program’s inception in April, women from across the Central Coast have been reaching out to donate their wedding dresses and volunteer their seamstress skills. To date, more than 50 active seamstresses are donating their time to sew the angel gowns, and close to 800 wedding dresses have been donated.

Those who wish to make a contribution in support of the Angel Gowns for Dignity Program or are interested in becoming an Angel seamstress are encouraged to contact Angel Gowns for Dignity by email or at 805.478.3390.

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