NEW YORK - One stitch at a time, Leony Ayala is building a community and a safe space for women - most of them senior immigrants - to learn something new.
"When they come in here, it's like therapy, really, it's like therapy," Ayala said.
Ayala founded and runs a free sewing program in Jackson Heights. It's part of the non-profit "Queens Community House" - a social service organization that provides programming for people of all ages.
Ayala has been sewing, quilting, and crafting since she was a little girl. It's something she says helps her relax.
She wanted to share that with others so she began volunteering with the non-profit.
For more than three years, Ayala has donated her time and talent to a population she says can sometimes feel isolated with few recreational options.
"Seniors, in here, they don't have many places to go. So when you come in here, they are happy. It's like, you need an escape," Ayala said.
Ayala says most of her students didn't even know how to stitch a button before they walked through her doors. Now they create colorful quilts, ornaments, and aprons while also creating new friendships.
The class is something this student says she looks forward to as a break from everyday stressors.
"Coming here is so relaxing for me, helping me to feeling better. And my friends are so nice and I feeling so happy,' said Alejandra Ramirez, a student.
Ayala says she's most proud to see the growth in her students, in not just their skillset, but also in their confidence and happiness.
"Everybody can sew. Everybody can do with a single button, you can make art with one button. It's like the way you project yourself. Like the way, it's the attitude you bring. I make everybody try to encourage everybody to be happy and when they do the things, they do it with love," Ayala said.
So, for giving women strength and support through sewing, Leony Ayala is our New Yorker of the Week.