On the day she turned 89 years old, Joy Casino sat in her prayer chair and asked God what she should do with her life.
Within a week, she’d found her vocation.
Casino and husband Danny raised six children. It was hard on Navy pay, but they’d done it. Casino worked as a seamstress and, to cut family expenses, made everyone’s clothes. In retirement, they owned a comfortable ranch home in Jacksonville Beach and enjoyed financial stability. Joy was thankful. She wanted to give back.
“I just sort of called it my payback time,” she says. “God had provided for me and I wanted to give back.”
A friend from church told Joy she’d given her name to a woman who needed volunteers to make dresses out of T-shirts for children in refugee camps and orphanages. Margaret Scully hadn’t been able to find anyone to make the dresses. Casino had the skill. When raising her family, Casino worked as a seamstress to help make ends meet. She saved money on groceries by sewing everybody’s clothes.
Scully founded Mission Stitches at Christ United Methodist Church in Neptune Beach three years ago. Every Tuesday, a group of 10 or so women get together, employing the traditionally female needle arts to make items for charity. On a recent Tuesday, Pat Ferguson crocheted a Kelly-green scarf with a white stripe down the middle. The scarf will help keep a homeless person warm this winter. Cheryl Dickison filled dolls with stuffing. Scully finds projects and missionaries and other charity workers. Margaret finds new projects. “I’m the troublemaker,” she says.
Scully showed Casino a sample of the style of dress she’d been hoping to make. The design was simple for an expert seamstress like Casino. A child’s T-shirt is turned into a dropped-waist dress by sewing a gathered skirt in a colorful print to the bottom. A band of matching fabric is stitched to the neckline.
“I’ll do 20,” Joy offered.
Three years later — and as of Nov. 3 — she’s made 2,140 dresses. They’ve been sent with missionaries and doctors and other relief workers to girls in Cuba, Haiti, Guatemala, Ecuador, Columbia, Nicaragua, Mexico, India, South Africa and the Ukraine, and other spots all over the globe. Casino sticks straight pins into a map of the world to show where her dresses have gone.
“I just give them, and let the world take care of where they go,” she says.
The dresses are pretty, and most girls like pretty dresses, Casino says. But they also embody a message.
“It makes them feel special and it makes them feel God loves them,” she says, “and it makes them feel somebody cares.”
Casino keeps two sewing machines and a serger (a machine that creates an overlock finishing stich) threaded in her sewing room, where rows of shelves are piled with neat stacks of flowered poly-cotton material, heart buttons and other decorative notions and colorful children’s T-shirts in sizes ranging from infant to a child’s large.
She works at least four hours a day
and makes about 25 dresses a week. She jokes that sometimes it takes 15 minutes just to thread a needle, because she’s blind in one eye.
Casino’s productivity and vivaciousness impresses Scully. “She’s my Joy to the World,” the 89-year-old Scully says. “And it’s a joy to know her.”
Members of Casino’s church describe her as an inspiration to them. That makes her feel good, but she insists she’s no Superwoman. She does what any ordinary, everyday person can do.
“If I’m an inspiration, I hope people say that if Joy can do it, I can,”
Joy and her husband Danny married 69 years ago. They met during World War II, when both were serving in the U.S. Navy. Casino is thankful for her life. She says she still sits in her prayer chair daily, but her prayer has changed.
“I pray every day that God will let me live through my 92nd year,” she says, “and that I hit the 3,000 mark with my dresses.”