Thursday, July 20, 2017

How knitting can change the lives of teens, or is it: How teens change volunteers’ lives, through knitting

“I did it!  I created a blanket!”, “WOW! I didn’t know it would be fun!”, “My grandmother taught me to knit, but I didn’t think anyone else would be interested in helping me finish a blanket.”  Heartfelt words from troubled youths who found solace in learning to knit patches which then were stitched into sanctuary blankets at The Mann Center. This is what volunteering is all about: joy, promise, fulfillment, and a purpose for doing good.
On 2017 MLK day of service, 20 Engage in Knitting volunteers met at the Mann Center to help troubled youths learn to knit or continue to use what they have learned and turn it into something amazing.  Two long tables; one for actual knitting and the other for stitching patches together, were provided.  The knitting table volunteers worked with boys and girls teaching them to roll skeins of yarn into big balls (explaining that it would make knitting much easier in the long run as unrolled skeins tend to knot and that can be frustrating to a knitter), how to cast on stitches, and how to knit 25 stitches without stopping, quitting, or getting frustrated (that was a challenge but the frustrations opened discussions with the youth and that was miraculous). At the stitching table, volunteers taught the knitters the art of whip stitching or crocheting the patches together.  The challenge at this table was to create a color theme first. Volunteers had their own ideas of what would work, but the children ruled at this table; after all, it was to become their blanket.
By the end of the day we had one blanket stitched together, and several rows of knitted patches started.  The promise, from both our volunteers and the children and staff at The Mann Center, was to continue the project throughout the year.
Two months later, several female youths and staff came to the UJA-Federation office in Mt Kisco to continue to work on the knitting and stitching of patches.  Four blankets were created that day.  The volunteer turnout was great so we could work with the girls one on one.  This experience became something unforgettable as the girls, forgetting themselves, shared stories about people who taught them to knit or for whom they wanted to make a blanket. At the end of the two-hour session we agreed that this was a successful event and should continue.
Our next meeting will be soon.  Volunteer knitters are working hard creating patches for the children to assemble into sanctuary blankets.  Those children who knit will be encouraged to continue making their own patches.
So, who is the beneficiary of such an experience? Is it the volunteers who donated their time and expertise to troubled youth and left feeling fulfilled and accomplished? Or is it the children who spent time with people they ordinarily would never have spent time with and left seeing the world differently, perhaps with hope and promise?

Karen, Volunteer Leader/Organizer for Engage in Knitting

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