Knitting Kindness? Why Knot! By: Barbara Gruener

This is just one of those stories that make your heart happy and proves how student interest can lead to big action for the world. Barbara has been so patient as I worked to bring this blog online, and I'm so glad she was. Here's her inspiring story. 

Though my heart remembers it as if it were yesterday, it was the Fall of 2003. Rachel’s mom stopped by the office at my new school to say that her third-grade daughter had gotten a Knit Kit for her birthday, and she was wondering if she could help me get the ball rolling on a Knitting Club. And though I hadn’t knit since I myself was in the third grade, I didn’t think for very long before responding, “Sure. Why knot?" And that, my friends, is how seeds of kindness are planted. I figured there had to be a way for us to not only teach knitting but also use it to serve, to give club members a purpose, to make their work meaningful, and so began our research into ways in which we could help our school, our community, maybe even our world with our newly-developing skills.

Enter Warm Up, America! In our search, we found an organization online that encourages knitters to knit 7X9” patches that are bound together to make beautiful patchwork quilts. In a providential twist at the very same time that I was reaching out to them for more information, a third-grader named Steven walked into my office wearing the most beautiful hand-knit sweater I’d ever seen. Yep, you guessed it, I called his mom, and Mary became our first Knitting-Club volunteer. Together she and I mentored the twelve children who decided to give knitting a try that inaugural semester and, after lots of tears and knots and unraveling and starting over, we made enough patches for a patriotic red, white and blue baby quilt to donate to the Center for Pregnancy in our town.

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Word about our Knitting Club quickly spread and soon most of our third graders wanted to learn to knit. Before long, we were making two and three quilts a year to be auctioned off and/or donated to someone in need. In year four, we’d grown to a club of upwards of 100 students and a dozen volunteers made up of parents, grandparents, and members of the local knitting guild, all with one unified goal: To knit for service while warming up America. That year, we received a call from one of the Founders of Warm Up, America!, asking if we’d like to partner with Save The Children to make baby hats for premature babies in developing countries. Without giving it much thought, I again found myself saying: Why knot?!

Fortunately, we were able to sew those rectangular patches down the side and cinch them at the top to transform what we were already knitting into the hats they wanted; that year we rallied our community and together donated 325 of those tiny treasures to Save The Children’s Caps To The Capitol campaign. Each cap, a lifesaving measure for underweight babies in countries like Ethiopia, Malawi, and Bangladesh, included a little tag with a hand-written note from the hearts of our young knitters to the mother of the baby who would wear it: I knit this hat with love. Additionally, there was a letter-writing component so that we could tell then President-Bush what we were doing and ask him what he would do to support our efforts.

As a follow-up to our kind donation, we were invited to lobby on Capitol Hill to help reduce the infant mortality rate in those developing countries. Mary and her third-grade daughter Elizabeth came along to Washington, D.C. with our school’s Knitting-Club volunteers. After a long, exhausting two days in the nation’s capital, which included a visit to the White House to talk about our project and leave a baby hat with the First Lady’s staff, Elizabeth was asked to give an interview. When they inquired about how it felt to give her handiwork to the First Lady, she paused for a moment before honestly answering, “It was okay, I guess, but I really made that hat for a baby.”

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And at that moment, I knew. I knew that we truly had a service-learning project with a purpose. Our novice knitter had made that hat to save a baby’s life, not to leave as a token of our campaign for the First Lady. And my heart smiled. Our story made front-page news in the Houston Chronicle that day and subsequently two local news channels and Highlights Magazine shared it as well.

We went back to D.C. two times after that initial campaign, both times to lobby and to meet with change-makers, to tell them what we are doing, and to ask them to join us by putting aside funds in the fight to reduce the infant mortality rate. It's so empowering for our young people to exercise their civil rights and find their global voice.

The students who first knit for service with us graduated from college this year; I’m told that at least one of them is still knitting and is actually in Peru right now, studying fibers. I’m not sure how many more have continued knitting, but what I do know is this: When we work together to help each other, the world is a kinder, better place for everyone.

Our third-grade Knitting Club is now in its fifteenth year; just follow the click of our needles every Tuesday morning before school to find us knitting kindness in our Library Learning Space. If you’re ever in Friendswood, Texas, and you’d like a lesson, why knot stop by.

In the meantime, click {here} to watch our Knit One, Save One video; the third-grade knitters in this clip will graduate from high school in May 2018.

For more information, visit our school’s Knitting Club page.

By Barbara Gruener


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During her 34 years in public education, Barbara Gruener, school counselor and author of What's Under Your Cape?, has joyfully been growing alongside children at all ages and stages, preK through 12th grade. When she's not playing around at school, Barbara loves to positively inspire and influence through her interactive and energizing keynotes and learning sessions. She and her family live in Friendswood, Texas. Connect with Barbara on Twitter @BarbaraGruener.