Welcome to the first of an on-going series of interviews with designers, crafters and charitable organization leaders that I’ll be bringing you monthly, here on the Bernat Blog!
As the recent founder of Purple Stitch Project, I personally am a big admirer of anyone who’s successfully brought a craft-based charity into fruition *and* been able to sustain it for any length of time. It’s quite a challenge, to say the least! Bonnie Hagerman however, has triumphed over the obstacles of wrangling a non-profit organization, and has been supplying preemies in need with comfort gifts for over two decades. I was honored to sit down with her over e-mail to learn about what continues to inspire the force behind Care Wear Volunteers. Here’s what she had to say. xoxo–Vickie
VH: What inspired you to start Care Wear Volunteers– do you have a personal connection to babies who are born premature?
BH: While a faculty member in the Home Economics Department of Hood College I was always looking for community service projects that would use my experience and
skills. I made nightgowns for a local shelter and outfits for dolls & bears for Christmas gifts for local children, but I was looking for more than an occasional or seasonal service project. In December 1990 I read a magazine article about a group of volunteers who were making hats & kimonos for preemies in a hospital in Ohio and I was “hooked.” (Pun intended!!) I contacted Children’s National Medical Center (DC) and the NICU staff was very anxious to receive knitted hats in preemie sizes.
I had no connection to any preemies or babies at all! My heart went out to infants who were struggling to survive. Downsizing patterns for hats and kimonos to a tiny size to fit preemies was something that I could do. Making those tiny garments for preemies in the NICU was how I could help.
Care Wear Volunteers, the organization, began when I realized that I couldn’t provide enough items for the NICU at Children’s National Medical Center and that there were many other hospitals requesting preemie items for their tiny NICU patients. I faced the fact that I was a better organizer than knitter! I also thought that if I was interested, others would be, too! It was at that point that I decided to recruit others to join me.
VH: Running a charity is a big commitment, one that you’ve stayed true to for over 20 years. What inspires you to keep it going?
BH: My enthusiasm for Care Wear Volunteers is renewed by the feedback I receive from the recipients (or families of young patients) of donated items, from hospital staff members, and from participants who are making hats, booties, blankets, etc.
An example that is seeing a picture of a recipient like, McKay Cambelle Halpin (wearing a pumpkin hat donated to the NICU). McKay received this pumpkin hat last fall and her mother so pleased that she sent an e-mail with a photo and her thanks saying, “Thank you so much for all that you do. We received a pumpkin hat for our little girl and she looks so cute in it! Please continue to do what you do so that other families can have something to smile about!”
Receiving notes, photos, and e-mail messages really “Makes My Day!” Volunteerism is truly a “two-way gift.” Both the donors and the recipients are blessed.
VH: What’s the biggest baby item need that Bernat readers can knit or crochet for Care Wear Volunteers?
BH: This is a question best asked of the staff members of the hospital where items will be donated. The answer varies from hospital to hospital and from month to month. There may be special requests for matching sets for twins or triplets or garments to fit special needs.
Preemie hats (from head size of a golf ball to larger than full term) are used by most hospitals and sometimes infants grow from one size to another during their stay in the NICU. So, hospitals use a large number of hats in the full range of sizes. Fewer people make and donate booties so I recommend making booties to keep extremities warm. Blankets (24″ square and larger) are a high-need item that requires a greater commitment of yarn and time. The ever-useful blanket draped across the isolette provides a dark space for better sleeping.
VH: Besides hand-making items for preemies, what other ways can volunteers help Care Wear Volunteers?
BH: Volunteers can help Care Wear participants by assisting with delivery. There are many wonderful family members and friends across the country who deliver donated items to local hospitals or pay postage to mail items to distant hospitals. Sometimes items are mailed to the hospital where a child or grandchild was born.
Care Wear Volunteers participants provide the yarn and supplies used for their projects. Family members and friends can assist by providing gifts of those supplies. Better a useful skein of yarn than another bottle of bubble bath!
Some of the participants in Care Wear Volunteers do not have access to Internet–thus our quarterly newsletter is available in hardcopy via USPS mail. Sometimes patterns from a website are mentioned in that newsletter or an address is needed from the Hospital List on the Care Wear Volunteers’ website. Family members and friends could offer to print patterns, hospital site information, etc. from the Internet. This would be a helpful gift to a Care Wear participant who does not have a printer or Internet access.
Care Wear Volunteers is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that exists thanks to donations. Large or small, all donations are appreciated. Donations of appropriate supplies (yarn, fabric, fiberfill, etc.) are welcomed and will be distributed to participants who request help with supplies.
VH: Over the years, what have you learned about working with crafters on charitable donations?
BH: Care Wear Volunteers is my antidote to the horrors on the television evening news programs! I am in touch with crafters who care about others and do what they can to help those in need. All I have to do is mention a need and participants rush to respond. The focus of this organization was originally preemie hats, booties, mittens, and kimonos. Over the years we’ve responded to other requests from hospitals and social service agencies. Participants now provide walker-caddies to patients new to using walkers and wheelchairs, toys to distract young patients in ERs, chemo hats and shawls for patients in treatment, “cough” pillow for surgical patients, medical-surgical dolls for young patients facing surgery, layette items for families in need, hats for troops overseas, hats for seamen, etc. It is inspiring to work with crafters who share their time and creative skills to make a positive difference in the lives of others.
Find out more information about getting involved with Care Wear Volunteers by visiting their website.