Monday, June 30, 2008

What I learned from a group charity crafting project

My boss and I are both on the Community Service Committee (CSC) at the university library where we work; last year, my boss became the chair of the committee. I had once told her about my wonderful Mom's tradition of making warm knit hats and beautiful crochet-edged flannel baby blankets for charities in her area, and my boss was inspired by the idea, so in the fall we bought a bunch of yarn on sale and put out a call for volunteers to make hats for the Bowery Mission. We ended up getting about a dozen participants, and donated 28 hats to the Mission just before Christmas break.

We were pleased with the project, especially because we had many volunteers who didn't normally participate in the CSC's regular activities. Sometime in January, I think, my boss heard that the university's main community service office offered grants to assist university groups with their community service initiatives. This really got my boss going! Again taking inspiration from my Mom, she contacted the Children of Bellevue, an agency that provides layettes to newborns whose families are in need, and asked if they could use some handmade blankets (they answered "yes" enthusiastically). She then whipped together an application for one of the grants, to cover the cost of materials to make 50 cotton flannel blankets with crochet edging. The grant was approved, and as of last week we reached our goal - 50 blankets completed by 24 volunteers! The blankets need a final wash and then they will be sent off to the hospital.

From the start, this project was such a great experience for me - I learned so much, and it was great fun. I thought it would be useful to sit down and really think about what I got out of this project, to share what I learned, and to show off what our group accomplished (link later). So then, here's a list of What I learned from my group charity crafting project:

*How to work with people
I used to look at my employer's lunchtime seminars about managing different personalities or working with a team, and I always dismissed them as irrelevant to me because my department is quite small and we all get along. When the blanket project got underway, I realized I was wrong. A couple of the volunteers were often very negative - they complained a lot, and at first it was a huge downer. This is where I could have used those team management skills! When I took a step back, I was able to see A) that I shouldn't take their remarks personally - it's not about me; B) that their intentions were good - after all, they were volunteering for this, and were invested in making the project a success; and C) they had amazing skills, and turned out to be among the most productive volunteers we had. Everyone has something to contribute.

*Planning is key - but just do it, and be flexible
My boss really struck while the iron was hot and managed to get the grant application together in a short time, but it was still very well researched, and she made sure to contact well in advance the people whose assistance we would later need (to book meeting rooms, disburse grant funds, etc.). This planning provided structure for the project, so that any snags along the way (such as a long delay, due to backordered fabric, in the start of the project) were not catastrophic. In such situations we had to be flexible and stay focused on the project goal, rather than just following our plan for the plan's sake.

*It feels good!
-It feels good to create. Many participants often remarked that our crafting meetings were their favorite part of the day.
-It feels good to give. To know your creation will keep a little baby warm - what better feeling is there?
-It feels good to share and connect with others. One of my favorite parts of the project was meeting other library employees who I'd never had a chance to meet otherwise. So many smart, fun, giving, talented people!
-It feels good to be inspired, and to inspire. I'm now making plans for my own charitable crafting project, and I know of one other volunteer who has continued making blankets on her own. The energy generated by this group was really infectious. Oh, and did I mention that some of the participants had never crocheted before? We must have taught 7 or 8 people to crochet, and their blankets all turned out beautifully.

*It doesn't cost much, and it can be green
Our goal of 50 blankets was fairly big, but I think that even without the grant we could have come up with a way to fund our project. When we did the hats, we shopped carefully for good deals and each pitched in a bit of money to make it happen. Because one of the CSC's objectives is to "be green" we are considering ways to "green" our crafting projects, such as holding a materials drive inviting people to contribute from their stashes. One woman collected flannel scraps from the blankets and made a few adorable puzzle balls to send along with the blankets.

Here is a link to the CSC's Flickr page, with photos of every blanket. The photos are a bit washed out, but oh well. I also took some snapshots of the stacks of folded blankets because they looked so cute. You will notice many different skill levels and styles. There are also some blankies with super-tight tension in the crochet borders - this really bothered some participants, who wanted everything to be "perfect." In the end we decided that because babies are lumpy, some blankets could be too. The puffy blankets with tight edges were made with just as much love and care as the "perfect" ones, and will lend themselves well to wrapping up a squirmy baby.

And for more inspiration, check out Lion Brand's and Interweave Press' lists of charitable crafting opportunities - there is need everywhere!

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