Originator of the Special Olympics Scarf Project

Posted Jan. 10, 2011, at 5:40 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:54 p.m.

I recently wrote about Special Olympics Maine putting out a call to knitters and crocheters to donate handmade scarves to the athletes and their coaches — 800 in all. Those scarves are due by Jan. 28.

As a result of that column, I got a call from Andre and Jane Cushing of Hermon who wanted to let me know that the person who came up with the idea of the Special Olympics Scarf Project, when she was living in Boise, Idaho, was none other than their daughter, Laura Cushing, also of Hermon.

Laura was working as a freelance organizer and was working in 2008 with the Special Olympics World Games, an event that drew several thousand athletes from the United States and countries from all over the world, and to organize the 2009 winter games in Boise.

“It was customary,” Laura said, “to give gift bags to each athlete, but I wanted something special, because this was Special Olympics.” She suggested that an appeal be made to the knitting community to donate scarves to include in the gift bags. “I was laughed out of the meetings because no one thought the idea would work. But I wanted a personal way for people to connect with the athletes.”

So, armed with a few fliers handed out to people who knit and one article in the Idaho Statesman newspaper, the Scarf Project was launched. More than 1,000 handmade scarves were donated for the 2008 World Games.

Soon, Coats & Clark signed on as a sponsor of the Scarf Project.

“In one year, [leading up to the 2010 games] we got 60,000 scarves from all over the world,” Laura said. Scarves came from every state in the United States, and Australia, Greece, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Puerto Rico, Canada and Japan.

“I am a true believer that God had His hand all over this. We got so many boxes of scarves that the post office couldn’t deliver them all and we had to go get them,” Laura said.

At the games, she said, “athletes, coaches, spectators, everyone had a scarf.”

At least a dozen of those scarves were knit by Laura’s father, Andre.

“My aunt participated for many years in Special Olympics,” Laura said.

While Laura was amazed by the number of scarves received for the project, she was more than bowled over by the personal messages that accompanied many of the scarves. One note was from a man who said that the scarf was the last thing a family loved one had knit. Prison inmates knit scarves and enclosed notes saying they wanted to do something good for someone. Typically, notes were in this vein: “I hope that you do well in your event and I hope you have a good time in Idaho! Here is a scarf to wish you good luck!”

“The knitting community is phenomenal,” Laura said. She said one board member took it upon herself to teach others to knit for free, with the caveat that the new knitter’s first project must be for a worthy cause.

Laura moved back to Bangor before she could see the Scarf Project to completion, because of program budget cuts. She now works at the Bangor Homeless Shelter.

But, she said of the Scarf Project, “Special Olympics has embraced this. It’s amazing to see what happened to a small idea.”

There is still time to knit a scarf for Special Olympics Maine. Once again, here are guidelines for participating in the project:

• Scarves must be knit of Red Heart Super Saver yarn in color 886 (blue) and color 512 (turqua) — use both colors in the scarf.

• The scarf must be 54 to 60 inches long and approximately 6 inches wide. It may be knit or crocheted in any pattern. Free scarf patterns are available at the Special Olympics Maine website.

• Place each scarf in a closable plastic bag.

• Include a 3-inch-by-5-inch card with your name and mailing address in the mailing package so you will receive a handwritten thank-you.

• Scarves must be received no later than Friday, Jan. 28. Mail to: Special Olympics Maine, Attn: Scarf Project, 125 John Roberts Road, Suite 19, South Portland 04106.

For more information, call Lisa at Special Olympics Maine at 879-0489.

For more information on Special Olympics Maine, visit www.specialolympicsmaine.org.

Snippets

Margaret Murray of Glenburn, who this past year knit 245 pairs of mittens and so far has donated 200 pairs, wishes to thank those who gave yarn to her to keep her mitten-knitting project going. Those who want to donate yarn to Murray may send it to: Margaret Murray, 1593 Pushaw Road, Glenburn 04401-1818.

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