Many hands make the scarves for Special Olympics

Posted Feb. 07, 2011, at 6:33 p.m.

Lisa Bird of Special Olympics Maine wrote the following, detailing the exciting results of the Scarf Project to equip 800 athletes and coaches with handmade scarves for the winter games held Jan. 30-Feb. 1 at Sugarloaf. By the time the games began more than 1,000 scarves had been received:

I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Three months ago I came across an e-mail that shared information on a national campaign called Scarves for Special Olympics. The idea was to ask knitters and crocheters to make a scarf for one of the Special Olympics Winter Games athletes. It seemed like a cute idea so I signed us up. We would need 500 for our athletes and 300 for our coaches, 800 in all. Feeling pretty confident that we might get 100 if we were lucky, I went on with work as usual.

Press releases were sent out in hopes that maybe someone would share the scarf project on a slow news day. As the weeks went by, no stories and no scarves.

During the holidays, a few newspapers here and there posted a paragraph on the campaign and a large newspaper, the Bangor Daily News, ran a story on it. And then — a scarf came in the mail, followed by another one, and another. My phone began ringing with calls from knitters asking about lengths and things called purls, stitches and rows.

By the second week of January we were pretty excited to have received 50 scarves, and we began brainstorming how we would choose the 50 athletes who would get them.

Then it happened. Word seemed to spread through the knitting and crocheting community. Clubs got together to take on the scarf project. People who call themselves “Knit Wits” and “Sweater Tree” members began working in a frenzy to complete scarves. Not one, not two, but many made seven or eight scarves each.

Teachers incorporated knitting into the curriculum. Grandmothers taught grandchildren to crochet. Nursing home residents met daily for knitting sessions. Even Special Olympics athletes made scarves themselves to give to other athletes.

Two days before deadline on Jan. 28, 800 scarves had been logged and packaged for athletes and coaches. I spent every minute of the days before the games opening dozens and dozens of boxes and envelopes in order to process and deliver the scarves. My office was overflowing with scarves. There was no space for my chair. The royal blue and turquoise colors made my office look like the tropical waters of the Bahamas.

The scarf project has gone from being a cute idea to something incredibly motivating, inspiring and heartwarming.

Notes included with many of the scarves included encouragement for the athletes, and prayers for a safe and fun-filled competition. Notes from the elderly thanked us for the project, saying they were not able to give money or to volunteer, but this gave them the opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way.

There was a note from two sisters who wanted to make a scarf in memory of their father who had died during the holidays. He had been a supporter of Special Olympics and they wanted to honor him. They had planned to knit one scarf each, but as they spent time knitting and sharing memories, before they knew it they had made nine.

A young girl sent a note saying that she had seen her bus driver making a scarf and asked about it. The bus driver ended up helping the girl make a scarf for the project.

A mother sent a letter to tell how she and her family of five had taken on the project as a family mission. As a result 36 scarves were delivered to my office.

Many letters came from people from away who like to spend summers in Maine or who have relatives who participate in Special Olympics. Many scarves were made in honor or memory of dear friends and loved ones. Homesick college students, stay-at-home moms, church groups, civic groups and library clubs got together to help the scarf project reach its goal. Some people even sent matching hats and mittens!

A teacher at the George E. Jack School in Standish formed an after-school knitting club, and the students made scarves for the project.

Christine Caputo, a teacher at the REAL School, used the scarf project as a low-stress activity for some of her students. The school is an adventure-based alternative school for students with extreme social, emotional, behavioral and academic needs from RSU 14 and several other school districts in southern Maine.

I never dreamed that a simple scarf could mean so much, The scarves are a reminder to our athletes that they are loved.

For more information about the scarf project, call Lisa Bird at 879-0489 or e-mail lisab@somaine.org.

Snippets

Those who would like to knit gloves, mittens or hats for children that would be free for the taking may drop off knitted items at the food cupboard at the Searsport United Methodist Church or the Searsport Town Hall. For more information, call 548-2868.

Coastal Quilters will meet 10 a.m.-noon Saturday, Feb. 12, at the Camden Lions Club on Lions Lane in Camden. The program will feature Rhea Butler of Alewives Fabrics who will present “La-La-Log Cabin,” her improvisational log cabin technique with easy instructions for your own log cabin project. The gathering will include a refreshments and social time followed by a “Show & Tell” session and a short business meeting.

The meeting is free and open to all. For more information, call Karen Martin at 236-8038 or Sarah Smith at 236-6003.

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