This past summer, with the help of a grant from the Community Foundation of Central Illinois, KidKnits had an opportunity to work with the Peoria Park District’s ELITE program and Proctor Center in Peoria, IL and share KidKnits as part of their summer camp program. Steve and I, along with Trewyn School teacher, Patty Lawless, worked together to present the week long program to several different age groups, ranging from eight to thirteen. We walked into Proctor Center prepared to teach over 40 campers not only how to knit their own wool hat but also what it means to be a global leader. I took a deep breath. I knew we were working with teacher extraordinaire, Patty, but could we engage over 40 summer campers in a program about Global Leadership and get them excited about knitting? It was 95 degrees outside and there was a swimming pool competing for their attention. I knew that the powerful messages about Global Leadership, Empathy, Community Action, and Empowerment were important to share with these students and I was humbled that KidKnits was even able to be there.
On day one, we began to tell the stories about the amazing Rwandan women who made the yarn, and we began to have the students think about the idea of global leadership. We shared with them how the simple gift of knowing how to round loom knit was the catalyst for Ellie’s KidKnits idea and worked with them to reflect on their own gifts to share with the world. We shared with them how, by simply knitting their own KidKnits hat, they were already helping to support the employment of 35 women in Rwanda. They were, in truth, changing lives on the other side of the world.
Day two continued with the students becoming more proficient at knitting their hats, but also getting a chance to reflect on the idea of empathy. They learned about how global leaders are better leaders when they notice the world and people around them. By day three, the students were getting into it. What seemed like an impossible task for them to accomplish, knitting their own hat, was now a tangible goal in front of them. Their hats were forming with each knitted row, and their hearts were changing as they became more and more aware of the impact that they were having on the world. We continued with more knitted rows of yarn, more reflections on the challenges facing our world today, and more connection with the women in Rwanda. As the knitting completed and finished hats were tried on, each camper knew that theirs was not an ordinary hat – this was a hat with story – the Rwandan story, but also their own story. The hats were tried on and they didn’t come off. It was 95 degrees outside, but the wool hats did not come off. The smiles, the accomplishment, and the pride on each camper’s face communicated the power of KidKnits in a way that my simple words can never convey and in a way that will be forever etched on my heart. I hope that those hats remain with each Proctor camper as more than a camp craft but as the constant reminder of how they “changed a life on the other side of the world.”