Karen Strom says there are few things more satisfying than when she sees her St. Dominic seventh graders gleefully taking out their hooks and skeins of yarn to crochet during the last 10 minutes of their daily religion classes.
For the last three years, Strom has taught the dying art to her oldest group of students – not just to offer them a new skill and a lifetime hobby, but as a practical way to help the homeless men and women who use the life-affirming services of the Rebuild Center in New Orleans.
“We have a great love for the poor, and through crochet, we can use our hands in a loving and gentle way to create something for the heart and from the heart for those in need,” explained Strom, whose students are creating colorful fringed scarves as Christmas gifts for the homeless in addition to preparing a monthly lunch for the Rebuild Center. “We don’t think twice about picking up a scarf or grabbing a coat when we walk out of the house, but there are many who don’t have that opportunity,” Strom said. “So (teaching crochet) is my way of helping them to give back.”
Crochet has been a passion of Strom’s since young adulthood, when an elderly neighbor taught her the art.
“I would help her with her gardening, and in return, she would invite me in and say, ‘Let me show you a little bit of what Iknow.’ It’s blossomed from there,” Strom said, recalling that her first project was a large afghan using the crochet stitch called the “granny square.”
Seventh graders are introduced to crochet in early October, first learning how to catch the yarn on the hook, and progressing to the basic chain stitch and the single crochet. Strom begins by gathering a large group around her to teach each step. As students catch on, they break into smaller groups to work together.
“Some have already advanced to the double crochet (by November),” said Strom, describing the crocheting sessions as a “very peaceful, prayerful and relaxing” part of her students’ school day. After making their scarves, students will progress to the granny square, with a goal of creating lap blankets for the residents of Vista Shores Assisted Living.
“Crocheting is a real community-builder,” Strom notes. “Some of our teachers crochet, and the children have the opportunity to interact with them if they have a problem with a stitch. It also creates community among the studentsbecause they are interacting in a way that’s completely different from anything else they’re doing at school. Many of the boys have taken to it more readily than the girls have!”
Purchase of the hooks and skeins of yarn for St. Dominic’s 45 seventh graders was funded by the Joe and Dorothy Dorsett Brown Foundation. The scarves were delivered to the Rebuild Center on Dec. 12, along with toiletry bags, hams and the school-provided monthly meal.
Seventh grader Caroline Bickerton said crocheting is “kind of addictive” once you get the knack for it.
“It’s just a great hobby to learn at my age,” Caroline said. “Sometimes you have to redo a bunch of stitches, but it’s fun, and our scarves are going to go to people who really need them,” she said, adding that she falls into “crochet world” every time she picks up her hook and yarn.
“It’s just very consuming,” Caroline said.
Seventh grader Noah Tobin said getting his crocheted rows straight has proven to be his biggest challenge. He was proud to have completed nearly three feet of scarf in just two weeks.
“I hadn’t even thought about crocheting until I was taught. It’s a fun way to pass the time,” Noah said. “I tried to teach my 9-year-old brother, but he has no clue what to do.”