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Crocheting from the heart

Their heads bowed, the students in Cynthia LaMar's leadership class at Hedrick Middle School looped yarn around crochet needles in rhythmical concentration.

"It's relaxing," said eighth-grader Jordan Towe.

On a cluster of desks at the front of the classroom sat a clear plastic bin filled with about 30 colorful pom-pom-topped winter hats destined for the residents of Dunn House, Jackson County's only domestic-violence shelter.

A month ago when LaMar began teaching her pupils how to crochet the hats, the atmosphere was not so serene.

Eighth-grader Kristen Willey, who Monday masterfully stitched together theband for a hat using a ball of baby blue yarn and gold needle, recalled how difficult it was for her to learn how to crochet because she is left-handed, and her teacher is right-handed. Kristen also had to redo some of her rows when she missed a stitch.

"Why can't we just buy something?" Kristen recalled grumbling to LaMar. "Our teacher said, 'If it doesn't come from the heart, it's not the same gift.' "

Each year, Web-sters yarn store in Ashland donates knitting/crocheting kits to people who want to make hats for Medford-based Community Works, a nonprofit organization that provides assistance for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. LaMar, who had read about the program in the Ashland Daily Tidings, took some of the kits and used school funds to buy more yarn and crochet needles to give to her students to make hats for women and children at Dunn House, which provides emergency shelter and counseling to about 360 victims of domestic violence.

LaMar said she thought the project would be a good way to teach her pupils about community service, patience and the concept of practice-makes-perfect, all key components of leadership.

The hats, each with a tag that says they were handmade by Hedrick students, will be distributed at the Dunn House Christmas party, and the leftovers will be handed out later as people seek shelter at the house, said Karen Cipes, Web-sters sales assistant and head of the Christmas charity program.

"Because it's an emergency shelter and the women have to leave home quickly they often don't have time to bring their warm clothes," she said.

For some of the Hedrick students, the project marked the first time they had grasped the pervasiveness of domestic violence. An employee from Dunn House talked to the students about domestic violence and the services provided by the shelter.

"It kind of caught me off guard," Jordan Towe said. "I didn't know anything about this. My dad is chief of police in Jacksonville, and he always taught me to be as respectful to women as possible."

Beyond teaching students about the value of helping others, crocheting has educational benefits, LaMar said.

Knitting and crocheting have long been incorporated in Waldorf education, devised by Austrian scientist Rudolf Steiner in the early 1900s, as a way to foster hand-eye coordination, manual dexterity, math skills, design skills and spatial recognition.

The practice also aids in classroom management because knitting and crocheting, once mastered, have a calming effect on students, said Cynthia Bower, handwork teacher at the Waldorf Siskiyou School in Ashland.

The Siskiyou School's curriculum includes teaching first and second-graders how to knit. They graduate to crocheting in the third grade, Bower said.

"It's really working on fine motor skills and to be able to really get into their fingers, so writing comes easier," Bower said.

It's also a skill that keeps on giving. Some of the Siskiyou School's eighth-graders knit and crochet hats, scarves and other items to sell for fundraising events, Bower said.

While learning how to crochet was a test in patience for Kristen Willey, she said knowing who would receive the end product fueled her determination to learn the skill and complete the hat.

"Sometimes I imagine whether it will be a girl or a guy who wears it," she said. "I think they will have a good feeling that we made these for them."

To learn more about Community Works, see the Web site at: www.community-works.org. Victims of domestic violence or sexual assault can call 779-HELP (779-4357). To arrange a donation, call 779-2393.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.

Hedrick Middle School eighth-grader Kellie Bagley makes a hat using the Knifty Knitter during her leadership class. The hats will be donated to the Dunn House. - Bob Pennell