Longwood at Oakmont residents knit sweaters for kids all over the world

| Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012, 8:57 p.m.

Each week, the group knits in the same location, but its efforts extend around the globe.

That's because its members — all residents at the Longwood at Oakmont retirement community — participate in World Vision's Knit for Kids program, which provides handmade sweaters for children in need.

“We wouldn't be doing this if we didn't think it was worthwhile,” says Dorothy Beck, a resident and knitter.

“They go all over the world,” she says. “But we don't know the destination of any sweater.”

The program, founded more than 15 years ago by Guideposts magazine, sends sweaters made by volunteers to children in need. While the sweaters are sent to countries as varied as Armenia and Tanzania, a number of them stay in the United States, often going to children who have been victims of natural disasters.

The group's members, according to Carol Swift, another knitter and Longwood resident, have ranged over the years from a dozen to nearly 20. Some have contributed a few sweaters and others, like May Richardson, can make as many as one per week.

“You might use their pattern, but you do your own thing,” Richardson says.

This year, the Longwood knitters have created about 100 sweaters and, with a recent donation, they surpassed a significant milestone: 500 sweaters in five years.

“I think the most important thing about it is we can do something to keep busy and that we do well and we can help somebody that needs them,” Louise Menges says.

She and her fellow knitters, who currently count among their ranks about 15 volunteers, gather once a week in the craft room at Longwood.

Its deep-supply closet is well-stocked with bright skeins in every color. Most of the yarn — all of it acrylic, so it can stand up to the elements and be washed — is donated.

All follow the same simple pattern for a three-quarter length, child-size T-top sweater. That pattern is available online at the World Vision website. The knitters watch their efforts grow as the craft-room wall becomes covered with a rainbow of small sweaters.

“When the wall is filled, we pack up another box and it gets sent out,” says Lynda Simboli, a member of the group. But it's not only the sweaters that have multiplied. So has the sense of connection among the crafty companions. While stitching her way through a project, Longwood resident Jane Rorison notes the importance of that bond.

“We don't just see one another in the hall and wave — we visit,” she says.

According to Swift, as new residents who are knitters move into Longwood, they are invited to participate. Whether they want to work on the sweaters or other projects, they are welcomed into the craft room.

Although she clearly wants to share the recognition, her fellow knitters credit Swift with getting the ball of yarn rolling at Longwood. About five years ago, Creative Knitting magazine, where her daughter works, featured an article about the project and its origins.

Swift was intrigued.

“It was started by one woman who just wanted to do something, and she started the program in response to a story in Guideposts magazine,” Swift says. “And it just snowballed.”

The program grew in popularity to the point that World Vision, an international charity that fights poverty, stepped in to help Guideposts.

The sweaters now go to the organization and are sent around the world from its Sewickley distribution center, along with bundles of clothes for those in need.

As evidenced by the recent milestones, the Longwood group's efforts have snowballed, too.

“In addition to being a productive time, you feel like you're doing something for someone else,” Swift says. “It's not self-centered.

“You're creating a sweater for a child in another part of the world who needs it.”

Julie Martin is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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