I am itching to do some volunteer work for kids with cancer. In 2007 and 2008 I worked with volunteers from all over the globe to make afghans for children at a cancer camp here in Texas. You can read a story about it that was syndicated on BlogHer. Each afghan contained squares from 40 different people. We made 140 different afghans and spent thousands of volunteer hours to make them. But, the delivery was darned well worth it.
The smiles on their faces were more beautiful than the afghans!
Now, my head is telling me, “Shelly! Don’t you dare try that again!” But, my heart is telling me, “You have a space in the closet, and you know that people will help … they want to be able to give and you can provide that chance!”
As yet, I haven’t made a decision on whether Share A Square will make a comeback. A lot of it rides on three things:
I have placed a call to a cancer camp in Kerrville, Texas which serves 150 children. If they are interested in having us do this (not just lukewarm about it), then I’ll take that as a sign.
I’ve got to take some planning time to make sure that it’s an easier “trip” this time around. There is a lot of planning to do before it could begin. I think I know some ways to iron out the glitches (and if I do this, I will give the project a page on Facebook, so volunteers can interact) … but I welcome any suggestions.
I need to know that you are with me on this. Sure, I know that many of you can’t crochet … but you can help me get the word out to people who do crochet. Are you there?
Don’t pull out your crochet hooks just yet, but give it some thought. That’s what I will be doing over the next two weeks, and then I’ll let you know if the game is on. Shall I go for it? Tell me “yes” or “no.”
As I rummaged around the office this morning, searching for something to tell you for Only The Good Friday, I came across a colorful crocheted granny square that was left over from a project that was coordinated on this blog two years ago. I sat down and cried. Don’t worry, they were tears of joy … I was remembering the hundreds of people with hearts full of love who helped.
They have been one of the biggest blessing in my life.
I decided to share a story I had written during that project, to show you the power of people working together. Here you go:
He glanced at me over the top of his newspaper and nodded solemnly, as he always did. I saw him every day as I sashayed into the coffee shop to get my morning mocha. Usually, the only greeting I got from him was that casual nod, but this morning he threw his paper down on the table and looked me in the eye.
“I don’t know what this world is coming to,” he sighed, shaking his shaggy gray head. “Crime, war, destruction. The world is full of hate! I’m beginning to think the human race is just plain evil.’
“You think so?” I asked. “Then, come out to my car with me and let me show you what the newspapers don’t tell you.”
I bounced out to my Honda Element while he followed with a puzzled expression on his face. Having just been to the post office, I had quite a few packages. As he stood beside me I opened the back hatch, borrowed his pocketknife, and opened those parcels for him to see.
I ripped open a box from Arizona and a large envelope from Hawaii. Out of them tumbled a rainbow of beautiful crocheted granny squares. Each of the squares had a tiny tag attached, telling the name of the person who made it and where they lived.
“What’s this?” he asked skeptically.
“This,” I said, “is love.”
I told him about the Share A Square project.
In June 2007, I woke up one morning with a wild idea. That day, I posted on my blog asking for help with a project, saying that I was “searching for people with big hearts.” I requested that people send me six-inch granny squares to make into afghans for children with cancer. I planned that each blanket would have 48 squares on it, and each square would be from a different person.
I knew just where to deliver them. There is a summer camp for children with cancer and their siblings called Camp Sanguinity (associated with Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas). Each year, 140 children attend. For six glorious days, those children can forget about cancer and just be kids. I planned that we would wrap all of those children with blankets full of our love.
I had no idea if I would be able to make this work; in fact, I suspected that I might be biting off more than I could chew. But, I remembered words my Daddy told me: “Gal, if you don’t ever chase a dream, you’re never going to catch one. Dream big, and then run like thunder.”
Though I was not one to listen to my Daddy when I was young, as I get older his words seem to make more sense. Since this piece of advice seemed to reinforce what I already wanted to do, I decided to take it. To my surprise, before the day was out at least 15 other blogs had linked to mine. People jumped at the chance to help me spread the news. We decided to call the project “Share A Square.”
Soon after that, people began sending me squares. I packaged them and sent them to other volunteers. Those folks rimmed the squares in black stitching, pieced the blankets together, and then crocheted a colorful border around the blankets before they sent them back to me. On the day I chatted with that man, we had more than 100 blankets finished, and I had received more than 7,000 squares from all over the world.
“All this from one blog?” he asked.
“No,” I told him. “Hundreds of bloggers are helping. They post about it and their friends write about it. But, it’s not just bloggers.”
I ripped open a box from Illinois. That box contained squares that had been rimmed in black stitching; they were ready to be sewn into blankets.
“I don’t know how the woman who rimmed these found out about the program because she’s not a blogger,” I said. “She sent so many squares, that I asked her if she could start putting them together as a blanket. She said that she couldn’t work with the large blanket while she took chemotherapy; it was just too bulky. Instead, she rims the squares for other people to stitch.”
I opened some packages from Japan for him, as I explained how one evening, my husband and I watched a PBS special (while I crocheted) about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in WWII. In tears at the end of the program, I told my husband, “If I were from Japan, I would never forgive the nation that did that!”
The next day, my mailbox was filled with packages of squares — from Japan. The first that I opened was from (you guessed it) Hiroshima. The woman spoke no English, so she used an on-line translator to send me a note. It said, “Thank you for letting me happy children.”
It surprised me that people thanked me for “letting” them work on the project. I was the one in need of help! It seemed that people were hungry for the chance to give of themselves.
I opened the last box, also from Illinois but from a different woman. It held the finished product. Two completed granny afghans were inside. They looked like stained glass windows.
“These,” I said, “were stitched by a woman with multiple sclerosis. She can only work for an hour each day, because she is having a problem making her arms and hands move properly. I’ll tell you right now that she spent months putting these together! But she wanted to help the children.”
I continued telling him the stories: of the woman with Alzheimer’s disease who couldn’t remember how to make a granny square, so she just made some squares using the single crochet stitch; of the fourteen year old girl who learned how to crochet so that she could make squares; of the blind woman who made squares “by feel;” of the 94 year old woman who crocheted despite debilitating arthritis. At this point, I glanced at the man and saw that his eyes had filled with tears.
“I want to help, too,” he whispered. “My brother died of cancer when he was a kid. I can’t crochet, but …”
He reached in his pocket and pulled out a wad of bills, which he thrust into my hand.
“I know the postage is expensive,” he said as he turned to walk back in the coffee shop.
Postage is expensive; so is yarn! I put his money to good use. More than 400 people were involved in the project before it was finished. I stopped counting squares when we hit the 10,000 mark. The money we spent on postage was phenomenal.
On July 7th, 2008, a little over a year after the project began, we delivered 140 afghans to the children at camp. It was one of the most wonderful days of my life. I’ve never seen such beautiful smiles, nor heard so many expressions of awe.
We were concerned about how teenage boys would react to getting a crocheted afghan, but we needn’t have been. One of my volunteers spied a boy “petting” the afghan he received, as he murmured, “It’s so soft!” Even the smallest children seemed to understand the significance of these squares from around the world. Though the temperature was above the “century mark” that day, every child snuggled into their blankets before we left the room.
To be honest, I thought that the day we delivered the afghans (the day that was the culmination of my dream) was the most significant day of my life. Though it was memorable, it was not the most important day of my life. The day that was most important, the day that taught me valuable life lessons, was that quiet day in June 2007 as I sipped my morning coffee and wrote a blog post asking for help.
That’s the day I discovered that the world is filled with people who have a willingness to give from the heart. It is the day I learned that being able to give is one of the greatest gifts of all. And, it’s the day that I finally heeded my Daddy’s advice –he would be so proud to know that I finally did:
“If you don’t ever chase a dream, you’re never going to catch one. Dream big, and then run like thunder.”
When the project was finished, I printed off a few of the pictures we took on the day of delivery and took them to the coffee shop. That man was sitting in his usual spot reading the newspaper. I dropped the pages of photographs on the table beside him. As he glanced at them, his face broke into a wide smile.
“Do you still think the world is full of hate?” I asked.
“No,” he laughed. “I think I need to quit reading the newspaper!”
Coordinating a summer camp for children with special needs, such as Camp Sanguinity, is an enormous task. Donations have to be obtained to run the operation. Volunteers must be found and trained to run the camp. Activities have to be designed and planned to fit into a schedule that will meet the needs of children who might tire easily. Entertainers must be hired, meals planned, craft supplies must be procured, and operations must be in place for the possibility of medical emergency. Iâ€™m sure I havenâ€™t covered half of it.
For months ahead of schedule, there are continuous meetings with staff, volunteers and the board of directors to make sure everything runs smoothly. I understand all of those things.
I also know that The Good Medicine Project was, in the scheme of things, a very small part of that planning. As momentous as it seemed to me (and to some of you), this sharing of love and encouragement from around the world was not a major part of the plan.
My disappointing news is that The Good Medicine Project seems to have â€œfallen through the cracks.â€ Last year, with the Share A Square program, I was able to show you pictures of the delivery of the afghans. I was able to give you visual proof that your hard work was appreciated — that the children were thrilled to receive their gifts of love from you. I wonâ€™t get to do that this year.
For weeks, I tried in vain to reach my contact person at Camp Sanguinity. I had three crucial bits of information that I needed:
I had to know the ages and genders of the children signed up for the camp, so that I could choose appropriate medicine bags and charms for them. Face it — a bag that might be wonderful for a five year old boy might not be considered â€œcoolâ€ by a thirteen year old.
I needed to know when we might be able to deliver them, so I could plan our vacation week around it.
I had offered my storytelling services as a program for the children during the delivery (a program that any other group would pay $600 to have me perform). I needed to know how many programs they wanted, and the ages of the children I would see so I could plan stories that would entertain and inspire them.
My contact person was always unavailable, I always got a promise that she would call back, but she never did. On the 30th of June, I finally received an e-mail with the breakdown of the childrenâ€™s ages and genders. With it was a promise that I would receive an e-mail â€œtomorrowâ€ with the time for delivery. â€œTomorrowâ€ never came.
Last Friday, July 3rd, I called to reach my contact but she was â€œunavailable.â€ The week-long camp starts on July 5th, and I still didnâ€™t know when they would allow me to deliver the medicine bags. With the holiday weekend approaching, and the possibility that all the contact people would be out of the office for a week, I had no choice.
I took the 140 medicine bags, filled with lucky charms, to Cook Children’s Medical Center and delivered them to the director of the program. She was apologetic, explaining that she had â€œdropped the ball.â€ I did not argue with her on that point.
I gave her the medicine bags with instructions on how they were divided, and extracted from her the promise of a picture, so I could prove to you that your work was delivered. I asked her to write a note to acknowledge your hard work. To date, none of the directors of the camp have contacted me to tell me how much they appreciate the work you have done, although the children last year all wrote thank you notes. In the end, they are the only ones who matter.
Weâ€™ll wait to see if she follows through with her promise. The medicine bags should be delivered to the children by their camp counselors this week.
Meanwhile, let me tell all of the volunteers for The Good Medicine Project and for Share A Square that you rock! In the last two years, more than 500 people from around the country and the world have donated their time and talents to the children at Camp Sanguinity. A conservative estimate of the amount of volunteer hours put into this would exceed 10,000 hours.
You â€œdone good,â€ as my Daddy used to say.
For those of you who are asking what Iâ€™ve got planned for Camp Sanguinity for next year, I have to say â€“– not a thing. I’d love to support the children, but I won’t go through this frustration again. Iâ€™ve toyed with the idea of finding another camp to benefit from our efforts, but this yearâ€™s disappointment has taken the starch out of me for awhile. Letâ€™s just wait and see what mischief I might plan next.
I have a handful of thank you notes left to write. In my craft room, there are a few extra medicine bags and still some extra afghans. Although I had intended to donate them to Cooks Children’s Medical Center for the kids who didn’t get to go to camp, I’m looking for another hospital who might benefit from them. As for now, the chapter is closed on this particular book.