By Mark Stevens
From snow and ice to sleet and freezing rain, Chautauqua County has had its fair share of winter weather, even after the calendar turned to spring. Yet through it all, The Resource Center’s Warmer Winter Warriors continued to stand at the ready, knitting needles in hand, to give back to a community that has given so much to them.
“I’ve been crocheting about 45 years,” said Shirley Stickney, Warmer Winter Warrior.
“I’ve been knitting and crocheting for nine years,” said Cretia Goldsmith, Warmer Winter Warrior. “It’s a relaxing hobby.”
The Warner Winter Warriors, a volunteer group with a handful of members, are part of The Resource Center’s PROS (Personalized Recovery Oriented Services) program in Jamestown. PROS is designed to help people conquer their mental health challenges and go on to lead healthier lifestyles. For the last two years, the PROS volunteer group has been knitting and crocheting items for people in need during the colder months.
“It’s important to give back to the community and help those in need,” said Cretia.
“Some of the participants come from economically challenged backgrounds, so they know what it’s like to not have,” said Regina Annells, Peer Navigator with PROS.
Regina has been the leader of the Warmer Winter Warriors since the group started. She said the projects are a source of hope she likes to pass along – a source of hope that she didn’t have when first going through her own recovery.
“I want to help them as much with their early days of recovery as possible. Because often time, they don’t have hope and they need to borrow somebody else’s before they develop their own,” said Regina. “I learned on my own how important it was to have healthy activities to replace the unhealthy ones.”
“It keeps my hands busy, and it keeps my mind busy and focused,” Shirley said of her crocheting hobby.
Last year, the Warriors knitted hats that were placed on a community clothes line. This year the group took on two more projects. The first was called Little Hats, Big Hearts and was coordinated through the American Heart Association in observance of February being National Heart Month. The Warriors knitted and crocheted 20 hats and donated them to the American Heart Association; the hats then were distributed to hospitals in the Buffalo area. Organizers were grateful for the generosity and warmth of the Warriors.
“We were happy to join with the Buffalo Niagara American Heart Association to spread the message that heart health begins at birth. As part of the Little Hats, Big Hearts program, we handed out more than 500 little red hats to newborns at Sisters and Mercy hospitals in Buffalo and Mount St. Mary’s Hospital in Lewiston,” said JoAnn Cavanaugh, Director of Public Relations for Catholic Health. “What made this project even more special was the love that went into it, and we thank all the volunteers at The Resource Center who took the time to hand knit and crochet these darling hats for our tiniest patients.”
In addition to that project, the Warriors forged ahead and made a large donation of hats to the maternity unit at UPMC Chautauqua WCA in Jamestown. The hospital received just shy of 100 caps for newborns to help them retain their body heat.
“UPMC Chautauqua WCA is very grateful for the donation of knit hats for the infants in our maternity department. I recently just had a baby myself at UPMC Chautauqua WCA, and the nurses put one of TRC’s Winter Warrior hats on my son. This is still our favorite hat that he wears every day,” said Megan Barone, the hospital’s Development Director. “The nursing staff has been very excited to have the opportunity to hand the hats out to new mothers to keep their babies warm in the winter weather, and they have been getting rave responses from the parents. UPMC Chautauqua WCA is very appreciative for the community support from TRC and is very proud they chose us as a recipient for the donation.”
“These two projects were important to me to give something back,” said Shirley.
The Warriors and Regina also received some help of their own from SUNY Fredonia student Jillian Weiner. She started working as an intern with the PROS program last fall and spent about two days a week with the group.
“You could just see it in their faces that they were contributing to something. It’s also giving them something to do in helping with their recovery. It shows they have a skill,” said Jillian.
The group took Jillian under its wing and even taught her how to knit. She said that during winter break, she made a couple of hats as well.
“I have anxiety myself, so I found it really soothing,” said Jillian of knitting. “It was good for me to volunteer and have a good social relationship with the group. The connections we made, and even just hanging out while we were making the hats, was really nice.”
“Members of the group really feel good about themselves by giving back to the community,” said Regina. “They feel like they’re giving back. They really enjoy that feeling.”
Regina said that even though she’s retiring from The Resource Center, she hopes someone else will help lead the Warriors’ volunteer effort into its third season this coming winter. If so, the group could use a few more members and is always accepting yarn donations. Donations can be dropped off to TRC’s PROS program inside the Carl Cappa Building at 880 East Second Street in Jamestown.