The Catholic University of America

Nov. 28, 2011

Knitters Spread Warmth to Campus and Beyond

  From left to right, Luz Dullin-Jones, Lydia Andrews, and Edna Scott in the Pryz Atrium.

At noon on a sunny fall day, the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center Lobby is abuzz. Hungry students rush in and out of the Food Court or join the animated line up the steps to the Student Restaurant. Baked goods are being sold at long tables. Friends greet friends.

Above the fray, the Atrium on the third floor seems an island of calm. Ten or so CUA students and staff arrayed on the upholstered chairs chat, knitting and crochet needles and colorful yarns in hand.

They are members of the Knitting and Crocheting Service project, crafting scarves and hats to be distributed to homeless people by the Office of Campus Ministry and baby blankets and tiny preemie hats that will go to young mothers through the Christ Child Society. Says group member Mary Elwood, assistant to the dean in the Office of the Dean of Graduate Studies, who has made blankets for the society since 2008, “I get a good feeling knowing a tiny baby somewhere will be wrapped in a handmade blanket made with a lot of love.”

Knitters for Charity photo  
Some of the handmade scarves and hats ready to be distributed.  

Among those crafters is Martha Krichbaum, undergraduate transfer coordinator for the School of Arts and Sciences. Krichbaum came up with the idea of a service project using knitting and crocheting in response to President John Garvey’s service challenge for the 125th anniversary of Catholic University. “I’ve been thinking a long time about how to pass these ancient skills on,” she says. “The challenge prompted me to do something about it.”

With help from knitters, crocheters, and other interested parties around campus, Krichbaum created the project. The first batch of 21 scarves and eight hats has already been distributed by students to homeless people in D.C.

Through announcements, by word of mouth, and via the Atrium get-togethers the group has grown from eight in September to 35 in November. Knitter Sarah Daniels, senior associate dean of students and director of residence life, assisted with reserving the space in the Pryz Atrium for an hour on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. She says, “We wanted the group to be visible and attract more people, which it has!”

  Knitters Photo
  Veronica Benton knits a multicolored scarf for the project.

Among those enticed by the Pryz Center gathering was Camelia Mayfield, a sophomore social work major, “I had seen the signs in the Pryz saying space would be reserved for the service project. When one of my Monday classes was cancelled, I finally had time to sit down and start a project with the group. I’m knitting a scarf but hope to move on to hats.”

Mayfield learned to knit from her godmother when she was in sixth grade. Many of the handcrafters have similar stories. Sophomore English major Meredith Louison was also a preteen knitter. Jeanne Garvey learned as a little girl from her aunt, as did Rita Barriteau, administrative assistant in the Center for Global Education. Barriteau says, “She didn’t have much patience with me, but I picked it up!” Senior psychology and philosophy double major Angelica Wittstruck was taught “long-handed-down crochet patterns,” by her grandmother. “So each scarf I make is truly marked with my family’s traditions,” she says.

The group can supply participants with needles and yarn, thanks in large part to Georgia Niedzielko, assistant dean for academic affairs at the law school. Niedzielko came to the group with her mother’s donated yarn. “Macular degeneration forced her to stop crocheting,” says Niedzielko. “She wanted to donate her yarn to someone who would use it to help others.”

The handwork not only satisfies the participants’ desires to help others and contribute to the service goals of the University, it also integrates well into hectic lives. For example, this semester Wittstruck is taking comprehensive exams, writing papers, working on the executive boards of two clubs, and interning. She says she crochets on her hour-long commute on Metrorail to her Northwest D.C. internship and in her residence hall laundry room where “I can kill time doing my washing and drying and encourage others to get involved in this project.”

Says Kirsti Norris, a doctoral student in history, “While I’m knitting, I can concentrate on other things — like how to phrase a sentence for a paper.” Lydia Andrews, studying for her Master of Arts degree in political theory, says, “I can work on one while I’m watching TV or listening to the radio, which makes me feel a little better about how I’m spending my time.”

While some participants, like Veronica Benton, student services associate in the Office of Enrollment Services, are reviving their skills, others wanted to learn how to knit so they could contribute. For that, Ramon Sola, assistant in the Department of History who knits raglan sweaters for himself, has proved invaluable. “I’ve been meaning to do volunteer work,” he says, “but I’ve been unable to commit the time. For this project I’ve been teaching students and staff knitting techniques basically from the ground up during Thursday and Friday lunch hours.”

“I am an ‘infant’ (6-week-old) knitter,” says Luz Dullin-Jones, who is financial office manager for Campus Ministry. Thanks to Sola, she notes, “So far, I have done two scarves as practice and am finishing the third scarf, which is for the project.” Bonnie Boyle and Amy Kerr, both area coordinators in the Office of Residence Life who had never knitted prior to the project, are working on scarves for homeless people — “slow but sure.” And Nicole Foronda, a Master of Arts in History candidate with sewing but not knitting experience, learned casting on and basic stitches from Sola and is working on a scarf.

In addition to making something beautiful and useful for others, the participants have been pleasantly surprised by another result of the project: They’ve become a community. Marie Shepherd, financial aid counselor in the Office of Student Financial Assistance and a crocheter with 20 years of experience, says, “The group meetings have been very rewarding. I was surprised to find many students interested in the endeavor, too.” Aileen Worrell, director of admissions and financial aid for the National Catholic School of Social Service and field seminar instructor liaison, who crochets hats and scarves, observes, “Besides making items for people in need, the best part about the Knitting and Crocheting Service Project is getting to know other people within CUA.”

Summing up the experience, Krichbaum says, “This has turned out to be a good community-builder as well as a service project.”

The Knitting and Crocheting Service Projects welcomes new participants and donations of handmade scarves, hats, and baby blankets. To join or contribute, contact Martha Krichbaum.

This year, charitable works — including those performed in long-term service projects — may be logged in Catholic University’s Cardinal Service Commitment, a service campaign marking Catholic University’s 125th anniversary. In thanksgiving for more than a century of God’s blessings at Catholic University, students, alumni, faculty, and staff are striving to perform 125,000 hours of service by next Founders Day, April 10, 2012. For more information and to log hours, visit



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