Knitting Healthy Communities, One Stitch at a Time


On a beautiful fall day this past September, we were given the opportunity present a Community Development Grant to the Southern Shore Kindred Spirits Group in Ferryland.

To present the award and learn more about project, interim CEO Don Keats, Vice-Chair of Eastern Health’s Board of Trustees Frank Ryan, Health Promotion Consultant Heather Powell and I decided to visit the vibrant group during one of their regular meeting times.

The groups name – Kindred Spirits – is inspired by their wish to build community through a love of needle arts such as knitting, crocheting, cross stitch and rug hooking. Each week at the group’s meetings, beginners and experts join together over a cup of tea to share their newest patterns while inspiring others to take on new projects, all the while building friendships.

Community Development Grant certificate placed on a table of knit goods at the Kindred Spirits Meeting in Ferryland, NL.

Community Development Grant certificate placed on a table of knit goods at the Kindred Spirits Meeting in Ferryland, NL.

The group consists of many committed members from various communities along the Shore. They meet weekly all year, no matter what weather faces them outside. Whether its rain, fog or snow – weather does not keep members away from the always warm and sunny climate inside the group!

Approaching the room, we could hear the buzz of conversations, sprinkled with laughter. As soon as we stepped inside, we saw knitters huddled over a beautiful afghan; others teaching a special stitch, and felt a special warm welcome.

It was immediately evident that the Kindred Spirits provide a welcoming, safe, inclusive space for all residents of the Southern Shore.

The group was awarded $6,800 from the Community Development Fund to continue the work they started almost two years ago when they first formed (with help from a startup grant from the Wellness Coalition – Avalon East).

The Community Development Grant will be used to enhance the existing program by developing a two-part project. The first part, Knitting Strong Bones, will focus on incorporating an exercise component into their weekly knitting group meetings, while Knitting Generations Together will focus on creating and sustaining a youth-elder needle arts program.

Founders

We met the three co-founders of the Southern Shore Kindred Spirits Community Group, whose varied life experiences bring something unique to the leadership of the group.

(l-r) Don Keats, interim President and CEO; Heather Powell, Health Promotion Consultant; Frank Ryan, Vice-Chair, Eastern Health Board of Trustees; Jane Thomas Yager, Nicola Hawkins and Susan McFadden, cofounders of the Ferryland Kindred Spirits Group.

(l-r) Don Keats, interim President and CEO; Heather Powell, Health Promotion Consultant; Frank Ryan, Vice-Chair, Eastern Health Board of Trustees; Jane Thomas Yager, Nicola Hawkins and Susan McFadden, cofounders of the Ferryland Kindred Spirits Group.

Jane Thomas Yager is a retired nurse practitioner with expertise in cancer support groups, mental health and stress reduction.

“I have such respect for the potential of each person to bring a smile and sense of belonging to others. We come together to knit or crochet but really we are sharing our special gifts with each other. Friendship and kindness – encouraging words are food for the soul.”

Her years of cancer support group leadership have convinced her that a cohesive, supportive group can positively impact the health of individuals and communities.

Don Keats, interim President and CEO; Heather Powell, Health Promotion Consultant; Frank Ryan, Vice-Chair, Eastern Health Board of Trustees; with the Kindred Spirits Group.

Don Keats, interim President and CEO; Heather Powell, Health Promotion Consultant; Frank Ryan, Vice-Chair, Eastern Health Board of Trustees; with the Kindred Spirits Group.

Susan McFadden is the owner of Clever Cat Knits, a yarn and fiber business based in Calvert. Sue provides technical instruction for all kinds of needle arts and leadership on group projects. Sue hand dyes wool, designs her own patterns and coordinates the group’s projects.

Her warmth and encouragement help beginners challenge themselves with patterns that may have baffled them at the outset. “Sure, you can do that!” or “easy peasy” are her slogans.

Nicola Hawkins is with the Pagoda Projects, a non-profit group based in Admiral’s Cove committed to bringing the arts to rural communities on the Southern Shore. Nicola provides artistic support and design education to the group, while also providing leadership for group projects.

Her enthusiasm for colour and design help others explore their creative spirits; or to simply join in the laughter as she learns to knit socks – her own way!

About Kindred Spirits

At the event, Jane provided me with some background about the group, their vision and how they are enhancing the health of residents in their community.

“We meet weekly to explore our creativity, strengthen social networks, and to offer those who may be feeling isolated a place to gather. There is no needle art skill required to participate. In fact, we have had people in our group who had not knit a stitch prior to attending.”

Susan McFadden added: “We provide a leisure outlet on a weekly basis where participation is free of charge and all are welcome. That is why instruction and materials are offered without fee – to ensure that all, especially beginners, are able to participate.”

The group also donates afghans, comfort blankets and other handmade items to those in challenging or crisis circumstances. Residents of a local long-term care centre, The Gathering Place, and the Iris Kirby House are some of the recipients of warm woolen articles made with love. That day, we learned that “the act of knitting for the purpose of comforting someone is immensely satisfying to the knitter and the recipient equally.”

Knitting Strong Bones

Nicola explained the rationale for the Knitting Strong Bones portion of the project:

“During our meetings, we noticed participants voicing issues of joint stiffness, discomfort while sitting for long periods and chronic conditions involving the hands, wrists and torso.

Out port life necessitates certain creativity due to limited access to appropriate recreational space or programs. Why not offer a gentle seated exercise program to relax, improve posture and gently stretch after doing needlework? The simple program can be repeated at home as a break after hours of needlework.”

The nine-month program, offered during the low light, poor weather months when we are all at risk of inactivity and changes in mood.

IMG_Group exercise_KS_CDF_14_09

“We hope that gentle exercise in this community setting will help keep our body parts nimble for years to come!” Nicola added.

IMG_killer knitting stretch_KS_CDF_14_09

To really grasp the importance of the Knitting Strong Bones portion of the project, we were all given the opportunity to participate in the exercises with the rest of the group!

… and Don and Frank mastered the “killer knitting stretch,” which helps members of the group strengthen their posture.

We also had the opportunity to work the room and to speak with the diverse members of the group as they worked on their knitted and crocheted projects.

Group member Dinny Coady hooking a mat.

Group member Dinny Coady hooking a mat.

That’s how I met Elizabeth “Lizzy” Croft, 87, and Joan Costello, 89, the group’s eldest and most experienced members!

Joan brings a lot of experience to the group, having been a member of the Newfoundland and Labrador Women’s Institute for 50 years.

(l-r) Elizabeth “Lizzy” Croft and Joan Costello, members of the Kindred Spirits.

(l-r) Elizabeth “Lizzy” Croft and Joan Costello, members of the Kindred Spirits.

Lizzy is a talented rug hooker and poet who can be counted on for a recitation when the mood strikes! 

Knitting Generations Together

Summertime presents another unique opportunity to expose youth to the joys of needlework.

Knitting Generations Together will be launched during Summer 2015. Following school and community outreach, youth will be invited to a safe, healthy environment to explore their own creativity with fiber. The simple, repetitive movement of needles and yarn is linked to stress reduction, quieting the mind and enhancing the creative process.  This project will also provide opportunity for the elders to share traditional Newfoundland patterns dating back to the 1920.Let’s watch to see how the newest generations of outport youth bring colour and an updated style to traditional patterns.

Needless to say, we were all very impressed with the work being done by this group.

Vice-Chair of Eastern Health’s Board of Trustees Frank Ryan enjoyed the experience, saying: “it is evident that this is a very worthwhile investment, and it was wonderful to see firsthand the fine work being carried out and the commitment and enjoyment of participants with the Kindred Spirits Group.”

Frank Ryan, Vice-Chair of Eastern Health’s Board of Trustees, and Evelyn Reid- Harrington, member of the Kindred Spirits.

Frank Ryan, Vice-Chair of Eastern Health’s Board of Trustees, and Evelyn Reid- Harrington, member of the Kindred Spirits.

The interim CEO and President at that time shared Frank’s enjoyment, describing the experience as “an uplifting and educational event that demonstrated the important role community groups play in promoting health and well-being in their communities.”

Dinny Coady showing interim President and CEO Don Keats his work.

Dinny Coady showing interim President and CEO Don Keats his work.

Health Promotion Consultant Heather Powell was very impressed with the project and will work with the group throughout the year to ensure that they meet their goals and have the support they need.

“The Community Development Fund has given us the opportunity to connect and work with some fabulous community groups, such as the Southern Shore Kindred Spirits! Groups such as Kindred Spirits are integral to the health and well-being of their communities. Because they are at the ground level, they often know what is needed and what works for their community, and are very creative in bringing people together. My role as a health promotion consultant is simply to support groups such as this in whatever way I can.”

As for me…I was invited back for some knitting lessons of my own – an offer I hope to take advantage of in the New Year!

If you are living on the Southern Shore and would like to drop in to the Kindred Spirits Group, meetings are held on Tuesdays from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Colony of Avalon Interpretation Centre in Ferryland.

Everyone is welcome on a free, drop in basis and the kettle is always on!

Contact: Jane Thomas Yager by phone at (709) 432-2261 or email at janethomasyager@hotmail.com.

The Community Development Fund, valued at $50,000, was established in 2007 by Eastern Health’s Board of Trustees. Since the first grants were awarded in 2008, over $340,000 has been invested in 45 community groups and organizations. ■

This story was written by Jackie O’Brien, director of corporate communications (acting), with support from the Ferryland Kindred Spirits Group.

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